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eTeacherChinese Official Newsletter
Issue #57 - 01/11
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Traditional Music Instrument of China

 

Traditional Music Instrument of ChinaWhen humans in China first began to use tools thousands of years ago, they also fashioned crude musical instruments from stone, wood, and other materials. With social and technological progress, over 500 varieties of musical instruments have been created with steady improvement and winnowing. A complete family of traditional Chinese musical instruments has been passed down, whose shapes and structures, performing skills and sound integration are characterized by complementarities and deep artistic expressivity. The following newsletter will cover several representative traditional instruments, all of which have created magnificent and colorful musical culture from China’s remote historical ages to the present.

 
Konghou in China

Konghou in ChinaKonghou, an ancient stringed instrument, was originated in Mesopotamia. In China, konghou was first produced in the Western Han Dynasty in the form of a bow-shaped instrument after an ancient Chinese model. According to both Shi Ji (Records of the Historian) and Han Shu (History of the Han Dynasty), the Han Emperor Wudi ordered Hou Diao, a musician, to make konghou as an instrument to be used at a ceremony marking the conquest of Nanyue (Viet Nam). The instrument made by Hou Diao was named konghou, because such an instrument had been used by the aristocracy of the Kong State (Cambodia). It was believed that this instrument was first introduced to China via India probably deriving its horizontal bow-shaped structure from a Mesopotamian model.

 
Sheng

ShengAs one of the oldest musical instruments in China, sheng was the first instrument in the records of history after the appearance of the written language. The instrument can be dated back to 3000 years ago. At first, sheng was somewhat similar with another instrument – xiao, which simply tied up several hollow bamboo pipes, and making different pitches when blowing. Later, people gradually increased additional parts onto it, such as reed and sheng doo (a wind funnel), thus it became very different with the pure wind instrument xiao. It is the only one that is able to blow chord among all traditional Chinese wind instrument. To meet the needs of the development of the traditional musical instruments, sheng has occupied an increasingly important position in the orchestra.

 
Huqin

HuqinPrincipally used as accompanying instrument for Beijing Opera, Jing Hu is an important two-stringed fiddle in the Huqin family.
It was developed in the Qing Dynasty (around 1790), which is often called the Huqin. The pitch of Jing Hu is the highest among all instruments of the Huqin family.
Due to its forceful and clarion timbre, Jing Hu is suitable almost exclusively for Beijing opera.

 
Pipa

PipaPipa (lute) is the oldest and most famous plucked instrument in China, originated in Mesopotamia, once was the popular musical instruments in Persia. In its early forms, there are two kinds of pipa. The short-necked pipa was called barbat and the long-necked one was called tanbur (tunbur), both were seen in the Taqi Bustan Stone Sarvings of Sassanian-Persia. During the reign of the Sassanian-Persia, it was known to have a wide range of musical notes and loud sound, but it had only two strings. The pipa, introduced to China during the Han Dynasty, was an instrument which played by tribesmen of the Central Asia steppe on horseback. Such curve-necked Persian pipa with four strings differed from the Chinese traditional long-necked pipa. However, today’s pipa has undergone thousands of years of transformation and development.

 
Flute

FluteFlutes are in a form of pipe made of bamboo with one blowing hole, a film hole, two (or four) vent holes and six sound holes. The film hole is covered with reed or bamboo film. The blowing hole is on the left end and is blocked with a cork. Flutes are held horizontally by the players. There are two kinds of flutes: qu-flute and bang-flute. Qu-flutes mainly serve as the accompany in Kunqu or in an ensemble in the various music forms of south China, while bang-flutes mainly serve as the accompany in Bangzi tune, or in an ensemble in the various music form of north China. Qu-flutes are longer and wider in diameter than bang-flutes, which results in the difference between the deep and flexible sound of qu-flutes and the loud and sonorous sound of bang-flutes.

 
Horse-Headed Fiddle

Horse-Headed FiddleThe Horse-headed fiddle is a bowed stringed-instrument with a scroll carved like a horse’s head. It is popular in Mongolian music. With a history of over 1,300 years, it even influenced European string music when Marco Polo brought one back from his travels through Asia. Its wide tonal range and deep, hazy tone color express the joy or pathos of a melody to its fullest.
The Mongolian people bestowed upon their beloved horse-headed fiddle a fantastic legend: during horse-racing at the Nadam Fair – their featured grand festival – a hero, Su He, and his white horse ran the fastest, which incurred the envy and wrath of the duck. The cruel duck shot the horse dead, and Su He grieved so much that he met his horse in a dream. In the dream, the horse told Su He to make a fiddle from wood and the hair of a horse’s tail, and to carve the head of the fiddle in the shape of a horse’s head. The lad followed the horse’s advice and when he finished, the fiddle produced an extremely vivid sound. From then on, people loved this instrument and composed many songs for it.

 

 
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