Chinese Music 101: Wood Musical Instruments – Ancient and Modern Percussions

By Sari Xu

So far, we’ve discussed about silk, bamboo, stone, clay and skin musical instruments under the Bayin – 8 tones of Chinese traditional musical instruments. Wood, as one of the most common materials used in Western musical instruments, surprisingly, is not that widely used in China for its traditional tones. Most Chinese instruments under the wood category are of the ancient variety. I guess this is because in China, Silk and Bamboo are easier to access by the royal family, and the softer timbre they bring are more favored by the ancient literati and artists.

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Rather than being used in wind instrument like flutes, piccolos, and clarinets in Western music instruments, wood is mostly used in percussions in China. Muyu (木鱼), literally wooden fish, is also known as a Chinese temple block and could be struck with a wooden stick. It’s used by monks and lay people in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, usually during rituals when chanting, involving the recitation of sutras, mantras, or other Buddhist texts. It’s used not only in China, but also East Asian countries like Korea, Japan where the practice of Mahayana is prevalent.

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The Original Muyu

 

More interestingly, the original type of wooden fish is literally in the shape of a fish! Along with a large temple bell and drum, it is found suspended in front of Buddhist monasteries. When proceeding with various duties (such as eating, lectures, or chores), a monk and a supervisor utilize the instrument to call all monastics to go to their tasks. Historically, this was the first wooden fish developed, which gradually evolved into the round wooden fish used by Buddhists today.

Other than Muyu (Wooden fish), another block is also widely used till nowadays. Bangzi (梆子, or sometimes Bangban),a wood block smaller than a Muyu with a higher pitch, is very popular in use of the Chinese traditional Bangzi Opera as an accompaniment. Bangzi Opera, or Bangzi Xi, Bangzi Qiang, is one of the Top 4 kinds of Chinese Opera, originated from the ancient Western Qin Qiang (西秦腔, Opera of the Qin Dynasty, 221 – 207 B.C). The common point of various types of Bangzi Opera, is that they all use Bangzi – the wood block, to give the beat. A Bangzi is usually made of Jujube wood, red sandalwood, or rosewood. it’s also worth mentioning that, the two wooden sticks used to strike the bangzi are of various thicknesses and lengths in order to get different pitches.

Back at the ancient time, the wood instruments were also mainly used during rituals. Remember there is a struck string musical instrument called Zhu that we discussed about previously? Actually, there is another percussion instrument also called Zhu () under the wood category! It was used in the Confucian court ritual music in ancient China. It consisted of a wooden box (which was often painted red or otherwise decorated) that tapered from the top to the bottom and was played by grasping a vertical wooden stick and striking it on the bottom face. The instrument was used to mark the beginning of music in the ancient ritual music of China, called Yayue (雅乐). The instrument is rarely used today, with specimens appearing mainly in Chinese museums, an exception is that, in Taiwan it is still used in Confucian ritual music by the Taiwan Confucian Temple.

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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 15 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.


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Chinese Music 101: Bayin(八音) – Silk Musical Instruments 3 – The Struck String Family

By Sari Xu

Silk musical instruments, or nowadays more referred as string instruments, form the biggest category among the Chinese Bayin categories (8 tones), including – silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, and skin. In our previous blogs, we’ve discussed about two large groups of instruments under this category: bowed string family and plucked string family. Other than these two groups, struck string instruments family also plays a very important role here.

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A Chinese Modern Yangqin with Hand-Carved Patterns

 

The most famous struck string is Yangqin (扬琴), which is sometimes known as Chinese hammered dulcimer. It used to be written as the characters 洋琴, which literally means “foreign zithers”, this is because it was derived from Iranian Santur. Overtime, the first character was changed to “扬”, which means “acclaimed”. Just like other string instruments Pipa, Guzheng, and Erhu, Yangqin and hammered dulcimers of various types are not only famous in China, but also very popular among Eastern Europe, the Middle East, India, Iran, and Pakistan.

In terms of elements of construction, Yangqin also shares a lot of common points with other hammered dulcimers. As a member of the string musical instruments family, the strings are definitely the most significant element. Modern yangqin usually have 144 strings in total, with each pitch running in courses, with up to 5 strings per course, in order to boost the volume. The strings come in various thicknesses, and are tied at one end by screws, and at the other with tuning pegs. The pegs and screws are covered during playing by a hinged panel/board. This panel is opened up during tuning to access the tuning pegs.

Interestingly, though older Chinese string musical instruments used silk strings, which later formed the category as “silk instruments”, Yangqin, as one of the representative of Jiangnan Sizhu (江南丝竹, Silk and bamboo genre in Shanghai region), was traditionally fitted with bronze strings!

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The design of bridges on a yangqin is also a piece of art and more complicated than the bridges on a modern guitar from my opinion. There are usually four to five bridges on a yangqin called bass bridge, “right bridge”, tenor bridge, “left bridge”, and the chromatic bridge, respectively from right to left. During playing, one is supposed to strike the strings on the left side of the bridges. However, the strings on the “chromatic bridge” are struck on the right, and strings on the “left bridge” can be struck on both sides of the bridge.

Hammers are the most unique element of a yangqin and what form the “struck instrument” category. They are mostly made of another commonly used material in traditional Chinese music – bamboo! One end of the hammers is half covered by rubber. This brings two ways of playing the yangqin: with the rubber side for a softer sound, and with the bamboo side for a crisper, more percussive sound. This technique, known as 反竹(Fan Zhu), is best utilized in the higher ranges of the yangqin.Additionally, the ends of the sticks can be used to pluck the strings, producing a sharp, clear sound. Glissandos can also be achieved in this way by running the ends of the sticks up or down the strings! This means, once the player reaches the professional level of playing the yangqin, he or she could play this instrument as a yangqin, a guzheng, and a pipa at the same time!

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A Pair of Hammers

Other than the yangqin, Zhu (筑)was also a famous struck string instrument back at the ancient time though it’s no longer used. The instrument remained popular through the Sui and Tang dynasties (581 – 907), and was lost during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1276).

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Ancient Zhu Found by Archeologists

Now, let’s enjoy one of the traditional music pieces played by a yangqin soloist!

 

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 15 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.


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Chinese Music 101: Bayin(八音) – Silk Musical Instruments 2 – The Plucked String Family

By Sari Xu

Silk musical instruments form the biggest category among the Bayin (8 tones), including – silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, andskin. In our previous blogs, we’ve discussed one thirds of the silk tone – The bowed string family. Now let’s have a look at another well-known silk category – the plucked string family!

(A Uygur Bowed Instrument vs. A Uygur Plucked Instrument)

Other than the Xinjiang Uyghur musical instruments that we’ve introduced long time ago, some widely-used plucked string instruments include: Guzheng, Pipa, and Sanxian. Others like Guqin(古琴), Se(瑟), Konghou(箜篌,harps), and Ruan(阮) are less popular nowadays but very typical in traditional music performance especially for solo.

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A Guzheng (古筝)

The Zheng, or Guzheng (古筝), is known as a Chinese zither with a history of more than 2,500 years. The oldest specimen yet discovered held 13 strings and was dated to around 500 B.C, possibly during the Warring States period (475 – 221 B.C). Guzheng became prominent during the Qin dynasty (221 – 206 B.C). By the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) the guzheng may have been the most commonly played instrument in China.

During its long history, Guzheng has gone through many changes. The modern guzheng commonly has 21 strings, is 64 inches (1.6 m) long, and is tuned in a major pentatonic scale. It has a large, resonant soundboard made from Paulownia. Other components are often made from other woods for structural or decorative reasons. Guzheng players often wear fingerpicks made from materials such as plastic, resin, tortoiseshell, or ivory on one or both hands.

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Playing styles and Schools of Guzheng vary a lot and were first divided between Northern and Southern before being further subdivided into specific regional schools. Regional schools that are part of the Northern style include Henan, Shaanxi, Shandong, and Zhejiang. Regional schools included in the Southern style include Chaozhou, Hakka, and Fujian.

Examples of Northern pieces include High Mountain and Running River(高山流水) and Autumn Moon over the Han Palace(汉宫秋月) from the Shandong school. Southern style can be represented by Jackdaw Plays with Water (寒鸦戏水) from the Chaozhou school and Lotus Emerging from Water (出水莲) from the Hakka school.

Check out the famous Guzheng solo piece High Mountain and Running Riverby artist Xiang Si-Hua here!

The Pipa(琵琶), sometimes referred as the Chinese Lute, is another widely played 4-stringed Chinese plucked instrument. Ithas a pear-shaped wooden body with a varying number of frets ranging from 12 to 26. It also has a smaller version called Liuqin (柳琴). Similar as Guzheng, Pipa also has a long history of around 2,000 years and existed in China as early as the Han dynasty (206 B.C – 220 A.D). Although historically the term “Pipa” was once used to refer to a variety of plucked chordophones, its usage since the Song dynasty (960 – 1279) refers exclusively to the pear-shaped instrument.

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Pipa (琵琶)

Several related instruments in East and Southeast Asia are derived from the pipa, which include the Japanese biwa, the Vietnamese đàn tỳ bà, and the Korean bipa. Interestingly, based on the Chinese, as well as records of these countries, we can easily deduce the evolution of Pipa during its long history! For example, the Tang-style Pipa (from Tang Dynasty 618 – 907) has a comparatively shorter neck, while the Ming-Style (1368 – 1644) has a longer neck and more frets. It also omitted the plectrum and could be played directly with fingers.

 

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The Ming Style Pipa on Record

 

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The Tang Style Pipa on Record

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowadays, thanks to the efforts of contemporary musicians and performers worldwide, Chinese and Western composers are both creating new works using Pipa and Guzheng.Undeniably, these two are always the best companion of each other, and I personally still love the traditional piece the most!

Check out this duo performance of Pipa and Guzheng! And this opus was originally created by Yi ethnic group called Dance of the Yi People!

 

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 15 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.


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Chinese Music 101: Bayin(八音) – Silk Musical Instruments – The Bowed String Family

By Sari Xu

Silk musical instruments form the biggest category among the Bayin (8 tones), including – silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, andskin. In our previous blogs, we’ve discussed a lot about the percussion instruments fall into the stone and skin categories. Today, we will look into the most common and well-known silk category and have a deeper understanding of the bowed string family!

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The Huqin Family

The bowed string family, nowadays, is more often referred as “Huqin” (胡琴) family, could be simply described as spike fiddles (vertical). The instruments consist of a round, hexagonal, or octagonal sound box at the bottom with a neck attached that protrudes upwards. They usually have two strings, and their sound boxes are typically covered with either snakeskin (most often the skin of python) or thin wood. Huqin instruments generally have two tuning pegs, one peg for each string. The pegs are attached horizontally through holes drilled in the instrument’s neck. Most huqin have the bow hair pass in between the strings. Exceptions having two strings and pegs include variations of huqin with three, four, and sometimes even more than five. These include the Zhuihu, a three stringed Huqin, the Sihu, a Huqin of Mongolian origin, and the Sanhu, a lesser-known three-stringed variation.

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The 3 Most Common Huqins

 

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The Typical Huqin Family

These may sound very new to you, no worries, let’s name some names of spike fiddles that you may be familiar with: 1. Erhu (二胡)– tuned to a middle range; 2. Zhonghu (中胡/中音二胡) –  tuned to a lower register; 3. Gaohu (高胡) – tuned to a higher pitch. 4. Dahu, Gehu – tuned to the lowest pitch; 5. Jinghu – tuned to the highest pitch for use in the Beijing Opera. To rank this typical spike fiddles by their pitches from low to high, the order should be Dahu, Gehu, Zhonghu, Erhu, Gaohu, Jinghu.

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The Beijing Opera Instruments Family

Though spike fiddles are dominating the main stream of Chinese traditional musical instruments (along with Guzheng, Dizi and Pipa) and modern Chinese orchestras nowadays, it actually has an ethnic minority background! Huqins are believed to have come from the nomadic Hu people, who lived on the extremities of ancient Chinese kingdoms, possibly descending from an instrument called the Xiqin (奚琴), originally played by the Mongolic Xi tribe. Nowadays, the Mongolian people also have a very similar version of modern Xiqin called Khuuchir, and so do other neighboring countries such as Thailand, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, etc.

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The Original Xiqin Painted by Artist Chen Yang back in Song Dynasty

Coming back to our most familiar Erhu, it also has several variations such as Jing Erhu (京二胡) and Erquanhu(二泉胡). Erhu, sometimes also called Urheen, Nanhu (Southern Fiddle, 南胡), is the most common form of a “Chinese violin” and two-stringed fiddle. It could be used either for a solo or in a concert (both small ensembles and large orchestras).

To be more specific, The Erhu consists of a long vertical stick-like neck, at the top of which are two big tuning pegs, and at the bottom is a small resonator body (sound box) which is covered with python skin (or other snake skin) on the front (playing) end. Two strings are attached from the pegs to the base, and a small loop of string (Qian Jin前襟) placed around the neck and strings acting as a nut pulls the strings towards the skin, holding a minute wooden bridge in place. Some fun facts about Erhu’s features including 1. its characteristic sound is produced through the vibration of the python skin by bowing; 2. there is no fingerboard; the player stops the strings by pressing their fingertips onto the strings without the strings touching the neck; 3. the horse hair bow is never separated from the strings (which were formerly of twisted silk but which today are usually made of metal)!

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The Construction of an Erhu

Jing Erhu, as you may tell, is the version of Erhu that designed for Beijing Opera (Jing Xi). It is lower in pitch than Jinghu (京胡), which is the leading melodic instrument in the Beijing opera orchestra, and is considered a supporting instrument to Jinghu. Erquanhu, is a slightly larger version of Erhu, and is used to specifically to play the most famous Erhu opus by Chinese folk blind artist A-bing called Erquan Yingyue (Moon Reflected on Second Spring).

Check out this Erhu performance of Erquan Yingyue below and try to feel the hopelessness and depression written in the melody:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDSXrP-WVlM

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The Typical Image of A-bing, the Blind Erhu Artist Who Composed Erquan Yinyue

In general, the Huqin family, especially Erhu, is a group of versatile instruments. Erhu is commonly used in both traditional and contemporary music arrangements, for example, in pop, jazz, and even rock music.

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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 15 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.


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Chinese Music 101 – Skin Musical Instruments – The Drum Family

By Sari Xu

A quick review! As we discussed before, Chinese traditional musical instruments are divided into 8 categories, including – silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, and skin instruments. Skin instruments – mostly percussion instruments, actually formed a big Chinese drum family for us to explore further.

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Chinese drums, or we called Gu (鼓), was first invented and used to send signals and accompany with dancing back in the primitive times. They were first made of stones, then clays, and finally wood covered with skin leather or paper on both sides. The sounding principle is very similar to foreign percussion instruments such as Western timpani and African drums. Just like African drums, Chinese drums are often used when dancing during celebration and events. The combination of powerful dancing and drumbeat is always inspiring and the best choice for showing the team spirit especially during the agrarian age. Therefore, different regions have different kind of drums which people use the most, and these gradually formed the huge drum family under the percussion instrument category in China.

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Da Gu, The Big Drum (大鼓)
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Flowerpot Drum, Hua Peng Gu (花盆鼓)

Generally speaking, people in Northern China prefer larger drums in terms of the size, while Southern China residents innovated various types of small drums and relative dancing.

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Book Drum, Shu Gu (书鼓), mostly used in Southern China
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Ban Gu, 板鼓, mostly used in Southern China

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing the drum is more like an integrated performance rather than simply sitting still and playing a piano solo opus. Depending on the size of the drum, it could be hold in hands, tied on the waist or in front of the chest, even put on the head, shoulder, or under the arms. Of course, it needs to be settled on the ground if it’s a large one. It could be either beaten by hands or drumsticks, and one performer could play with 1 or several (10 at most) drums simultaneously. Regarding the appearance, Chinese drums are usually painted in the most representative Chinese red with the leather in its natural color. Check out this video for a Chinese drum group performance!

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Some typical dancing formats accompanied with drum performance include An Sai Yao Gu (An Sai Waist Drum), Wei Feng Luo Gu (Gong and Drum), Tai Ping Gu Wu (Tai Ping Drum Dancing), Hua Bo Da Gu (Huge drums with tiny symbals) and several forms of bronze drum dancing performed by the ethnic minority groups. Check out this performance of An Sai Waist Drum!

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Waist Drum, Yao Gu (腰鼓)

An Sai Yao Gu (An Sai Waist Drum安塞腰鼓) is one of the most amazing performances among the all and was also recognized as Chinese intangible cultural asset in 2006. It’s originated from Shaanxi Province and was used for communication and sending signals during wars back at Qin (B.C 221 – 207) and Han Dynasty (B.C 202 – 220). An Sai is a city in Shaanxi, which is a military stronghold located in the Loess Plateau. Besides delivering information, soldiers at ancient times also play the drums to cheer for the battle and celebrate the triumph afterwards. Later, this became a kind of folk dance in this region. Everyone likes this way of celebration during holidays or worships (praying for grain harvest in most cases) because the waist drums could make very loud sounds when a large group of folks playing together. The strong drumbeat, together with the red drums and red ribbon tied on the drums and sticks, inspire people to work harder, and staying united in Chinese culture. Though nowadays, people don’t support their lives mainly through farming anymore, this kind of art performance is preserved as a culture to be played during holiday celebration.

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Though it’s hard to count how many kinds of drums now exit in China, let’s have a glance at some of the representative drums in this big family!

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Row of Drums, Pai Gu (排鼓)

 

 

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 15 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.


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Chinese Music 101 – Stone Musical Instruments in Ancient China

By Sari Xu

As we discussed last time, Chinese traditional musical instruments are divided into 8 categories, including – silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, and skin instrumentsI guess stone must be the most questionable category among all, so here are some examples of traditional stone musical instruments:

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A Set of Japanese Style Bianqing

Bianqing (编磬) – It is an ancient percussion instrument consisting of a set of L-shaped flat stone chimes known as Qing(磬), played melodically. The chimes were hung in a wooden frame and struck with a mallet. Along with the bronze bells called Bianzhong(编钟), they were an important instrument in China’s ritual and court music going back to ancient times. It was imported to Vietnam as well as Korea back at the ancient time, and nowadays, people could seldomly see this set of instruments and get the chance to play with it. Instead, it mostly appeared in historical and art museums and temples worldwide, and in some film and television works as well. The melody Bianqing usually plays is comparatively slow-paced and provides a calming and majestic feeling.

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The Famous Zeng Hou Yi Bianqing (曾侯乙编磬)
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A Bianqing with 24 Chimes

 

Qing (Sounding Stone, ) – Not necessarily a set, a single L-shaped flat stone could also make great sound as a chime itself. The shape of such stones was often quoted as description for the reverent ritual pose. Important information on Qing nomenclature is contained in the Erya dictionary (尔雅, the oldest surviving Chinese encyclopedia known): the large sounding stone was called xiāo(毊), and a solo performance on Qing, jiǎn(寋). However, the mentioned names do not have much currency in the classical literature. But what we are sure about, is that this kind of instruments, along with the traditional melodies, are widely favored by Chinese ancient scholars and literati. Qing is even mentioned in the Analects as one of the instruments played by Confucius. In the Han dynasty treatises on music, its sound is referred to as “reminding to the monarch about his officers who died while protecting the borders”.

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A Single Qin

Tezhong (特钟) –  It is a single large stone tablet hung by a rope in a wooden frame and struck using a mallet, works in a very similar way to a bell. Thedifference between a Tezhong and a Bianzhong is a Tezhong is usually hanging alone and larger in terms of size. It’s made of bronze and has a sonorous and loud sound. It was invented during Shang Dynasty (B.C 1600) and was mostly played with Ya Music (Ya Yue, 雅乐, similar to Japanese Gagaku). Nowadays, again, we can only find this kind of instruments in museums, and Chinese archeologists are gradually finding more and more instruments from the emperors’’ graves and archeological sites.

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A Tezhong Bell

One fun fact about these stone tones are, Bianqing are usually played along with Bianzhong (smaller than Tezhong), and the harmonic melody the two make together are called “The sound of golden stone”!

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A Whole Set of Zhong

Last but not least, check out this video clip for a short Bianzhong performance at the Blackhawk Museum with all the musicians in Traditional Chinese Han clothing!

 

 

 

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 15 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.


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Chinese Music 101 – Bayin: 8 Tones of Chinese Traditional Music

By Sari Xu

Before the rising of electronic music, even before the discovery of electricity, nature was where all the greatest music stems from. Despite of the differences among each ethnic group, Chinese people, all together have devised tons of traditional musical instruments that could be grouped into 8 categories based on their materials – silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, and skin. Under each category, there must be something you are familiar with and something surprising!

Silk Instruments: silk instruments are mostly stringed instruments nowadays. Back at the ancient times, before the use of metal or nylon, the Chinese have used twisted silk for strings. They could be grouped into 3 categories: plucked, bowed, and struck. Some popular plucked musical instruments include Guzheng, Pipa and Sanxian. Others like Guqin(古琴), Se(瑟), Konghou(箜篌,harps), and Ruan(阮) are less popular nowadays but very typical in traditional music performance especially for solo. Outside of the greatest Han ethnic group, ethnic minorities also have their own stringed music with talented players. For example, in Uyghur traditional music of Xinjiang, Tembur, Dutar and Rawap are widely played and are either fretted or fretless plucked lute. It’s very easy to recognize them with their long neck and representative Uyghur patterns.

Xinjiang people have also devised some fancy bowed instruments such as Ghaychak, Sataer, and Ghushtar. Other ethnic groups like Mongolians and Zhuang people also got the talents in design and devised the “horsehead” fiddle Matouqin(马头琴) and Zhengni(筝尼), respectively. The most common bowed instruments include Erhu, Zhonghu, Jinghu, Banhu, etc. They could be together described as Huqin(胡琴), which refers to the family of vertical fiddles. Though plucked and bowed instruments each has a large family, there are comparatively fewer instruments under the “struck” category. The most representative one is Yangqin(扬琴), which is a hammered dulcimer commonly used in traditional Chinese music orchestra till today.

Bamboo Instruments: bamboo instruments, apparently, are instruments made of bamboo and usually refer to woodwind instruments like vertical flutes. Dizi, Xiao, Paixiao and Chi are some commonly played Chinese flutes worldwide. Other woodwind pipes could be categorized into free reed, single reed and double reed pipes. The most representative instruments in these 3 categories are Bawu, Mabu, and Suona respectively.

Wood Instruments:Most wood instruments are of the ancient variety. For example, Muyu (木鱼) is a rounded woodblock carved in the shape of a fish, and could be struck with a wooden stick. It’s mostly used in Buddhist chanting. Another example would be Bangzi(棒子), which is also a woodblock, smaller than Muyu and has a higher pitch.

Stone Instruments:Yes! Stones could also produce beautiful musical rhymes. Back at the ancient times, there were a range of stone chimes like Bianqing(编磬), Tezhong(特钟) and Qin(磬).

Metal Instruments: Metal instruments are mostly percussions. The two greatest categories here are Luo (Gong) and Bo.

Clay Instruments: Believe it or not, both wind and percussion instruments could be made of the clay! Xun is a typical wind ocarina made of baked clay, and Fou is a percussion instruments that could be played just in the way of playing the drum.

Gourd Instruments: gourds could also be used in music and Sheng and Hulusi are two representative wind instruments made of this “plant”!

Skin Instruments: Don’t be scared! Animal’s skin was commonly used to make the surfaces of drums. These include Dagu (“Gu” in Chinese means the drum), Jian’gu, Bangu, Biangu, Paigu, Huagu, Yaogu, Diangu, Yanggegu, Gaogu… and so on! Haha, this is such a big family!

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The Chinese Drum Family

Other than the 8 categories, instruments made from other unique materials do exist as well, and I promise these treasures, at least one of them, would be a big surprise! Next time, we’ll have some more discussion regarding each category of the Bayin (8 tones), as well as other traditional Chinese musical instruments! Stay tuned!

 

 

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 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!

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!