The traditional music of Mongolia plays a very important role in the culture of the country, with great variations between the different ethnic groups. The best known national instrument is the Morin Khuur, the two-string fiddle with the carving of a horse head at the top of the peg box, considered a symbol of the country. Other instruments, as can be seen in folk ensembles performing in Ulaanbaatar and elsewhere, are the Surnai-ever buree, a folk oboe with a conical body made of wood or horn (ever buree = horn), the Shudraga or Shanz, a string instrument, with a sound comparable to that of a banjo), a base, with a horse-head carving and the Yatga or Yatuga, a half-tube zither with a movable bridge.
There are different styles of singing, like the "Long song" (Urtyn duu), so called because each syllable of text is sung for a long duration, with deep vibrato. There is also the "Short song" (Bogino duu), not as spectacular or ancient as "long songs" and technically not as complex as the latter, but still, performing them requires having a trained voice and good rhythm. Short songs are generally very upbeat and are accompanied by an orchestra. But the best known singing tradition is Khöömii ("throat singing") in which the singer produces more than one pitch at the same time, creating overtones by changing the shape of the resonant cavities of his mouth, voice box and the back of his throat; it almost sounds like whistling. It is especially popular in the west of Mongolia and across the Russian border in Tuva.
Traditional dancing may be observed in the theatre performances in Ulaanbaatar, like those of the Mongolian National Song & Dance Ensemble and the Tumen Ekh Song & Dance Ensemble, but can also been seen at the yearly Naadam Festivals and children are often the star performers - the culture is very much alive. And Mongolian contortion, a gymnastic art, is popular with young girls in both Mongolia and China; young girls display incredible flexibility.