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!



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.  


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.



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, 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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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




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




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.
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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




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




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.

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Xinjiang Uyghur Musical Instrument – Rawap

Rawap is one of the most popular musical instruments for Uyghur people. The Uyghur people are accustomed to taking their Rawap wherever they go, be it a small gathering on the farm or during the long distance travel when riding on the camel. musical instruments




Rawap has three main parts, ear, handle, and head. The goat’s horns are a very unique feature to Uyghur Rawap .

musical instruments In the old days Rawap is faced with horse or donkey hides. Today, however, snake skin is used for the highest quality Rawap , while Ox skin is also commonly used.




Several different types are played by the Uyghurs, such as Kashgar Rawap , Qoychi Rawap , Qumul Rawap . Kashgar Rawap are the most popular ones.

Kashgar Rawap


Kashgar Rawap , which is called after the town Kashgar where it is found, is a long-neck lute, around 90cm, unlike the Afghan Rawap, which is a short-neck lute.

musical instruments The body and the beginning of the neck is carved from one piece of mulberry wood, in a kind of half coconut shape, with two bended horn-like extensions at both sides at the beginning of the neck. The front is covered with a thick skin, often made of python skin. The long half round neck is joined by a V-join to the horns. The frets are tied-on nylon in 3-double windings in an almost chromatic scale. At the left side of the neck is a groove.

The peg box is glued to the neck, and turns quite sharply backwards in a curve. There are 2 pegs on the right and 3 pegs on the left side of the open peg box. The pegs are T-shape, but rounded. There are 5 metal strings, with only the first one fingered and a bit separate from the others which serve as drones and resonance strings. The strings run over a small loose wooden bridge on the skin to two pins at the end of the body. There is lots of inlay decoration of black and white horn in fishbone, triangles, stripes, etc. Also the back of the body has inlayed lines.

The Kashgar Rawap has more recently become a professional virtuoso solo and orchestral instrument with six metal strings tuned. An equivalent bass Rawap has also been added to professional orchestras.




The player holds the instrument horizontally, at about shoulder level, and plucks with a plectrum in the right hand while pressing the strings with the left hand. Tremolo is its characteristic playing technique. The sound is extremely echoing due to the resonance strings via the skin. It is used in accompaniment of folk songs and dances. musical instruments

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How to Play Bawu


Constructure of Bawu



Bawu reed and mouthpiece
Musical Instrument

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




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.

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Music of the Uyghur

The Uyghur are a Turkic ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia. Today Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China. An estimated 80 % of Xinjiang’s Uyghurs live in the southwestern portion of the region, the Tarim Basin. Uyghur Musical Instruments The Uyghur have a great love of singing and dancing. They have been known for their vibrant music and ethnic dances since very ancient times. Music and dance occupy a significant place in life of the Uyghur. There are no holidays, parties and wedding festivities without music and dances. Uighur traditional songs are remarkable for their melodious originality.


Distinctive Uyghur Music


Uyghur Musical Instruments

Uyghur music embraces several distinct regional styles, product of the geography and complex history of the region, whose oasis kingdoms, separated by mountains and deserts, have been subject through the course of history to rule by many different outside forces.


The History of Uyghur Music


Uyghur Musical Instruments

Uyghur scholars trace the roots of their music back to the 11th century BC to the Di people who are referred to in the earliest of the Chinese dynastic annals, living to the north of China. And generally speaking, the historical flow of music has largely moved from west to east in the following centuries. While Chinese histories record the influence of the Western Region on central China, Uyghur music has historically absorbed much influence from the regions of Central Asia to the west, arriving along the famed Silk Road.


Distinct Regional Styles


Due to the particular geography of Xinjiang and the constant influence of one culture on another, musical styles have developed along different paths over the years, and each tradition is typical of its locality.

The musical traditions of the southern oasis towns of Khotan and Kashgar are more closely allied to the classical Central Asian traditions of Bukhara and Samarkand, while the music of the easternmost oasis town of Qumul has closer links to the music of Northwest China. Each of the region’s oasis towns have to this day maintained their own distinctive sound and repertoire, but they are linked by a common language and overarching culture, maintained by constant communication through trade and movement of peoples. Musically there is much to link these local traditions, in terms of instruments, genres, styles and contexts.


Traditional Uyghur Music


There are several kinds of traditional Uygur music, the most famous of which is the classic Uygur musical composition the “Twelve Muqam”, a major force in the development of Uygur folk music. Uyghur Musical Instruments

Another kind of Uygur music is called “Sanam,” or “beauty,” which involves singing and dancing to a group consisting of between seven to a dozen pieces of song-and-dance music. The music begins slowly and steadily, then picks up speed, and finally culminates in a climax of merry music and exuberant dances.

“Kuxak,” “Eytixish,” and “Maida” are spoken songs, which are common among the Uygur people. Accompanied by simple tunes, the speaker will talk his way through a song, usually about the love between a man and a woman. These songs can also be performed by two people.

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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
Musical Instrument


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.
Musical Instrument


Being Popular


Musical Instrument
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
Musical Instrument
ebony Bawu with vertical played pipe
Musical Instrument

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.

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