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.


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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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.


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!