The Chinese Clay Flute – A Comparison between the Xun and the Western Ocarina

By Sari Xu

(Let’s first compare the sound of an ocarina with the sound of a xun by watching the two video clips below!)

 

When first introducing the Xun to people outside of China, we always start by mentioning that the Xun is similar to the western vessel flute – the ocarina.  This does however lead to some problems and misunderstandings, such as people thinking that the two instruments have the same fingering, same structing and that knowing how to play one of them makes it far easier to play the other.  In fact, by comparing these two instruments, we will discover a myriad of fun facts regarding their similarities and differences, which will in turn help us to learn more about their playing techniques.

First of all, the Xun and the ocarina are made using very similar raw materials, namely clay.  Their crafting processes are therefore also very alike due to the pottery needing to be baked at around a certain temperature.  Their timbres are also similar due to the ceramic materials which they are both made from.  Both produce low notes in general and pieces played using both instruments convey a sense of loneliness, grace or harmony (they can of course also be used to express positive emotions, but this is not often the case).

So far it sounds like the Xun and ocarina do not have many differences apart from the shape of the instrument.  This is not the case and we will now take a look at their 4 main differences:

  1. Different Origins and History
  • While the ocarina originated in Italy and was invented by a baker known as Dunati in order to create whistle sounds, the Xun was first used in order to hunt wild animals back in the Stone Age, around 7000 years ago (link to the previous article). Compared to the ocarina which is around 3000 years old, the Xun is immemorial and has therefore had a far greater impact on the development of other clay instruments throughout the world, especially in China’s neighbouring countries.
  1. Different design and craftsmanship
  • Ocarinas are normally produced by injection molding in order to produce a standardized shape and structure. Xun on the other hand are always 100% handmade.  This makes the Xun a far rarer instrument due to the difficulty of finding a great craftsman, something which has definitely stunted any growth in popularity of the instrument.  Note that most Xun which are found online at a low price are not musical instruments.  They are mass produced and can only really be used for decorative purposes.
  • In terms of the shapes, most ocarinas are shaped like a handgun or submarine and have 4-12 finger holes. Nowadays the most popular pot Xun have 8 or 10 finger holes and can be found in a variety of shapes such as a gourd, brush pot or fish (link to 1st article about the different types of Xun).  Different shapes have a clear effect on the timbre and sound quality of the instrument.
  • Ocarinas are normally left blank or have a ceramic glaze on the surface. Some flaws are also added on purpose, such as small cracks on the front or back in order to give the instrument a particular look.  The Xun always contains traditional engravings.  By carving oracle bone scripts, poems, calligraphy, freehand paintings of bamboos or plum blossoms on the surface of a Xun, a sense of Chinese aesthetics is added to the musical performance.

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  1. Different playing techniques
  • An ocarina has a fipple mouthpiece, the entirety of which is placed in the mouth when blown. The mouthpiece of the Xun is a larger oval hole which functions like the mouthpiece of a flute.  By making a very similar flute embouchure (covering around 1/3 of the hole), the air flow gets through the cavity.
  • There is an air path already inside the cavity of the ocarina. It is therefore comparatively easier to produce your first note by blowing the fipple mouthpiece of the ocarina.  Playing the Xun requires a better control of the lips, embouchure, and air flow.  Beginners will struggle at first, but will reap great rewards through persistent efforts.
  1. One more fun fact about the materials used to make Xun
  • Despite the fact that nowadays the Xun can be made from black pot, red pot and white clay, it was originally made using stone and bones. They can also now be made using bamboo, wood, synthetic materials, and even coconuts!

 

 

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

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The History of the Xun – A 7000-Year-Old Instrument Rich in History and Culture

By Sari Xu

Although the above piece of music was originally a famous pop song released a few years ago, I believe that this cover version produced using a Xun actually did a better job of representing the myth in this song.  Because of its comparatively low and deep timbre, the Xun is always a symbol of themes like loneliness, heartbreak, desolation, and harmony.  This characteristic is not only due to the raw materials with which it is made (previously discussed here: link to previous article), but also due to the fact that the Xun dates back to the Stone Age.

During ancient times (around 7000 years ago), people often tied a stone or mud ball to a rope in order to hunt wild animals.  This kind of tool was named “stone shooting stars”.  Some of the balls were hollow, which meant they made many sounds when thrown. Most people found the sounds enjoyable and learned how to blow air into the balls. Gradually, the “stone meteor” became the musical instrument we know today as the “Xun”.

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Back in that time period, a Xun only had one finger hole and naturally could therefore only produce one note.  This remained the same until the Xia dynasty (2070 – 1600BC).  Archaeologists discovered vessel-flutes like the Xun in the graves of common people which date back to the Xia dynasty.  The instruments which they found had three finger holes and were able to produce the notes “Do”, “Mi”, “Sol”, “La” and “Fa”.  They were mostly made from bones and stone.

The shape of the Xun and number of finger holes were standardized during the Shang dynasty (1600 – 1046BC) to that which we know today.  Most of the Xun from that time period had five finger holes and produced sound of a much higher quality. They were able to produce all the tones and half-tones in a single octave thanks to a better selection of raw materials such as pot, and even porcelain.

By the Zhou dynasty (right after the Shang dynasty, 1046 – 256BC), the Xun had become a common musical instrument and was played particularly frequently in imperial courts. The design of the Xun also varied according to different situations such as whether it was played for enjoyment or for a celebration.

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Later on, during the Qin (221 – 207BC) and Han (220BC – 200AD) dynasties, the Xun was altered yet again in order to have 7 finger holes and the two Xun were categorized into the Song Xun (颂埙) and Ya Xun (雅埙). While the Song Xun was the size of an egg and produced higher tones, the Ya Xun was larger and produced lower pitches.

The modern Xun is based on the 6-hole Xun model instead of the 7-hole model.  By adding two more finger holes on the front side of the instruments, musicians brought it back into the public eye after its disappearance during the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644).  This became one of the Xun we play a lot today and is called the 8-hole Xun.  Apart from this model, the 10-hole Xun is also very popular nowadays.  It was made as people wanted to extend the range of the instrument so it could reach the higher notes and therefore added two more holes.

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As one of the oldest musical instruments and the only existing clay instrument still being played in China, I believe that the Xun is far more than a musical instrument. It survived thousands of years and has witnessed millennia of Chinese history.  The Xun itself is therefore a myth which can be discovered by learning to play the instrument and its music.  I hope that this article has helped to give you an insight into the culture behind the instrument and inspired you to want to try learning to play the Xun!

 

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Comparing the Western flute with the Dizi and Xiao – Important Differences that You Must Know

By Sari Xu

Have you ever heard people referring to the Dizi or the Xiao as Chinese flutes? Have you ever tried to play a Chinese Dizi solo composition with a Western flute? Do you think the fingering techniques of the Western concert flute and the Dizi look very similar?

Yes, you might believe that as woodwind instruments, the flute, Dizi and Xiao have lots of similarities, and this is true. However, they also have different features and advantages that are worth mentioning related to their designs, structure, and playing strategies.

Appearance:

Apparently, they are made of different raw materials and look different. Modern flutes, and most of the woodwind instruments that we usually see in a Western orchestra nowadays, are made of metals such as nickel, brass, silver or gold. On the contrary, the Dizi and the Xiao, and most of the wind instruments in China are made of bamboo (or wood, as a high-end product line nowadays). This is the reason why the flute can generate louder notes than the Dizi, and the notes which the Dizi produces sound more tender and more natural than the flute. Also, due to their differences material-wise, the Dizi and the Xiao are 100% handmade and the quality of the craftsmanship largely decides the quality of the instruments, while the assembling of the flute requires help from machinery.

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Other than the quality of the craftsmanship, another factor that influences the timbre of a Dizi or a Xiao is the quality of the bamboo. The older the bamboo is, the better the tone will be, and the usage of a different part of a single piece of bamboo may result in the woodwind tone having a different quality. Bitter bamboo is most suitable for making the Dizi and black bamboo (or, purple bamboo) is the best fit for the Xiao. This variety between the quality of the bamboo decides whether the notes of an instrument will be tender or bright.

STRUCTURE:

Regarding the structure, both Western and Chinese flutes were unable to be separated into different pieces and only had holes on the pipe. This was until Theobald Boehm’s revolution, after which the modern flute began to have keys that cover each finger hole on the main pipe and a more comfortable embouchure hole on the head pipe. The flute can be detached into 3 parts, while most Dizi and Xiao are still undetachable or can only be detached into 2 pieces.

 

FUN FACTS ABOUT THE DIZI:

A fun fact about the Dizi (yes, only the Dizi, this does not apply to the Xiao!) is that it has an additional hole at the back of the pipe between the embouchure and finger holes, called “Mo Kong” (literally “membrane hole”). A special membrane called “Di Mo” (“Dizi membrane”), an almost tissue-like shaving of reed (made from the inner skin of bamboo cells), is glued over this hole. This membrane is really significant to the Dizi because the vibration it causes brings a distinctive resonating effect to the sound and makes the note louder while adding to it a unique nasal sound.

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At the advanced level, playing the Dizi is something which requires incredible skill.  An extremely advanced playing technique called “circular breathing” is widely used among professional Dizi players to produce a continuous uninterrupted sound. This sounds impossible for human beings because we have to breathe, right? However, by breathing in through the nose while SIMULTANEOUSLY pushing air out through the mouth, using the air stored in our cheeks, this becomes possible! (I imagine you are trying this skill right now in front of the screen.  Give it a try, but don’t push yourself too hard, this is an ADVANCED skill!!!)

To conclude, when comparing the Western flute with the Dizi and the Xiao, it is important to understand both their differences and their similarities. Because their fingering techniques, breathing techniques and embouchure techniques are all very alike, the skills are totally transferable. If you have expertise in playing the flute, it would definitely be much easier and require far less time to learn to play the Dizi and vice versa. That is why knowing about their differences is so crucial! Good luck with whatever you are learning to play!

 

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

The Xun – A Clay Flute: An Introduction to the different types of Xun

By Sari Xu

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The back of a glazed pot Xun

This picture above confused me for a while when I first searched the term “Xun” online.Is this a duck egg? A teapot? Or maybe a broken flower vase with two holes? But later on, after watching the video below, I discovered that this was the ancient Chinese instrument known as the Xun and it certainly can produce amazing melodies. Here is a picture of the front of this “egg” – it has 6 more holes!

 

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The front of a glazed pot Xun

Having been in use for around seven thousand years, the Xun is currently the only surviving example of Chinese traditional clay instruments (sometimes referred to as “earth instruments”). To be more specific, it is an egg-shaped globular, vessel flute with at least three finger holes (at most eight) on the front and two thumb holes on the back. While it looks very similar to the western ocarinas, it has an oval blowing hole at the top instead of a fipple mouthpiece.

Pot Xun:

Nowadays, what most musicians prefer and the most commonly used type of Xun, is the pot Xun, which is made from premium pottery materials such as red pot, black pot, etc. Different materials used to make Xun have to be baked at different temperatures, for example, black pottery provides strong water absorbency when baked at low temperatures; red pottery is usually baked at medium temperatures, producing a stable sound quality and water resistance; baking the pottery at the highest possible temperatures will produce the best rigidity and water resistance, but these Xun are not able to absorb as much water as the Xun baked at low temperatures.

 

As well as the material used, the different shapes of the Xun also affect the performance and functions of a pot Xun:

  1. Brush pot Xun – for Xun that are “taller”, they are referred to as “brush pot Xun” because the shape is similar to a brush pot or pen container. This kind of Xun is great for beginners, with a comparatively low price and easy to pick up.
  2. Ox head Xun – this type of Xun looks exactly like an ox head, and has a lower and deeper sound quality that is calming and relaxing.

 

  1. Gourd Xun – unlike the Hulusi, they are still made of pot, but are shaped like a gourd. Thanks to its shape, it provides a better performance at a higher pitch, but struggles at some lower pitches.
  2. Fish Xun – shaped like a fish, the fish Xun has a premium sound quality and sensitivity. Thus, they are usually considered a high-end product.
  3. Pear Xun – with only one inner cavity, a pear Xun looks shorter than a brush pot. This makes it harder for beginners to pick up because it does not have an insulation board inside of it like the other types of Xun, which reduces possible resonance. However, it also has a unique timbre that attracts lots of musicians.

 

 

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The inside of a Xun

 

Other than the most popular pot Xun, there are several other types of Xun:

Half-porcelain/ porcelain Xun:

They are not totally baked like porcelain, and usually have enamel (also called “glaze”) on the surface. With very similar characteristics to the pot Xun which are baked at medium temperatures, these Xun are also waterproof and have a stable sound quality, unaffected by water, changes in humidity or temperature. Porcelain Xun, on the contrary, function very similarly to the pot Xun baked at high temperatures and are completely unable to absorb water, while also having enamel on the surface.

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Porcelain Xun

 

Wooden/ Bamboo Xun:

These two kinds of Xun share the advantage that they do not weigh much, and are hard to break. But they don’t absorb any water and have a totally different timbre compared to the pot or porcelain Xun.

 

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Wooden Xun

 

Of the many different types of Xun on the market which we have discussed in today’s post, the pot Xun are the ones which are the easiest to buy as well as being the easiest to pick up for beginners.  The different shapes always provide a different timbre and trying out the different types of pot Xun and getting to know their unique features are a huge part of what makes learning this clay instrument so fun!

 

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

The Chinese Musical Instrument: The Guqin and its Music

Written by Juliette Qi

 

As you may have heard, / As you may have heard of before, the guqin (Chinese: 古琴, literally “ancient string instrument”), or qin, is a traditional Chinese musical instrument with plucked strings.

古琴
The Guqin or the Chinese Zither

In 2008, in recognition of its original value, UNESCO added guqin and its music onto the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. To better understand guqin and its music, I recommend that you watch this video in which an artist plays you a famous and historical piece called “Guanglingsan”.

History

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Guqin Player in front of the Incense

Played since ancient times, the guqin was traditionally appreciated and considered by Chinese scholars as a refined instrument. Emphasized by the quote “A gentleman does not part with his qin or his se (another musical instrument) without good reason” (Lijing), it is also associated with the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius. The Chinese sometimes refer to guqin as “the father of Chinese music” or “the instrument of the wise.”

Until the twentieth century, the instrument was simply called “qin”. It is also called “qixianqin” (literally “seven-string instrument”). The guqin should not be confused with the Guzheng, another long Chinese zither also devoid of frets, but with a movable bridge under each string.

 

Music

弹琴
Musician Playing Guqin

Having 3000 years old, Guqin, or Chinese zither, occupies the first place among the solo instruments in Chinese music. The art of Guqin was originally reserved for a cultured elite group and was practiced privately by nobles and scholars, not intending for public performances.

The guqin is an instrument with soft sounds and a range of four octaves. Its empty strings are tuned in the bass register and its lowest note is two octaves below the C, namely the same lower note as the cello. Its sound is produced by pinching the strings,  pressing the strings on a key or using harmonics. The use of the glissando gives it a sound reminiscent of the pizzicato of the cello, the double bass without frets or the slide guitar. Traditionally Guqin has five strings, but the ones with 10 strings or more also exist. Its modern seven-string form was standardized two millennia ago.

 

To Master an Art of Literati

琴箫合奏
Musicians Playing Guqin and Xiao

Along with calligraphy, painting and an ancient form of chess(Go), guqin is one of the four arts that every Chinese intellectual has to master. By setting the strings in ten different ways, the musicians can get a set of four octaves. There are three basic instrumental techniques: san (free string), an (chord stopped) and fan (harmonics).

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The novel La cithare nue(“The Naked Zither”)

The French novel La cithare nue (“The Naked Zither”) by the writer Shan Sa, published in 2010 by Albin Michel, tells the moving story of a Chinese noble woman in the fifth century whose destiny crosses that of a luthier in the sixth century through their mutual love and that of the third century female musician Cai Wenji by their imaginary interaction with her.

In reality, there are now less than a thousand accomplished Chinese Guqin players and probably no more than fifty masters still alive.

 

 

 

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide” 

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Kungfu Clothing, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!

If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us atbloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Chinese Flutes, Dizi, and Xiao: Comparing the Western Flute with the Dizi and Xiao – Fun Facts about Their Similarities

By Sari Xu

Different artforms are always interlinked and have no clear boundaries. Keeping this in mind, one day as I was browsing some fantastic Baroque paintings online, something shines in an oil painting suddenly caught my eye– was it a Dizi?! Or maybe… A flute?

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Recalling all my knowledge about history and flutes, I believed that the gentleman standing in the middle of the painting was playing a Baroque flute which was, during that time period, still made of wood. Back in that period, flutes were divided into two main categories: French flutes and German flutes. Since then, the various pieces which make up a flute have become detachable and it can be separated into 3 or 4 parts. The main difference between these two types of flutes are their different sound frequencies, namely A = 400 Hz and A = 415 Hz, respectively.

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A German flute, a French flute, a classical flute, a flute of romantic period and a mordern flute, respectively
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German flutes

 

To provide more background information about flutes, they are the oldest musical instrument in the world and were first made from bird bones and mammoth ivory. During the Renaissance period (1450 -1600), the flute started to evolve and was more frequently used in musical performances.  They were played vertically at that time. Then came the Baroque period, when the royal families were in charge of Europe. The upper class needed everything to be displayed in the fanciest way to indicate their fortune and power, so different artforms were largely developed to be luxurious and delicate like paintings and architecture. Instrumental and vocal music became more complex in terms of the number of instruments used in one piece of music and musicians also developed more advanced playing styles.  This helped to serve their demand for ostentation.

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Ancient Chinese flutes made of bones

 

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Huangdi (The Yellow Emperor)

This reminds me of the Chinese flutes, the Dizi and the Xiao, which have very similar structures to the Western flutes. Interestingly, they were also first made from bones just like flutes. Around 4000 years ago, Huangdi (The Yellow Emperor), one of the legendary ancestorsfound out that bamboo was a better material for giving the Dizi a better tone color, and since then bamboo has been used to craft wind instruments.

Before the Han Dynasty (B.C 202), the Dizi was played vertically, exactly as the Xiao is played nowadays. And again, as the ruling class of Han became stable and developed, wind instruments were introduced by the lower classes to the royal household and were largely used to accompany the traditional opera performances and in the army. From then onwards, “flutes” played both vertically (end-blown) and horizontally (side-blown) were named “Dizi” until the name “Xiao” was eventually given to the end-blown instruments.

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First records of the horizontally played Dizi, by Gu Hongzhong, Five Dynasties Period, 907-979

 

During the Baroque period in Europe, China found itself in the Ming Dynasty, a period characterized by the incredibly rapid growth of the economy. Folk music became popular again in developed cities, and people in the Southern part of China succeeded in forming their own Chinese orchestras known as “Sizhu (silk and bamboo) bands”, which contain mostly string and wind instruments. Music composition was also taken to another level thanks to the Chinese traditional notion called “Gongche” notation. These bands continued to exist until the Qing Dynasty (1616-1840) and then developed into the modern-day bands we know nowadays.

Reviewing history painting by painting, it is really exciting to prove that, despite the variation in the pace of development of the different instruments from the East and West respectively, music has no geographical boundaries. Even centuries ago, we were able to find so many things in common between Western flutes and the Chinese Dizi and Xiao. They both originated from the lower classes and were made using bones in ancient times. And then, they were both introduced to the royal families and the raw materials used to create the instruments changed to plants like wood or bamboo.  Finally, the style in which they were played changed from end-blown to side-blown.

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While the Dizi and Xiao were far ahead of the Western flute in terms of being used in a formal orchestra during the Ming Dynasty (around the Baroque period in Europe when orchestras were not formally organized), flutes also got the chance to lead the trend later in the 19th century when Theobald Boehm completely revolutionized the flute by redesigning the keys, holes and fingering system.  His work even influenced several other wind instruments used in orchestras.

To conclude, history always shares similar patterns of development worldwide, and it’s nice to see that even now, both Western and Eastern music are still growing and learning more from each other!

 
About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

The Charming Dizi: A Classic Woodwind of Traditional Chinese Music

Written by John Murphy

Are you interested in traditional music? Do you enjoy learning about Chinese culture? Well, today I would like to introduce you to the Dizi!

 

The Dizi is a truly enchanting Chinese instrument, primarily used in traditional and folk music. One legend says that the Dizi was originally invented by the Yellow Emperor, a Chinese deity said to be the originator of Chinese civilization. Interestingly, Archeologists have discovered that simple flutes existed in China up to 9000 years ago. It is no wonder that flutes are so deeply ingrained in Chinese culture. The modern Dizi in its current form can be traced back to around the 5th century B.C. As you can see, this is an instrument with a long history in China. The Dizi is not only worthwhile to learn about for educational purposes, but also to experience beautiful sounds that exemplify Chinese music!

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Historically, the Dizi was popular with everyday people because it was portable, lightweight, and easy to make (being carved out of bamboo). Nowadays, it is a great instrument to play for fun and also to increase your musical knowledge. For someone who isn’t from China, the Dizi allows them to experience new sounds that may not be present in the familiar Western repertoire of instruments. Dizi are usually made of bamboo. In the past, Dizi were made with a single piece of bamboo, but as this is difficult to tune, a musician named Zheng Jinwen redesigned the Dizi to utilize a copper joint which would connect two smaller pieces of bamboo. This allows the length of the bamboo to be changed, which allows players to alter the pitch of the Dizi.  

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The Dizi differs from western woodwinds in one key way: the addition of an extra hole. Most flutes, of course, have a blowing hole and finger holes, but the Dizi also has a special hole known as the mo kong. A tissue-thin membrane called the dimo (the “di-membrane”) is laid out over this hole and secured with animal glue. This adds harmonics to the Dizi’s sound which creates a buzzing in the final tone.

Here’s a fun fact: the first famous western player to be known for his skill in the Dizi is a Canadian woodwind player named Ron Korb. He graduated from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music with a degree in performance. In many of his recordings, the Dizi has the role of lead instrument. Ron Korb is certainly a pioneer of the Dizi in the western world, and in time, it is likely that many others will join him in appreciating this fantastic instrument!

Ron Korb rocks the Dizi in this video featuring the song “Ancient China” from his album Asian Beauty:

And here is another video showcasing very talented Chinese musician playing the Dizi: 

We can see how this instrument produces a truly majestic sound. There isn’t a better way to appreciate the subtleties present in Chinese music than giving authentic songs like these a listen. Share this video with your friends if you think they’d appreciate the sound of Dizi!

While trying a new instrument may seem intimidating at first, whether you are already a woodwind player like Rob Korb, or someone brand new to music, the Dizi at first glance is straightforward and accessible to everyone. However, many experts utilize several advanced techniques when playing the Dizi. This includes: circular breathing, slides, popped notes, harmonics, and double-tonguing, amongst many others. You don’t have to know the ins-and-outs of all these techniques to see that the Dizi allows room for a master player to truly shine and demonstrate his or her abilities.

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Hopefully, this inspires you to check out other traditional Chinese instruments and take a look at more Dizi songs online! Definitely share what you like with your friends, and if you feel like undertaking a new adventure, maybe purchasing a Chinese instrument is just what you need to add some new excitement to your life! At Interact China, we don’t only want to give you an enriching education on oriental aesthetics, we want you to immerse yourself in a new culture. And most importantly, have fun! 

 

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide” 

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Kungfu Clothing, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


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If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

 

 

Xinjiang Uyghur Musical Instruments

Uygur music is accompanied by a variety of instruments. The present Uygur music instruments are developed from ancient instruments from the Western Region and also from modern China and foreign instruments. The major instruments are stringed, wind and percussion instruments. Here we introduce five typical instruments, namely Dutar, Tämbür , Rawap , Khushtar , and Ghijäk .
musical instruments

 

Dutar

 

A long-necked plucked lute with two nylon (formerly silk) strings tuned a fifth or sometimes a fourth apart, with seventeen chromatic frets. Dutar is beautifully decorated, like all Uyghur lutes, with settings in horn or bone. It is used to accompany folksongs, and as a supporting instrument in the Muqam. Dutar can be found in almost every Uyghur home, and is the sole instrument which Uyghur women have traditionally played. It is played glissando, mainly on the upper string but with some heterophony from the thumb on the lower string.
musical instruments
musical instruments

 

Tämbür

 

The longest of the Uyghur lutes at around 150cm, Tämbür has five metal strings. The melody is played on the double right-hand strings, using a metal pick (nakhäla) on the index finger. Tämbür is sometimes used as principal instrument in the Muqam, folksongs, narrative songs and instrumental pieces.
musical instruments

 

Rawap

 

The shorter lute, plucked with a horn plectrum. Several different types are played by the Uyghur. The Kashgar Rawap , at around 90cm, has a small bowl-shaped body covered with skin and five metal strings, and is decorated with ornamental horns. The Shorter Herder’s Rawap , found in the Khotan region, measures around 70cm and is strung with two paired or three sheep-gut strings. Both of these types are played by the narrative singers. Dolan Rawap , the principal instrument in Dolan Muqam with one melodic and several sympathetic strings and pear-shaped body, ressembles the Afghan rubab more closely than the Kashgar Rawap . The Qumul Rawap is similar to Dolan version, and used in folksongs and the Qumul Muqam. The Kashgar Rawap has more recently become a professional virtuoso solo and orchestral instrument (Täkämmul Rawap) with six metal strings. An equivalent bass Rawap has also been added to professional orchestras.
musical instruments
musical instruments

 

Khushtar

 

A prominent instrument in the professional troupes, the Khushtar viol was developed in the 1960s, modeled in its shape on instruments depicted in Xinjiang’s early Buddhist cave murals. It is tuned and bowed like the professional Ghijäk , but its tone is lower and softer, since the whole instrument is made of wood. It is also found in soprano and tenor versions.
musical instruments
musical instruments

 

Ghijäk

 

musical instruments A fiddle with a soundboard of stretched skin. The largest of the Uyghur Ghijäk is found amongst the Dolan, with one horse-hair melodic string and several metal sympathetic strings. The Qumul Ghijäk has two bowed strings tuned a fifth apart, and six to eight sympathetic strings. The earliest Chinese historical records relate that a bowed instrument strung with horse-hair was played in the Qumul region, but the contemporary instrument is probably a fairly recent hybrid between the Chinese Erhu fiddle and the Uyghur Ghijäk , testament to the Chinese cultural influence in this easternmost point of Xinjiang. The Ghijäk now played by professional musicians was adapted in the 1950s, today its four metal strings are tuned like the violin but its playing technique is closer to the Iranian spike fiddle, held on the knee, the bow is held loosely in the hand, palm upwards, and the strings are pressed against the bow by pivoting the instrument. This Ghijäk is also found in soprano and tenor versions.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Xinjiang Uyghur Musical Instrument – Tambur

Tambur is another long-neck lute from Central Asia that exists in different shapes, and is the wire-strung companion of Dutar . musical instruments
Tambur has a pre-Islamic history in the Middle East. It has been found in Ancient Persia and Baghdad Iraq during the Akkadian era (3rd millennium B.C.). In the Sassanid period 5 to 6 century C.E., Tambur in lute form was all ready in use. Later Tambur spread throughout the Middle East and also became popular in Mesopotamia and later on in Babylon. The influence of the Tambur is quite wide spread from Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran to Xinjiang China (Turkistan).
Tambur is either played solo or accompanied by other instruments arranged in ensembles to orchestras. The repertoire being played on the UyghurTambur is called “On Ikki Maqam” or “the 12 maqam”.
musical instruments

 

Shell

 

Tambur is made almost entirely of wood. The shell is assembled from strips of hardwood called ribs joined edge to edge to form a semi-spherical body for the instrument. The number of ribs traditionally amounts to 17, 21 or 23, yet examples with slightly wider and consequently fewer ribs (7, 9 or 11) can also be found among older specimens. Traditionally, thinner strips called fileto are inserted between the ribs for ornamental purposes, but are not obligatory. The most common tonewood veneers used for rib-making are mahogany, flame maple, Persian walnut, Mecca balsam wood (Commiphora gileadensis), Spanish chestnut, Greek juniper, mulberry, Oriental plane, Indian rosewood and apricot. Ribs are assembled on the bottom wedge (tail) and the heel on which the fingerboard is mounted.

 

Soundboard

 

The soundboard is a rotund thin (2.5–3mm) flat three-, two- or single-piece plate of resonant wood (usually Nordmann, silver or Greek fir). This circular plate measuring about 30 to 35 cm in diameter is mounted on the bottom wedge and the heel with simmering glue and encircled with a wooden ring. A soundhole is either wanting or consists of a very small unornamented opening (mostly in historical specimens), giving the instrument its peculiar sonority.

 

Neck

 

The neck (Sap) is a mince (only 4-4.5cm in diameter) 100–110cm long D-section fingerboard made of light wood and carries catgut frets adjusted to give 36 intervals in an octave. Catgut frets are fixed on the neck by means of minute nails. The main bridge is trapezoidal and mobile, and since the shell lacks braces to support the soundboard, the latter slightly yields in under the bridge. The smaller upper bridge between the pegbox and the neck is traditionally made of bone.

 

Plectrum

 

The plectrum is made of tortoiseshell and is called “bağa” (meaning turtle). Cut in an asymmetrical V-form and polished at 45 on the tip, it measures 2-2.5mm x 5–6mm x 10–15cm. Nowadays it has seven strings. In the past tamburs with eight strings were not uncommon.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Xinjiang Uyghur Musical Instrument – Khushtar

Khushtar, meaning Lilting Strings, is a bowed-string instrument played by the Uyghur people. It is commonly found in Urumqi of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, western border of China and Turkestan. musical instruments
Khushtar is named for the bird that is carved on top of the handle. Khush means bird, and tar means strings. The sound of a Khushtar is very clear and resonate, reminiscent of a birdsong.
musical instruments

 

Composition

 

The pear-shaped instrument is made up of six ribs of mulberry or apricot wood. The face board is made of soft pine. The neck is relatively short, with the fretless fingerboard glued to the front.

Khushtar has 11 strings, four are for playing, as with a normal violin, and the others are that resonate along with the bowed strings. The four playing strings are tuned to the normal western scale (G D A E), so if you can play a Violin or Viola, you can learn to play Khushtar in no time. The four strings stretched from four tuning pegs made of walnut wood, and another seven sympathetic strings on the side of the neck. The instrument is supported at the base with a movable foot. The bow is stretched with horsehair, and is not attached to the strings like the Chinese Huqin family.
musical instruments

 

Playing

 

In performance, the Khushtar is placed on the left knee, and the left hand presses the strings while the right hand bows. The body of the instrument can swivel and turn to facilitate bowing.

musical instruments
The Khushtar is tuned and bowed like the professional Ghijek, but its tone is lower and softer, since the whole instrument is made of wood. It is also found in soprano and tenor versions.

The Khushtar’s beautiful form and resonate sound has made it a mainstay of Uyghur Orchestras. In recent years, it has also gained in popularity among mainstream Chinese as well as with many Westerners.

 

Revival

 

Amazingly, this musical instrument was actually lost for some generations. However, after meticulous research, the Khushtar has been brought back to the forefront and is crafted once again according to tradition. It was invented by Tuer Xunjiang of the Xinjiang School of the Arts in the early 1970’s, based on the ancient ‘Ashtar’ (or ‘eight strings’ in the Persian language). Because in ancient times during the heyday of the Silk Road, the Khushtar was called Ashtar. Khushtar modeled its shape on instruments depicted in Xinjiang’s early Buddhist cave murals.

http://www.tudou.com/v/J2ERavqEX4k/v.swf

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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