This lesson includes a discussion of the basic construction of stringed instruments and develops an awareness of Mongolian folk music.
Read information regarding a) Mongolian music and b) stringed-instrument construction. Use as references The New Harvard Dictionary of Music and Mongolia: The Legacy of Chinggis Khan catalogue.
Stringed instruments of one type or another are employed in musical activities worldwide. Despite some differences, they share many similarities in their mode of construction and manner of performance. Ethnomusicologists have repeatedly emphasized the importance of these common features in adapting to the musical and cultural needs of the individual society. Hence, whether a lute, harp, guitar, zither, or fiddle, the stringed instrument has a structural and playing adaptability that lends itself well to the rendition of musics of diverse cultures.
The folk music of Mongolia has a strong vocal orientation. Relecting the demands and needs of the nomadic lifestyle, songs are sung which recount legendary deeds, characters, and the beauty of the natural world. In such a nomadic existence, only those goods and resources which travel easily are transported. Included among the most "transportable" of musical commodities is the oft-told, ageless saga or song. The "horse-headed fiddle," or morin Khuur, is comfortably carried by the traveling musician, and its essentially simple construction provides the basis for an effective musical accompaniment to the Mongolian folk song.
This lesson is particularly suitable for orchestral string classes, guitar classes, courses in music appreciation and world history.
Historical and musical information derived from the catalogue and The New Harvard Dictionary of Music; information from Mongolia: Eternal Blue Heaven:drawing of the "horse-headed fiddle", and selected recordings of Mongolian folk music.
Review with students the different parts of stringed instruments and their respective names. Ask them what function each of the parts serves in the production of sound and playing of the instrument. For example, what is the purpose of the tuning pegs or keys? Ask them also to identify any parts that they think are variable or unnecessary.
After presenting the class with a brief overview of Mongolian culture and folk music, show a depictive drawing of a "horse-headed fiddle." Have each student list by name as many of the fiddle's parts as he/she can. How are these the same as or different from the parts identified in the beginning of the lesson. How might, then, Mongolian music sound? Play for the class an excerpt of Mongolian folk music featuring the "Horse-headed fiddle."
Pupils should compare their analyses of the drawing. They should also ascertain verbally how closely their expectations of Mongolian music compared with the recorded excerpt.
Students may wish to explore other styles of Mongolian music, including the Buddhist chant. Additionally, they may choose to study representative musics from neighboring countries. They may also wish to survey stringed instruments from other parts of the world. Interest comparisons could be made, for instance, introducing the banjo, the Japanese koto, the dulcimer, and the Indian sitar.
Berger, Patricia and Terese Tse Bartholomew. Mongolia: The Legacy of Chinggis Khan. San Francisco: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 1995.
Randel, Don Michael, ed. The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1986.