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!

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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.


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!

 

 

How to Play Hulusi

Hulusi is played vertically and has three pipes which connect with the gourd wind chest. It has a very pure, clarinet-like sound.

 

Material

 

The traditional materials for making Hulusi are bamboo and gourd. Bamboo is used for the pipes and gourd is used for the wind chest. Nowadays many new materials are used to replace bamboo and gourd. The new materials often used are sandalwood, ebony and cloisonné to make Hulusi look prettier, more luxurious and more professional look. The reeds are made of brass. A plastic sheath is inserted in which protects the two pipes and keeps them sturdy.

 

Main Pipe

 

Single pipe Hulusi are rare. Two or three pipes are the most common. Most Hulusi have a main pipe, which has seven holes, 6 in the front and 1 thumbhole in the back. In 1958, a fourteen-note version was invented, and in the 1970’s a version with two melody pipes, tuned a fourth apart, was invented. Take the following Hulusi for example, the player can either play the key of G or D, depending on which mouthpiece and main pipe is controlling. Musical Instruments

 

Drone Pipes

 

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Hulusi has a main pipe and two drone pipes, which can play chord. One drone pipe produces high pitch and once produces low pitch. But it is not uncommon for a Hulusi to have only one drone pipe sound while the other drone pipe is merely ornamental and has no sound.

For the above Hulusi , the one on the left have two pipes both playing chord while the one on the right only has one drone pipe sound.

 

How the drone pipes play chords?

 

Traditionally, there are two foam lids at the end of drone pipes, which can be plugged or unplugged to open or close the drones when playing. When the lids are open, the high pitch drone produces a “mi” tone along with the “so” tone of the main pipe when having all finger holes closed, and the low pitch drone produces a “la” tone as resonance. However, the foam lids are not convenient to control as you need to move your hand away from the main pipe when playing, which might disturb the playing.

Drone pipes with foam lids
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In recent years, there is new technique to replace the foam lids on the drones as to make the drones easy and convenient to control when playing. The drone switches are for great delivery of sound and are quick on and off.

drone pipes with switches
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The new technique allows you to switch on and off the drones easily at any time without affecting the playing.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

P.S. We need people with similar passion to join or partner with us in promoting ethnic handicrafts! Please contact us at interact@interactchina.com to make any suggestions that you may have in co-operating with us, or join as Affiliate.

How to Play Bawu

 

Constructure of Bawu

 

 

Bawu reed and mouthpiece
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Bawu is composed of three parts.

Main Pipe is the melody pipe. It has seven sound holes, 6 in the front, 1 in the back. The main pipe enables nine full tones and eight semi-tones /combined-tones.

Reed is located inside the top end of the main pipe. Most of them are made of brass.

Mouthpiece could be made of various materials such as metal, ox horn, wood, bamboo or plastic.

 

Basic Rules to Play Bawu

 

Bawu is played in a horizontal manner except the new models which are played vertically. The player must cover the reed entirely with the mouth and apply substantial air pressure to maintain the vibration of the reed. Bawu is only capable of a single octave and unlike free reed mouth-organs it is only played by exhaling.

Take a traditional model for example. It has a thumb hole, six finger holes, plus a tuning hole and a range of just over an octave. It is made from two detachable bamboo pipes and its overall tuning can be varied by adjusting the joint between the two pieces. A key of G instrument plays the scale D E F# G A B D E:

Additional pitches can be played by cross-fingering and half-holing and a G instrument would typically also be played in the keys of D, C and sometimes Bb. Musical Instrument

 

Fingering

 

Bawu has 7 holes, 6 on the front and 1 on the back. So the fingering is somewhat similar to the transverse flute or saxophone.

From left to right, number the holes 0 to 6, with 0 corresponding to the left thumb hole. Typical booklets say the following:

Cover all holes and blow lightly for the lowest tone (which is Mi in the key of the instrument). Cover all holes and blow hard for the low So. Opening hole 6 while blowing hard gets you La; opening 5 and 6, Si; opening all right hand holes, Do. From then on we get Re if we also open 3, Mi if 2 and 3, and high So if only 0 is covered. And the higher the tone, the softer one needs to blow.

 

Throat resonance

 

Following the directions strictly, maybe one wound run into a problem with tonguing and staccatos. When the air-flow is cut off, the freely vibrating reed with feel the pressure lessen and revert to the fundamental resonance, which is either a low Mi or low Fa. This causes problems because one would then hear a sorry-sounding downward glissando after every attempt to play a staccato, instead of a hard cut-off.

The solution to that is throat resonance. Think of it as an extension to setting an embouchure. In addition to changing the lip profile itself, when playing single reed instruments like the saxophone and the clarinet, it is important to “open up the throat”. One wants to expand the muscle that is right below the point where the jaw connects to the neck.

Experiments show that by opening up the throat, you can blow on the Bawusoftly while still producing the higher harmonics, and by relaxing the muscle there, you can immediately drop down to the fundamental resonance.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

P.S. We need people with similar passion to join or partner with us in promoting ethnic handicrafts! Please contact us at interact@interactchina.com to make any suggestions that you may have in co-operating with us, or join as Affiliate.

Bawu – A Talking Instrument

Bawu is a free reed musical instrument of China folk music. It is played by the Dai, Hani, Miao, Yi in southwest China.

bamboo Bawu with detachable pipe
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A Beautiful Legend

 

There is a beautiful legend about the origin of theBawu. Two young people from Hani tribe fell in love with each other. One day a demon grabbed the girl and separated these two lovers. Then the demon cut off the girl’s tongue and threw her into the mountains. The girl luckily survived. Following a bird’s advice that bamboo can talk, she made an instrument with bamboo and pouring out her misfortune through it. On hearing the sad melody from the bamboo the villagers came to kill the demon and saved the girl. She finally married her lover. Since then Bawu became known as a talking instrument.
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Being Popular

 

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Although Bawu is originated from ethnic tribes of Southwest China, it has become a popular instrument throughout China. The rich and mellow tone of Bawu has become a favorite with composers of film soundtracks. It is heavily featured in the film Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon , an Oscar Winner for Best Music. Many Chinese music ensembles now feature a Bawu.

sandalwood Bawu with dual pipes
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ebony Bawu with vertical played pipe
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In recent years, Bawu crafters take this very traditional instrument into a new stage. The newly designed Bawu are better with high quality copper reeds and mechanical keys. The new models can be vertically played and have dual pipes to extend the range of octaves. The materials are from traditional bamboo and upgrade to sandalwood and ebony. These improvements in materials and craft technique greatly enhance its popularity to music lovers.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

P.S. We need people with similar passion to join or partner with us in promoting ethnic handicrafts! Please contact us at interact@interactchina.com to make any suggestions that you may have in co-operating with us, or join as Affiliate.

Hulusi, Oriental Saxophone

If you like playing and collecting Chinese musical instruments, Hulusi will not disappoint you.

 

Origination

 

 

natural gourd and bamboo pipe Hulusi
Musical Instruments
natural gourd and sandalwood pipe Hulusi
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Hulusi is the free wind instrument of Chinese folk music. It is originated from ethnic Dai tribe in Yunnan in the Southwest China, which can be traced back to Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC to 220 AD). It is also popular among other ethnic groups like De’ang, Hani and Yi in the nearby regions. Dai people call it “Bi Lang Dao”. “Bi” means wind instrument, “Lang” means vertically held, and “Dao” means gourd. Whereas, in Chinese Mandarin the instrument is called Hulusi , named after its shape and sound. “Hulu” means gourd, and “si” means silk, implying the sound is as soft as silk. For its soft and harmonious sound, it is described as Oriental Saxophone.

 

Construction and Various Types

 

Hulusi or Gourd Flute is made of a gourd with bamboo pipes fixed at the bottom. The gourd is the wind chest. The middle pipe is the main pipe with 7 finger holes, 6 on the front and 1 on the back. The pipes next to the main pipe on both sides are drone pipes or harmonic pipes. The reeds are at the top end of the pipes. Most of reeds are made of brass, and could be in triangle or rectangle shape. Hulusi is a solo instrument and rarely played in ensembles. It was predominantly played by the Dai and other non-Han ethnic groups in Yunnan province but now can be seen everywhere in China.

cloisonne gourd and ebony pipe Hulusi
Musical Instruments
sandalwood gourd and sandalwood pipe Hulusi
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There are various types of gourd planted all over China, while those planted in Yunnan, with its slim shape, thick texture and solid structure is considered the most ideal for making Hulusi . In addition to natural gourd, quality timber such as ebony and sandalwood are popular choice for more professional players.

 

Legend about Hulusi

 

The sound of Hulusi is hauntingly beautiful, mellow and tender, and has a very pure, clarinet-like sound. It is ideal for expressing soft and tender feelings. Traditionally, Dai men play Hulusi to express their love to women and they also play Hulusi in the fields when taking a break from planting or harvesting. Musical Instruments Musical Instruments

There is a legend about Hulusi among Dai people. In the remote past, a Dai young man saved his girl friend from a flood by holding a big gourd and rushing through the turbulent waves. His loyalty to love touched Buddha, who inserted bamboo pipes into a gold gourd and gave it to the brave man. Holding up the gold gourd, the man played beautiful music. All of a sudden, the torrential flood retreated, flowers blossomed and peacocks opened their tails. All things on earth seemed to be sending their good wishes to the lovers. Ever since then, Hulusi has been passed down from generation to generation among Dai people. Musical Instruments

Hulusi is widely appreciated for its beautiful and soft sound. Although it is still predominantly performed in China, Hulusi has been popular in other countries. It has in recent years been adopted by European composers and performers. Rohan Leach from England, Rapheal De Cock from Belgium and Herman Witkam from the Netherlands have all taken the instrument in new directions.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

P.S. We need people with similar passion to join or partner with us in promoting ethnic handicrafts! Please contact us at interact@interactchina.com to make any suggestions that you may have in co-operating with us, or join as Affiliate.