Also:       shanz      

Title: Mongolia--Gang Temur (Copper and Steel); Dandram, shudraga. Label: Multicultural Media. Format: CD. Catalogue#: MCM 3001. Track: 12.

Contextual Associations

The shudraga is a plucked spike-lute chordophone associated with ethnic groups of western Mongolia, such the Torguts, and with national government-sponsored folk music ensembles centered in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. In traditional settings it was played to accompany folksongs and particular regional dances. The instrument’s three strings are said to symbolize the past, present, and future (Pegg 2002, p. 1011).


The resonator of the shudraga is in essence an oval-shaped, double-head frame drum the shell of which is made from wood (elm or sandalwood) with some bone inlay for decoration. Snakeskins stretched taut and attached with glue are used to cover the resonator openings. The long, slender neck of the instrument has a fretless fingerboard and is topped with a pegbox and decorative finial. Although obscured by the snakeskin soundtable, an extension of the neck penetrates the shell, passes though the resonator, and exits the opposite side of the resonator shell where its terminal stub serves as the string holder. The three strings of varying thickness, traditionally made from gut or horsehair but on this instrument twisted silk, are stretched over nearly the entire length of the instrument. From the string holder they pass over the soundtable (the top face of the resonator), the fingerboard, and a nut made of bone before being wound around rather large tuning pegs laterally-mounted in the pegbox. The energy of the vibrating strings is passed to the resonator by a small bamboo bridge held against the soundboard with pressure from the stretched strings.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A shudraga player typically sits on a chair when performing, resting the resonator shell on his right thigh with the neck pointing to his left and elevated. The right hand is used to pluck and strum the strings, either using the thumb and index finger or a small horn plectrum to excite the strings. Because sounds produced on this instrument have a rapid decay, most notes of any duration need to be articulated several times. The four fingers of the left hand stop the strings against the fingerboard to alter their vibrating length. These fingers can also be used to pluck the strings. This instrument does not operate in a fixed pitch system and is therefore tuned according to the player’s taste or to complement a singer’s range. A number of regional tuning patterns are used that in general have the top string tuned an octave above the lowest one and the middle sting an interval of a fourth or a fifth above the lowest string; one common tuning would be approximately G3 - C4 - G4. The instrument has a potential range of three octaves and a major third.


The origin and early history of the shudraga are vague, but it seems reasonable to assume that its current form has been influenced by the Han Chinese sanxian to which it bears a strong resemblance. The sanxian is reported to have been used in Mongolia during the Manchu Dynasty (1644-1911). Undoubtedly the dramatic political, social and cultural changes experienced by Mongolians during the 20th century stimulated many changes to the instrument itself, the musicians who play it, its contexts of performance, and its meaning as an object of material culture.

Bibliographic Citations

Marsh, Peter K. 2009. The Horse-head Fiddle and the Cosmopolitan Reimagination of Tradition in Mongolia. New York: Routledge.

Nixon, Andrea. 1984. “Shudraga [shidurga, shandz].” NGDMI v.3: 379.

Pegg, Carole. 2001. Mongolian Music, Dance, & Oral Narrative: Performing Diverse Identities. Seattle; University of Washington Press.

________. 2002. "Mongol Music." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 7. ed. Robert C. Provine, Yosihiko Tokumaru, and J. Lawrence Witzleben. New York: Routledge, pp. 1003-1021.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: East Asia

Nation: Mongolia

Formation: Mongol

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

321.312 chordophone--spike box lute or spike guitar: the resonator is built up from wood, the body of the instrument is in the form of a box through which the handle/neck passes

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: lute - spike

Resonator design, chordophone: ring with membrane soundboard

String courses: single

Vibrational length: pressure bridge to ridge-nut

String tension control: friction peg

Method of sounding: plucking (direct)

Pitches per string course: multiple (by pressure stopping against fretless fingerboard)


49.2 in. length

Primary Materials

membrane - reptile skin
string - silk

Entry Author

Roger Vetter