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Uyghur Dutar | Making and Playing Uyghur Music

September 9 | 10 Comments

The dutar is a two-stringed lute that is characterized by a long neck and pear-shaped body. There are various forms of the instrument that are played all over Central Asia, but the Uyghur dutar is known as one of the largest in this family of plucked instruments.

The Uyghur dutar from Xinjiang

I’ve always been fascinated by the Uyghur dutar and have known a number of people who have picked up the instrument as a hobby.

Since I’ve played the guitar for a couple decades you’d think that it would be easy for me to learn, but don’t let me fool you. I’m not that talented.

Just because I haven’t mastered the art of playing the Uyghur dutar doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it while living here in Xinjiang!

Unfortunately, many people don’t have the opportunity to hear a dutar live in person. That goes for both travelers and even those people like me who live here in Xinjiang.

For that reason, I decided to film Alimjan, a musician based in Turpan, as he played a traditional Uyghur folk song on the dutar.

VIDEO | Uyghur Dutar Concert

When it comes to ethnic instruments, it’s much better to see it being played yourself than read about it. Take a minute to view this performance of “Ananurhan”, an ancient Uyghur folk song.

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The Making of a Dutar in Xinjiang

A couple years ago I had the opportunity to visit the shop of a Uyghur family in Urumqi, Xinjiang who specialized in instrument making. Most of what they hand made was the dutar.

The instrument is most often produced using mulberry wood, which is very common here in Xinjiang. So common, in fact, that they even make paper out of mulberry bark in Hotan.

The body of the dutar is made of mulberry wood that has been hollowed out. All of the decorations you see on the neck and body are hand-designed using bone, plastic, wood and other colored materials.

Uyghur craftsman making a dutar

It’s quite fascinating to watch the Uyghur craftsman sit in a small shop and place each piece of bone in line along the body to form a geometric patter. It’s tedious work but the result is a beautiful instrument!

Playing the Uighur Dutar

While I highly respect my talented friend Alimjan, most Uyghur would agree that the master of the dutar is a gentleman named Abdurehim Heyt. He is a Uyghur musician from Kashgar who has been interestingly described as “the epitome of a strong, silent, smugly dignified guardian of Uyghur honor”.

Hands down, the best way to learn the Uyghur dutar is by taking lessons from somebody here in Xinjiang. There aren’t many other resources available, honestly!

Two Uyghur playing dutars in a restaurant in Kashgar, Xinjiang

Conclusion | Uyghur Dutar

The dutar is an important part of Uyghur culture, so as you prepare to travel out here or research the Uyghur people, listening to the music of the dutar is a good start.

I don’t always recommend that travelers purchase a Uyghur dutar while in Xinjiang (unless you want a cheap tourist souvenir that you can put on your mantle) but I do hope you either stop by a music store to buy some music or purchase Uyghur music on Amazon.

About Josh Summers

Josh is the author of Xinjiang | A Traveler's Guide to Far West China, the most highly-reviewed and comprehensive travel guide on China's western region of Xinjiang. He lived, studied and run a business in Xinjiang, China for more than 10 years, earning recognition for his work from CCTV, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others.

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  1. I don’t know if the dutar makers in Urumqi make their dutar differently than in Kashgar (I don’t think so), but the dutars that I watched being made in Kashgar didn’t have a solid body. The alternating colors on the body were different slats of mulberry that were glued together carvel-style. (Check out pp. 8-9 of a certain thesis that you found online. ????)

    But yeah, it’s a great instrument! I still play it here!

    Josh Summers on September 19th, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Thanks for your valuable insight, Mike! :)

    I’ll make note that some of the designs include pieces of wood as well. Likewise, I’ll fix the one piece of wood, mistake.

    Hope you’ve been able to keep up your dutar playing! :)

  2. Thank you for linking to the “Teach myself dutar” page! It is focused on the Uzbek dutar for the time being – it does share some basic techniques with Uyghur one nonetheless. What we learners from abroad need is more quality videos of live dutar playing – not one with pre-recorded sound tracks that you find on youtube – to figure out how really to play!

    Josh Summers on October 5th, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    My pleasure, Eugene – I hope you’re able to continue to build out that resource for others.

  3. Another great article. Like many, my love for this instrument is due to that living legend, Abdurehim Heyit. He recently played a conference in Turkey and some youtube videos are up you should check those out.

    Josh Summers on October 5th, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    Absolutely! He’s a living legend, for sure.

  4. Hello, Josh. I am an Uighur living outside China. To be honest, I have not visited China yet. However, I am still an Uighur man. Thanks for writing such a beautiful post about our musical instruments.
    By the way, Josh, have you eaten a national Uighur meal called Lagman? I think you had. If not, I advise you to taste it, since it is truly amazing.

  5. Can you let me know where I can attend a Uyghur Dutar Concert? I will be in Xinjiang from May 6 to May 28.

    Josh Summers on February 19th, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    It’s possible to arrange for a personal concert – that’s what I did here while I was in Turpan. Otherwise, you’ll need to attend a big concert that they put on for the tourists in Changji or at the Grand Bazaar.

  6. Hi Josh,

    Great article. I got a Dutar in Xinjiang a couple years ago and I was wondering if you knew of any books I could get to teach myself how to play and what the tuning is for the Dutar strings.

    Kevin :)