I’ve been a devotee of Tibetan Buddhist Tantric music for years. I love it so much, that I impulsively buy it on faith whenever I come across a record that I know I don’t have. My collection of it is pretty expansive at this point. I’ve lost track, but I must have somewhere between 50 and 75 LPs stretching across its traditions. It’s an incredible, deeply spiritual, and complex music. Despite my countless hours listening to it, I don’t pretend to have more than a cursory understanding. Its tonal relationships and rhythmic structures have almost no equivalent. At points its incredibly meditative, at others it sounds like the most aggressive experimental music I can call to mind – even venturing toward the clatter of a bunch of angry children attacking each other with pots, pans, and bells (Yang chanting). Tibetan Buddhist music utilized overtone singing which orally transfer sacred texts. Because of the tones and duration it utilizes, I’ve read that monks are only allowed allowed to sing for set periods. Apparently there’s a real risk of scrambling their brains permanently. My kind of tunes.



This morning as I woke, I checked Facebook and noticed that someone (named Chuping Chen) had posted an image of one of the incredible scores from which Tibetan Buddhist chant is drawn. It seemed to be going through the re-posting rounds (via Evan Cordes).  I figured it was a good opportunity to track down some of the images I’ve come across over the years, and pass them along. Like many graphic scores I’m not exactly sure how they work – given the severity of their content, I’m sure these are not left to the interpretation of the singers. Most Tibetan Buddhist music is sung in Sanskrit or Tibetan, and the scores don’t have a resemblance to either. I’m simply left in awe of their stunning beauty. I also recommend watching the video above. It has some great archival footage of monks, as well as a pretty fantastic soundtrack which should give some reference for those who are less familiar with this stunning music.


L0032693 Tibetan MS 42, leaves from a musical score Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Three leaves from a Tibetan musical score used in Buddhist monastic ritual with the notation for voice, drums, trumpets, horns and cymbals. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/






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5 thoughts on “tibetan buddhist tantric scores

  1. The harmonics created by the chanting is unreal! Reminds me of this experiment we did in music school where we tried to sing a single note and create a higher harmonic by changing the shape of our mouths. Thanks for the share.


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