La-re-so: Teaching the Tibetan Dranyen through Solfege


  • Mason Brown PhD Pre-candidate, Etnomusicology University of Colorado at Boulder


The dranyen (sgra snyan) is the Tibetan long-necked lute, with six strings in three courses in a re-entrant tuning of la-re-sol (that is, in scale degrees: 6, 2, 5). The Central Tibetan version of the instrument is played all over the Tibetan plateau, and throughout the Tibetan Diaspora, and related instruments are played in Himalayan areas of Nepal and India. While other instruments are important in Tibetan music, the dranyen is widely considered to be the most characteristically Tibetan in its appearance and timbre; it is regarded as an emblem of Tibetan culture.
The emblematic status of the dranyen has been especially stressed in the diasporic refugee community of Tibetans, which has existed since the Dalai Lama established a government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, following the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959. One of the priorities of this government has been the preservation of Tibetan language and culture. An important site for that project has been the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA), established in Dharamsala in 1961 for the purpose of training youth in the performing arts of Lhamo (opera), song, dance, and instrumental musicianship.

Author Biography

  • Mason Brown, PhD Pre-candidate, Etnomusicology University of Colorado at Boulder
    Before embarking on his graduate studies, Mason Brown was a sign painter, carpenter, recording artist and touring musician, as well as a Zen priest. As an ethnomusicologist, his main focus is Tibetan music and culture, with an eye toward overlaps between liturgical music and contemporary popular forms, as well as rural folk traditions. His other research interests include Japanese Buddhist chant, American and Irish vernacular fiddle music, and violin manufacturing in the Industrial Revolution. Mason holds a double B.A. in Religious Studies and Music, with a minor in Tibetan language, from Naropa University. He continues to record and perform original and traditional folk music, and is a resident priest at Hakubai Zen Temple in Boulder. His current doctoral research is on Tibetan folk music in Nepal.