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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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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