|Traditional music of Tibet is usually classified into four types: palace, folk, religious and opera music.
Palace music in Tibet usually refers to such music as the Potala Palace entertainment during the period of the local government of Tibet, and it also includes that played in the palaces of all local grand Living Buddha's with various monasteries. It can be classified into three types:
"Gar" (dance) music. This involves singing and dancing, and is often played by "Suona", "Damar" drum and clarinet.
"Garlo" (song) music. The song has a graceful and elegant melody, and it is often played by "dranyen" violin, dulcimer, "Piwang" (stringed instrument), flute, "genka" (stringed instrument), etc.
Welcoming and seeing-off music accompanied by drum beats, and light music. They belong to pure instrumental music, and welcoming and seeing-off music accompanied by drum beats is often played by "Suona", "Damar" drum and clarinet; light music is often played by clarinet and "Damar" drum.
Palace music often represents religion or songs in praise of religion. In the past, players of amusement music were men, showing the sanctity and holiness of religion.
Folk music occupies a large proportion of traditional music of Tibet. In regard to types, numbers, abundant content, coverage and playing frequency, it is always listed at the head of the four types of music of Tibet. According to styles, folk music can be classified into five types: singing and dancing, ballad, labor songs, talking and singing, and instrumental.
Singing and dancing music. This includes Goshie, Shieqen, Raba, Duishie, Nangmar, Shuanzi, Agar, Chogar, Kaibakaimar, Shuan, So-o, and so on. The Tibetan word "Goshie" has the meaning of singing and dancing in a circle. It has spread to all the Tibetan-inhabited areas, and prevails especially in rural areas.
"Shieqen" is singing and dancing of sobriety and elegance played at grand and ceremonious celebrations. "Shieqen" is popular in most villages and towns in Tibet, but in pasturing areas in northern Tibet and eastern Tibet, this kind of art is not popular.
"Raba" is folk singing and dancing popular in eastern Tibet and the Changtang Grasslands; Dingqen Raba is the most famous. The music of "Raba" includes two types: one is music accompanying dancing; the other one is singing or interludes, accompanied by "Raba" drum and brass bells. A yak horn qin is often played for accompaniment.
"Duishie" is folk singing and dancing popular on the Tibetan plateau. "Dui" in Tibetan has the meaning of "upper", referring specifically such counties as Tingri, Lharze, Sagya, Ongren and Ngari areas in upper reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River; "shie" in Tibetan has the meaning of singing and dancing. With the establishment of the local government of Tibet "Gandain Phodrang", cultural exchanges became increasingly frequent and active in Tibetan-inhabited areas, and the singing and dancing art of "Duishie" was gradually introduced to the Lhasa area and transformed by folk actors according to characteristics of folk music there, changing from rude, sanguine, and active "Duiba Duishie" to light, lively, graceful and implicative "Lhasa Duishie". Today on the Tibetan Plateau there are three co-existing types of "Duishie": "Lhasa Duishie", "Lharze Duishie" and "Tingri Duishie".
"Nangmar" singing and dancing is often popular in the cities of Lhasa and Shigatse. The accompaniment of "Nangmar" singing and dancing is almost the same as "Duishie" and is often played by dulcimer, urhien, jinghu, flute and stringed bells.
The word of "Shuanzi" originated from accompaniment of yak horn qin, and it is a folk singing and dancing popular in eastern Tibet.
"Agar" is a singing and dancing during construction work, most popular on the Tibetan Plateau. It is an old and traditional art of singing and working while constructing monasteries, palaces, and manors, and repairing building roofs or the inside and outside floors.
"Chogar" is a dancing with a round and flat waist drum. It is popular in the rural areas of Lhasa and Shannan.
In Tibetan, the word of "Kaibakaimar" has the meaning of men and women singers and dancers. This sort of singing and dancing is popular in some rural areas, including Ritog County in Ngari district.
"Shuan" is an old folk singing and dancing popular in Ngari district with special style and long history.
"So-o" is an old singing and dancing form popular in Sagya County in Shigatse district, and it often appears in religious festivals.
Ballads. In respect of styles, ballads in Tibet can be divided into toast songs, love songs, pilgrimage songs, antiphonal songs, field songs (pasturing songs), children's songs, praising songs, escorting-bride songs, expedition songs, guessing songs, ballad ditty, bandit songs, etc. Among them, toast songs, love songs, children's songs, escorting-bride songs and antiphonal songs are spread most widely overt the Tibetan-inhabited areas. Field songs have another name of pasturing songs and are often popular in the Kham area (including Nagqu), with free rhythm and loud and long timbre. Expedition songs were played before armies left for a battle or returning home from victories in ancient times. And it is said that it prevailed during the Tubo Kingdom period, and later it was popular in some areas in Tibet, including Qunggyi County of Shannan district. Bandit songs are often popular in some counties in the Nagqu area.
Work songs. Laboring songs in Tibet can be divided into five types, i.e. those sung during construction, agricultural work, pasturing, sideline jobs and transporting.
Construction work songs include earth-moving songs, huge stones and timbers-moving songs, stone-carrying songs, tamping-groundsill songs, tamping-walls songs and "Agar clay" songs, etc.
Agricultural work songs include plowing songs, earth-moving songs, weeding songs, carrying-fertilizer songs, and grain-threshing songs, etc.
Pasturing work songs include herding songs, butter-making songs, shearing songs, milking songs, butter-refining songs, etc.
Sideline work songs include weaving pulu woolen fabrics songs, washing pulu woolen fabrics songs, frying qingke barley songs, grinding feedstuff songs, oil-pressing songs, arrow songs, etc.
Transporting work songs include horse and mule state songs, donkey state songs, driving yak songs, paddling yak hide rafts songs, etc.