The Traditional Wind Instruments of China

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Dizi

It is made of bamboo and is played horizontally held. The player blows through the mouth-hole on the left side while his fingers close or open the six-finger hole on the right side.  Between the mouth-hole and the finger-holes, is a hole covered by a membrane.  It is an extremely agile instrument with bright and articulate tone, suitable for depicting joyous moods.  The dizi is a unique solo instrument and is also an important instrument in the Chinese orchestral music.  A modern innovation is a set of dizi in different keys for ensembles.

The dizi is supposed to have been brought by Zhang Quian from Central Asia to Changan (the Chinese capital then) during the reign of Emperor Han Wu.  It was known as hengchui, and later hengdi.  The instrument comes in two sizes:  the longer one is popular in southern China for accompanying operatic performances; the shorter one called bangdi, the tone of which is strident and exciting, is popular in northern China.

Xiao/ Dongxiao

This instrument is also made of bamboo and is played by holding it vertically.  The player blows through the mouth-hole at the top while his fingers close or open the 6 finger-holes on the tube.  The lower part of its range is creamy.  High up, the dongxiao

sounds bright and clear.  Its gloomy melancholy tone quality is highly suitable for mournful music.  It is used in opera and for solos.

The xiao is an ancient instrument, which originally consisted of a set of over 10 end-blown pipes in Zhou dynasty.  Each pipe can produce one tone only.  This kind of xiao was known as panpipes while the former one as xiao, and later as dongxiao.

Sheng

The sheng is a reed wind instrument with a history of over three thousand years.  It consists of a series of bamboo pipes of various lengths attached in a circle to a base.  Originally the base was made of calabash and the instrument is traditionally listed in the gourd category.  Later, wood or copper was introduced.  The sheng is one of the oldest Chinese instruments.  The number of pipes has varied but there are two most widespread contemporary types of sheng.  One that is popular in southern China has only 13 pipes which are sounded.  The sheng is played by blowing through a mouthpiece at the side.  It can produce chords for accompaniment purposes.  It is also used widely as a solo instrument.

Guan

It is a double reed instrument.  The tube is made of wood or bamboo and there are 8 finger-holes on it.  The mouthpiece of guan is made of two piece of reeds.  The tone in the high register is strident, while that in the low register, melancholic.  The guan was introduced into China from Central Asia during the Eastern Jin dynasty (A.D.317-420).  It was employed in the court and theatrical music.  It is commonly used both in ensembles and in solos.

Suona

The suona is an ancient double-reed wind instrument and is also called the dida or laba.  It was introduced into China from Persia and Arabia during the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644).  The mouthpiece of suona is made of two small and thin pieces of reeds.  The middle section is a metal bell.  Its tone is sonorous and penetrating.  The instrument is famous for its capacity to depict joyous and vigorous moods.  Its role at first was to inspire the army of the Ming dynasty.  Gradually it came to be commonly used in wedding and funeral ceremonies, orchestral, and theatrical music.

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