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Uzbek musical instruments

Overriding the street noise, the blaring inviting karnay sounds are being heard above the city. People are in a hurry having heard this invitation for celebrations: for wedding ceremony in mahalla, or may be for the opening of a new exebition.

Everybody knows that karnay is one of the most ancient Uzbek musical instruments, but just a few are aware that in the Middle Ages it was a military signal instrument. One of the miniatures dating back to 1430 and decorating the manuscript "Shakhname" by Firdousi depicts a battle scene where together with warriors in front line there are drum-players and musicians trumpeting the long karnays. The length of this mouthpiece wind instrument without valves and holes can reach up to three meters; its cylindrical body with a funnel-shaped opening at the end is made of brass or copper.


Getting closer we start to distinguish doira rhythmic sounds and intricate melody of surnay. The body of surnay with wide funnel-shaped opening is artfully cut of one piece of apricot or mulberry wood and its metal pin is made of silver. The musicians are dressed in national kaftans - chapans, belted with kerchiefs - belbogs, and on the heads of the musicians there are Chust scull caps.

The history of Uzbek musical instruments is extraordinary rich and diversified. The most ancient musical instruments that has remained almost unchanged up to present time are the simple percussion instruments, which were used by the ancestors of modern Uzbeks to accompany songs and dances. And this is not surprising because one of the composing elements of Uzbek musical culture is rhythm.

Among the ancient instruments we can name kayrok, which is a device consisting of two pairs of polished stones. Ancient Khiva men's dances are performed to the accompaniment of these peculiar castanets. Another percussion instrument which is almost out of use now is koshik, which was made of wood of a mulberry, apricot or juniper tree and resembled two pairs of spoons. It is interesting that even nowadays in the valleys of Surkhandarya province women accompany their dances by tapping painted wooden spoons.

Another ethnographical musical instrument is zang made in the form of bracelets with small brass or copper bells. Such bracelets are put on the wrists and ankles of a dancing girl performing ancient Sogdian dance-pantomime "zang".

Undoubtedly, the most favorite percussion instrument of the Uzbeks is doira. One side of the wooden rim with diameter up to fifty centimetres is covered with tight leather membrane, whereas sixty metal rings are fixed on the other side. With fingers of both hands a musician beats out a tattoo on the tightly stretched leather and at the same time he shakes doira thus accompanying the rhythmic sound strikes with melodical chime of the rings. In the hands of a virtuoso doira-player performing usul - a rhythmic accompaniment of dances and singing, doira can produce tender sounds resembling rustling of the wind, or loud drumming, like a spring thunder. At the parties for lack of doira the girls accompany their dancing with improvised musical instruments: a metal plate liagan or a tray which help them produce rhythm similar to that of a doira.


Cymbals, the most ancient string musical instrument ever known, probably became the prototype of ancient Uzbek chang as far back as Middle Ages. On wooden trapezium body there are drawn forty-two steel strings, and musicians produce stirring clinking sounds by striking the strings with two cane or bamboo sticks.

The archeological findings of wall paintings and terracotta statuettes on ancient Afrosiab site not far from Samarkand, as well as in ancient Khorezm and on archeological sites of Surkhandarya province testify to the fact that in Hellenistic epoch in Sogdiana and Bactria such musical instruments as lute, double flute - avlos, and kefara were coomonly used. On the famous antique (1st - 2nd century) frieze from Airtam site, which is within twenty kilometers from Termez, an unknown artist from the court of a Kushan grandee depicted musicians playing harp, flute, four-string lute, kimvala and double-sided drum resembling Uzbek national drum rez-nagora.

The Great Silk Road, the main routes of which ran through the territory of modern Uzbekistan, served more than just trade purpose. For centuries these routes were used for spreading cultural achievements of peoples from the East and the West. At the beginning of our era musical culture and musical instruments from the Western Territories, as Central Asia was called at that time, became very popular in China. The Chinese studied Sogdian notation, invited musicians with their unusual instruments. From historical sources it is known that in the 7th century at the court of Tang dynasty the Sogdians were noted for their skillful reed-pipe and lute playing.

Obviously in the early Middle Ages from Persia there was brought to Sogd the wind musical instrument with seven holes - zurna, known in Uzbekistan as surnay. From Chach the same instrument was brought to China where it was called sona. In Khiva since ancient times there existed instrument bulamon which resembled surnay. But bulamon differs from surnay: as distict from conical air channel of surnay bulamon has a cylindrical air channel and in the upper part of it the cane tubule with a cut reed is inserted. Yet the most popular folk wind musical instrument is flute - nay. Its sound, mysterious and tender, can be compared with gentle murmur of a mountain stream.

In the miniatures to "Bobur-name", which dates back to the beginning of the 16th century and is the poetic biography of Uzbek state figure, poet and scientist Zakhiriddin Babur, one can find the pictures of a doira and harp, surnai and nai, three-stringed Bukhara tanbour and double drum kosh-nagora, which consists of two baked clay pots-resonators with their wide open mouths being covered with tight leather membrane.


In the 10th - 11th centuries the ancient Arab musical pinch instrument ud (a modified lute) gained wide popularity in Uzbekistan. The detailed description of this instrument can be found in the medieval manuscripts devoted to the issues of music theory: it possessed rather big deep resonator covered with thin sounding board containing small holes, and a short finger-board.

Along with ud one of the most favoured instruments in Uzbekistan for more than thousand years is rubab, which has two duplex strings and one additional string. Its compact dome-like resonator with leather membrane is crowned with graceful long finger-board. Rubab is played by striking the strings with special mediator. In the times of Abu Ali Ibn Sino (Avicenna) rubab was considered to be the instrument of those in love.

Another musical instrument known from the ancient times is tanbour, which has three metal strings and a long neck. Deep captivating sound is produced with the help of a mediator, which musician puts on his index finger. The most popular pinch musical instrument is probably dutar with big pear-like body, two strings and a neck on which there are placed fourteen frets which make it possible to produce polyphonic melodies. In the middle of the thirties of the 20th century in Uzbekistan there was created a big family of orchestra dutars.

Many scientists believe that Central Asia is the motherland of stringed musical instruments. Among these instruments we can name sato and kabus, which hold much favour of the peoples of Asia. Yet the most ancient stringed instrument created on the Uzbek land was ghijak, whose round body covered with tight leather was traditionally made of coconut. The sound of ghijak resembles that of a violin. It is played being placed vertically on the knee and the sound is produced with the help of special bow-kamon.

One of the most talented ghijak-player was famous twenty-century musician and composer Tokhtasin Djalilov - a collector of musical folklore, who created many orchestral works on the basis of folk melodies. The Uzbek State Orchestra of folk instruments is named after T.Djalilov and it has more than fifteen types of folk instruments known since ancient times.


Since olden times the biggest towns of Uzbekistan such as Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva were famous for masters who made musical instruments. The names of such masters of the 19th - 20th centuries as usto Umarali and Tashbay Sultanov from Tashkent and his student Usman Zufarov, usto Muminbek and usto Khauidar from Kokand went down in history of national music. Instruments created by their hands can be found in museum exhibitions and private collections. The traditions of old masters are maintained by modern masters - B.Alimov, brothers Mirzaiev. The unique instruments made by famous masters can be identified not only by the exclusive tone quality of sound but also by elegant form of the body and exquisite carving along the wooden part of the instrument as well as intricate ivory and nacre inlay decoration.

The sounds of ancient Uzbek instruments give birth to the stirring mysterious music of the East.

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