Sei sulla pagina 1di 78


An Instrumental Guide To The Chinese Orchestra

By Samuel Wong Shengmiao

Commissioning Editors Lim Yangzheng Yang Jiwei

QI An Instrumental Guide To The Chinese Orchestra By Samuel Wong Shengmiao Commissioning Editors Lim Yangzheng

QI: An Instrumental Guide To The Chinese Orchestra

Published & Produced by TENG 29 Clover Close Singapore 579270

Please send all enquiries to

Copyright © 2005 by TENG First Published 2005 Reprint 2007

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying and recording, without the written permission of the copyright holder, application for which should be addressed to the publisher. Such written permission must also be obtained before any part of this publication is stored in a retrieval system of any nature.

Printed in Singapore by Craft Print.

ISBN: 981-05-4012-4

National Library Board Singapore Cataloguing in Publication Data

Preface How to use this Book



An Overview of the Chinese Orchestra
































Erhu, Gaohu, Zhonghu













Dizi, Xiao, Xindi



Bawu, Paixiao, Xun
















The Chinese instrumental musical form 1 is evolving. Evolving too fast for anyone to catch up with, and yet, too potent for most people not to notice. Few can see it, but this musical evolution is quietly creeping and blurring the perceptions of those who think they Know.

Will knowing too much on their part eventually cause them to know too little in the future? Will knowing too much of what we have now cause us to forget our past? Change is expected in terms of instruments, of repertoire, of technique and of people. But at what expense is this musical art evolving?

The evolution of the modern Chinese orchestra, an ensemble of the 20 th century that capitalises simply on the fact that its Western counterpart exists, has caused much debate. Spearheaded most prominently by the late 彭修文 Peng Xiuwen of the China Broadcast Orchestra, an orchestral revolution came about in the 1950s, expanding in popularity especially in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.

The Chinese orchestra has, in a way, successfully revived a once less-than- popular tradition. It has proved to last longer than the average music fad, and yet, it is still short of being established. The orchestra, especially within schools, has enlivened Chinese instrumental music and brought a new awareness. In fact, the notion of the Chinese orchestra has ballooned so successfully, that ‘professional orchestras’ have tried to showcase Chinese music’s (or rather the Chinese musician’s) immense potential, and reveal the scale at which a Chinese orchestra can be expanded. The Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra holds a Guinness World Record for the most number of 二胡 erhu players playing simultaneously (a spectacular 1,000). The Singapore Chinese Orchestra organised a ‘Mega Concert’, which featured 2,400 roaring musicians – for posterity’s sake.

The purists, who are few in number, look down on the orchestra like a prodigal son. The newer generations of musicians who crave energy, desire the awards that come along with the numerous Chinese orchestral competitions and love this genre of music for the thrill it gives them – without necessarily knowing what they are playing. The passer-by, who believes that Chinese music is confined to the old and gaudy, does not know that this art form has superseded his perception of new, and has mocked him for living in the past; while the old man’s perception of Chinese music is still that of simplicity and straightforwardness.

Through its formation, the orchestra has fashioned a new breed of art, and created a more ‘scientific’ work form. How curious it is that the science of the art is not questioned by audiences but often bemoaned by Chinese musicians themselves who, ironically, should be the first to appreciate that their music is still untouched by formulated tests that aim to see ‘where the best sound is’.

Instruments like the sheng (mouth reed organ) and the ruan (lute) – two of China’s most traditional instruments – have shown some of the most pronounced changes, with instrumental variations being invented to fit sound gaps. Between these two instruments, hundreds of changes have already taken place – like the adding of 扩 音管 kuoyinguan (amplifiers) for the sheng, or the movable 琴码 qinma (instrument bridge) for the ruan. The invention of the 中音笙 zhongyin sheng (alto sheng) and the 大阮 daruan (bass lute) are two examples of variants fitting into the orchestra, which were intended as, again, a scientific process.

The Cello and Bass – two Western symphonic instruments – have been introduced to help boost the body of the Chinese orchestra’s sound. However, their additions have magnified the flaw in the construction of the Chinese orchestra, causing some orchestras, like the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, to opt for the 革胡 gehu and 低音革胡 diyin gehu instead.

The seating positions of the instruments have of late, been a topic of debate among composers, conductors and theorists, with each disagreeing on where to put which section of instruments. The most awkward being the plucked stringed section, which has no equivalent in a Western symphonic orchestra. Some conductors believe it best to place the bowed stringed all in front, flanking both sides, while others like a balance with the bowed stringed on the conductor’s left and the plucked stringed on the right, arguing for aesthetics, science and a performer’s view of the conductor. This problem, I believe, will continue to be in contention.

Recently, the Central Chinese Orchestra took drastic measures to improve the orchestra’s textural sounds by removing instruments like the 高胡 gaohu, 琵琶 pipa, and other instruments deemed to be of ‘too much character’, only to find the instruments back in place again.

Repertoire for Chinese instrumental music has evolved from the post- revolutionary folk tune themed pieces like 瑶族舞曲 Yao Zu Wu Qu (Dance of Yao Tribe) into avant-garde forms, copying the wave of western 20 th century music. Pieces like Tan Dun’s 西北第一组曲 Xi Bei Di Yi Zu Qu (Northwest Suite No.1) for Chinese orchestra makes use of traditional folk melodies, novel compositional structures and innovative techniques on age-old instruments to provide breakthroughs in Chinese music.

Yet, despite the seemingly apparent mess that the Chinese orchestra is, it has managed to struggle past 80 years, gaining a certain amount of prestige and bringing about a new diversified interest in Chinese culture. The orchestra has been taking strides rather than steps. The China Broadcast Orchestra frequently holds concerts in some of the best concert halls in the world, much to the amazement of European audiences. The Central Chinese Orchestra has performed to marvelled audiences in North America and has been hailed as China’s leading arts practitioners. Reviews by the American press have always glowed with intrigue.

The newfound interest in Chinese music sprung a flurry of new compositions that have pushed standards up remarkably. Some parents believe that learning to play a Chinese instrument will instil a rooting of Chinese culture in their children – which is partially true. Students find adrenaline with the Chinese orchestra and a camaraderie that has been fostered by getting full orchestras to participate in competitions and performances.

As with all things, where there is gain, there will surely be loss. The evolution of the orchestra has resulted in the many traditional folk musical forms being neglected. The restless Chinese music practitioner has become obsessed with the Chinese orchestra and its loud banging repertoire, and has cleanly forgotten his roots. Small ensemble pieces like the 丝竹 si zhu (silk and bamboo music) genre and the different musical dialects have been forgotten by today’s youth.

Although the Chinese orchestra has created a huge awareness, it has also created a satisfied player. It has created a performer with little critical discourse. The majority of amateur Chinese music practitioners have become fat on what they have learnt.

The student of the Chinese orchestra today is geared for a multitude of performances, competitions and, more frighteningly, standardisations. The introduction of the conservatory system in China (a follow-up of the Russian system) has brought an advanced level of technique to the ‘professional student’ but has drawn away much character from today’s players.

It is not my place to criticise the creation of the orchestra, or to extol the orchestra’s development, for only Time can tell. I still play with an orchestra and have studied with the conservatory. I have found both experiences to be among the most enriching of my life.

However, I have seen changes in the people who make the orchestra and realised the great lack of awareness amongst new Chinese instrumental music practitioners. Born and bred by the Chinese orchestra, many amateur Chinese music

practitioners have forgotten the stories of their own instruments, and the histories of other instruments that make up this debatable orchestra. Many do not even know that their instruments were recent ‘inventions’.

It is my realisation, which prompted me to remember.

In my previous book, ‘Impressions of a Pipa Player’, I was dealing with a topic that was micro and yet humanistic – the pipa as an instrument and the player as the instrument’s voice. In this book, I look to the macro – the overview of the instruments of the Chinese orchestra.

This book is written to create awareness and not to induce full-blown academic discourse. It is written for people like me, who have almost forgotten and who wish to know more. It is written for the non-practitioners who, try as they may, cannot understand how and what makes some of the instruments tick. The book is more so for the English-speaking, who are interested but have no access to any of the material in Chinese.

The book’s title, Qi’, means ‘instrument’ in Chinese. Thus, it will showcase the instruments of the Chinese orchestra, providing brief overviews, histories, pictures, and explanations of each instrument’s tonal colours, ranges, functions and how they are used in the orchestra. Examples of renowned pieces and exponents for each instrument are given, providing an outlet for the reader to engage in further research himself.

There is a lack of such material for the upcoming generation of Chinese musicians and enthusiasts alike; material that deals with such an obscure topic, and yet is easy to read.

The book will not be a debate about what is right or wrong, but rather a humble documentation of what exists, trying to be as current and accurate as possible.

This is a guidebook to provide handy information when you most need it, but not an analysis of the music and its culture. The book aims to spur the discovery of greater depths of Chinese instrumental music and, hopefully, one day a greater range of repertoire. I wish this book to be an encouragement to others who share the same goals as I do.

Writing about Chinese music can be nerve-wreaking. There are no standardisations of Chinese song names, not even of how certain song names are pronounced in Mandarin. The name of a song in a particular province can be termed something else in another part of China. The research is extensive and usually

ambiguous. Surprisingly, the translations of some techniques cannot be found in English but in Italian!

Much of Chinese music is linked to the Chinese language itself, hence its fluidity and oblivion to science. Much of the language is interwoven with the culture and mannerisms of the Chinese. Thus, beneath the research is more research and darker salient beliefs.

Some concepts in Chinese music can be so esoteric, that they do not seem conceivable in today’s world.

But I figure that it is Art – capable of being as unscientific as can be.

Art, which has never requested for herself to be simplified, put herself forward to challenge and be challenged.

I write this book for the sake of Art, so others can remember and I will not


Samuel Wong


1 My reference to Chinese instrumental music and ‘Chinese music’ is a constrained one. Within Chinese music are the sub-categories of Taoist music, Buddhist music, opera music, folk music, ballad singing etc. Chinese instrumental music already has such an illustrious history and a scope too broad to cover and document. As such, when I refer to Chinese instrumental music, I am already excluding numerous musical art forms, as I will usually be referring to the music of the Han majority – the popular majority of China and Chinese in the world. It should be noted that sometimes Han music overlaps with the music of other races in China, for instance, the Inner Mongolians and their music. Therefore, one cannot say that Han music is exclusive to the people of Han.

How To Use This Book

Each chapter focuses on a major instrument in the Chinese orchestra, complete with stylised photos and captions of musicians, techniques and the various parts of the instrument.

The chapter starts with the History of the instrument. The origins of the instrument are provided. This section includes evidence from various ancient musical annals on the actual formation and make of the instrument, alongside listings of places where the instrument was first made popular.

The Tuning & Structure section of the chapter gives the tuning formation of the instrument, covering its range and dynamic capabilities. The system of registral

designation used in this book is in common standards, with c 1

middle C (hence c 1 , d 1 , e 1 etc.), c 2 being representative for an octave above middle C and so on.

being representative of

Hence the following:

C 1 D 1 E 1 … C D E … c d e … c 1 d 1 e 1 … c 2 d 2 e 2 … c 3 d 3 e 3

Octave Below Middle C Middle C
Octave Below Middle C
Middle C

Octave Above Middle C

This section also familiarises the reader with the different parts of the instrument.

The Techniques & Tonal Colour section highlights the instrument’s more prominent techniques, while expounding on its tonal colours and dynamic capabilities. Symbols of how the techniques are scored are written into sub-sections.

Representatives & Repertoire concludes the chapter, where famous representatives of the instrument are highlighted and select repertoire – ranging from the classical to the avant-garde – is listed.


An Overview of the Chinese Orchestra

What we see today as a modern Chinese orchestra is, in fact, a hybrid formation of Eastern, Western, Middle Eastern and Asian instruments. Sitting in a fan-like arrangement with a conductor, this form of orchestra is difficult to categorise. Is it Chinese, or is it multi-ethnic? Why is it called a Chinese orchestra? Those in the know realise that this orchestra goes against folk traditions and recognise this orchestra as a new art form, while those not so in the know may think that the Chinese orchestra has existed for civilisations, believing it to be long-standing and rich in heritage. Despite what one may or may not know, the orchestra has the ability to impress and can exude enough pomp to seem like a novel genre of music. The Chinese orchestra has begun to stir waves in the music world, providing an alternative to composers and conductors, and jobs to Chinese instrumental musicians.


Chinese musical orchestras (not to be confused with the modern Chinese orchestra) and folk ensembles have been present since ancient times with the most classic example being the 雅乐 yayue (court orchestra), which started from the Zhou Dynasty. Considered one of the largest types of orchestras in ancient China, the yayue orchestra during the reign of 梁武帝 Liang Wu Di (Emperor Liang Wu), around AD 503, had a huge inventory of wind, percussion and stringed instruments. In a normal court orchestra, there were four 建鼓 jiangu (ancient drums), 12 镈钟 bozhong (bronze bells), 252 编钟 bianzhong (chime bells) and 252 编磬 bianqing (Qing chimes), amounting to a total of 520 percussion instruments – a reiteration of the enormous size of orchestras at that time. The yayue orchestra performed through and endured the lengthy rebellion periods in Chinese history, but sadly, when the 国民党 Guo Min Dang (Nationalist People's Party) came to power, these orchestras were banned as they were deemed to be 祭祀 jisi (ancestral worshipping) tools.

Not long after the liberation of China, the 中央民族音乐研究所 Zhong Yang Min Zu Yin Yue Yan Jiu Suo (Central Folk Music Research Institute) gathered a group of musicians from Hunan in Liuyang County to perform yayue. This gathering was a significant step in preserving this orchestral genre as it had not been active for a long time. This group of musicians used the wind instruments chi, 排箫 paixiao, xiao, sheng and xun . Their percussion instruments included 特钟 tezhong, 编钟 bianzhong, 特磬 teqing, 编磬 bianqing, 应鼓 yinggu and 搏拊 bofu. Plucked stringed instruments in the orchestra included se and 七弦琴 qixian qin. During the course of the musicians’ performances, it was found that without the accompaniment of bowed stringed instruments, these ancient and gentle types of wind, plucked stringed and percussion instruments were only capable of performing simple melodies and rhythms, resulting in a lack of performance strength. During the Sui and Tang dynasties, there was a formation of the 燕乐乐 队 yanyue yuedui (yanyue orchestra), a form of court orchestra that encompassed folk instruments and incorporated tribal folk instruments. The <<新唐书·礼乐志>> Xin Tang Shu·Li Yue Zhi (The New Tang Book on Ceremonial Music) records that the yanyue orchestra used the 短笛 duandi, 长笛 changdi, 尺八 chiba, 小箫 xiaoxiao, 大箫 daxiao, 小笙 xiaosheng, 大笙 dasheng, 小筚篥 xiao bili, 大筚篥 da bili, 吹叶 chuiye, bei, 指鼓 zhigu, 连 鼓 liangu, 鼗鼓 taogu, 桴鼓 fugu, 毛员鼓 maoyuan gu, 正铜钹 zhengtong bo, 和铜钹 hetong bo, qing, 大方响 dafang xiang, 小琵琶 xiao pipa, 大琵琶 da pipa, 小五弦琵琶 xiao wuxian pipa, 大 五弦琵琶 da wuxian pipa, 小箜篌 xiao konghou, 大箜篌 da konghou, 卧箜篌 wo konghou and zhu among other instruments. The orchestra was said to possess great variations in tonal quality and it was apparently more advanced than the yayue orchestra. Folk ensembles have long spread throughout China as well. Developing alongside orchestras, these folk ensembles are tightly woven with the lives of people and their regions. Since China’s liberation, musicologists have categorised these ensembles based on their regions and the types of instruments that are used. They include:

i. 管弦乐 Guanxian yue (wind and strings music), such as 潮州大锣鼓乐 Chaozhou daluogu yue (Teochew cymbal and drum music) and 浙江民间乐队 Zhe Jiang Min Jian Yue Dui (Zhejiang Folk Ensembles) etc.;

ii. 丝竹乐 Sizhu yue (silk and bamboo music), such as 广东音乐 Guangdong Yinyue (Cantonese music), and 福建南乐 Fujian nanyue (Fujian nanyin music) etc.;

iii. 吹打乐 Chuida yue (wind and percussion music), such as 河北吹歌 Hebei chuige (Hebei wind music), and 西安鼓乐 Xi'an guyue (drum music of Xi'an) etc.;

iv. 丝弦乐 Sixian yue (silk strings instrumental music), such as 弦索十三套 Xiansuo shisan tao (The Thirteen Sets of Xiansuo instrumental music), and 河南板头曲 Henan bantou qu (Henan opera music) etc.;


打击乐 Daji yue (percussion music), such as 四川闹年锣鼓 Sichuan naonian luogu (Sichuan New Year cymbal and drum music) etc.

The ensembles can be categorised as such:

drum music) etc. The ensembles can be categorised as such: Wind and Percussion Music Percussion Music

Wind and Percussion Music

Percussion Music

Wind Music

Wind and String Music

Music Percussion Music Wind Music Wind and String Music Bamboo and Stringed Music Plucked Stringed Music

Bamboo and Stringed Music

Plucked Stringed Music

Silk and Bamboo Music

Bowed Stringed Music

Stringed Music Silk and Bamboo Music Bowed Stringed Music The modern Chinese orchestra is an extension

The modern Chinese orchestra is an extension of the folk ensembles, combined with the principles of the Western symphonic orchestra, while utilising some instruments used in the ancient orchestras. This combination uses the majestic folk wind and percussion instruments usually from the northern regions of China, and the gentle sounds of bamboo and silk instruments from the southern regions. Like the Western orchestra and the ancient Chinese orchestra, there is usually more than one musician for a certain instrument; for example, there are usually more than eight 二胡 erhu players in a modern Chinese orchestra, though it is highly uncommon in folk ensembles to see repetition of instruments. The Chinese orchestra is intricately related to political reform and development of modern Chinese society; its formation and standardisation is still unstable and the one thing constant is the rapid improvements on the instruments used in the modern Chinese orchestra. The Chinese orchestra today can boast to perform traditional music, folk music, as well as contemporary compositions.


The Chinese orchestra was formed by a group of like-minded individuals who believed that westernisation was the form of modernisation. This outlook arose from China’s repeated setbacks to western powers and the success of Japan’s Meiji Restoration, where Japan embraced westernisation alongside Japanese values to a successful development. Of the individuals, 刘天华 Liu Tianhua (1895-1932) is perhaps the most prominent. An avid supporter of the May Fourth Movement in China, he is

sometimes also referred to as the ‘May Fourth Composer’. Liu, a music teacher in Beijing University, was heavily influenced by the then-University President and key figure in the May Fourth Movement, 蔡元培 Cai Yuanpei. Cai proposed that a westernisation of Chinese music could be brought about to advance its artistry, allowing Chinese music to compete with the symphony orchestra of the Western world.

Liu, being highly motivated, brought about the reformation of the erhu, which was later supposed to be the basis of the modern Chinese orchestra. In 1927 Liu set up the 国乐改进社 Guo Yue Gai Jin She (Society for Improving Chinese Music), and set up the first Chinese orchestra, which was basically an extended silk and bamboo ensemble that had more than one player for each instrument – a trend unheard of at that time. Liu then arranged the piece 变体新水令 Bian Ti Xin Shui Ling (Xin Shui Ling Variations) for this orchestra and, for the first time ever, gave precise written notations in the form of tempo, ornaments and parts to the orchestra’s musicians. This practice, highly westernised, was against the skeletal melody that was given in traditional Chinese music and represented the breakthrough for scores to be transmitted in precise notation form, and not orally or in partial notations as it had previously been done. Soon, orchestras similar to Liu’s formation orchestra started developing in Nanjing, Beijing and Shanghai. Another breakthrough came in 1935 when the China Broadcasting Station in Nanjing started an orchestra. This orchestra later moved to Chongqing, where it expanded and took on the name China Broadcasting Station Chinese Orchestra. The orchestra started its own compositions, and invented the instruments, 中 胡 zhonghu, 大胡 dahu, 低胡 dihu, and the reformed 笛子 dizi to help broaden the range and timbre of the orchestra. The inventions of these instruments were due to the fact that the orchestra lacked lower ranged instruments. The orchestra accepted numerous Western practices along the way, and its musicians were seated and positioned like a symphony orchestra with a conductor. Musicians had to follow scores like in Western music and were required to be led by a conductor. The orchestra experimented not only with instruments but with repertoire as well; playing traditional silk and bamboo pieces, Cantonese music that had been adapted or arranged for the orchestra, and compositions that had been commissioned for this ‘new’ orchestra. The orchestra was already using a conductor’s score, parts for the musicians and simple western harmony. Counterpoint was slowly added into these pieces. By the 1940s, the orchestra had developed into the four sections: bowed stringed, plucked stringed, wind, and percussion. However, there was an imbalance of sound within these sections, and uniformity in sound was quite hard to reach. The instrumental sounds sometimes conflicted with each other and the ranges for each instrument were not broad enough.

In 1949, when communism spread through China, the communist government used the Chinese orchestra as a propaganda tool to play political songs with the aim of rousing the people’s hearts to communism. Most music that was played or composed during this period of time had communist themes. With the support from the government, numerous Chinese orchestras started sprouting in other provinces in China. In the 1950s, these orchestras started re-looking at their instruments and the lack of uniformity in sound. Amazed by a music troupe that came from communist Russia in 1952, Chinese orchestral musicians realised that there needed to be a greater and more stable system of instruments. As such, existing instruments were reformed and further instruments were invented and added into the orchestra. For example, the pipa’s frets were increased to 24, to allow the instrument to play a full three and a half octave scale, and levers were added on to flutes and other wind instruments to allow them to play semitones. By 1954, Chinese orchestras had grown extensively in Shanghai and Beijing. The orchestras also now possessed variations of sheng (the soprano, alto, tenor and bass shengs), as well as percussion instruments like gu (drums), bo (cymbals), 木鱼 Muyu (wooden blocks). The pieces performed included 金蛇狂舞 Jin She Kuang Wu (Wild Dance of the Golden Snake) composed by 聂耳 Nie Er, composer of the Chinese National Anthem; 春江花月夜 Chun Jiang Hua Yue Ye (Spring Blossoms on a Moonlit Night) arranged by the renowned pipa player 卫仲乐 Wei Zhongle, and 湖上春光 Hu Shang Chun Guang (Light on the Lake in Spring) composed by 谭小鳞 Tan Xiaoling. At the forefront of this change were two orchestras – 中国广播民族乐团 Zhong Guo Guang Bo Min Zu Yue Tuan (The China Central Broadcast Orchestra) and the Chinese orchestra of the 济南军区前卫歌舞团 Ji Nan Jun Qu Ge Wu Tuan (Jinan Military Qian Wei Artistic Troupe). The Central Broadcast Orchestra (not to be confused with the China Broadcasting Station Chinese Orchestra), formed in 1953, whose main purpose was to provide music for the broadcast station, was made up of members who were from the original China Broadcasting Station Chinese Orchestra and the orchestra affiliated with the 西南人民广播电台 Xi Nan Ren Min Guang Bo Dian Tai (Southwest People's Broadcasting Station). Among the members was 彭修文 Peng Xiuwen, who became the Artistic Director and Conductor of the orchestra in 1956. The orchestra cleverly positioned themselves as an official artistic organisation, and gained support from the government. Peng spearheaded the introduction of new instruments, and it was with this orchestra that the variants and reformations of the ancient instrument 阮弦 ruanxian was added in the form of 中阮 zhongruan (alto ruan) 大阮 daruan (bass ruan) and 高音阮 gaoyin ruan (soprano ruan). The sheng variants of 高音笙 gaoyin sheng (soprano sheng), 中音笙 zhongyin sheng (alto sheng) and 低音笙 diyin sheng (bass sheng) were also added in this orchestra. The orchestra introduced the 革胡 gehu and 低音革胡 diyin gehu to fill the gaps of sound

among the lower registers. The gehu and diyin gehu have been replaced by the Cello and Bass in some orchestras. The orchestra stabilised by 1961 and Peng himself wrote and arranged compositions for the stabilised orchestra, many of which, have become familiar favourites with Chinese orchestral listeners today. Among them include 瑶族舞曲 Yao Zu Wu Qu (Dance of the Yao Tribe), 秦·兵马俑 Qin·Bing Ma Yong (Terra-cotta Warriors Fantasia) and 丰收锣鼓 Feng Shou Luo Gu (Celebrating Bumper Harvest with Drums).

The orchestra under Peng’s direction travelled extensively, performing frequently in renowned concert halls and prestigious music festivals to the delight of foreign audiences. The Jinan Military Chinese Orchestra, alongside the Central Broadcast Chinese Orchestra, took to reforming instruments. Notably inventing or adapting the 柳琴 liuqin, 云锣 yunluo (pitched gongs), 低唢呐 di suona and 排鼓 paigu (set drums) and introducing them into the Chinese orchestra. The composer and pipa player, 王惠然 Wang Huiran, most responsible for the reformation of the liuqin, later became Jinan Orchestra’s conductor. The Jinan Orchestra, unlike the Central Broadcast orchestra, which concentrated on developing their stringed section, concentrated on the orchestra’s wind and percussion instruments in their development. This was largely due to the orchestra musicians’ expertise in wind instruments. Among its members was the famed sheng musician 胡天泉 Hu Tianquan, who is most associated with the development of the modern day sheng. In general, through its reformation of instruments, the Chinese orchestra hoped to achieve a wider note range, instruments that could correspond to the Western 12-toned scale with complete semi-tones, a more even texture of sound produced by different parts of the instrument, greater volume ranges and instruments that could be assimilated and adapted into the contemporary future, without losing its traditional heritage. The stabilisation of the Chinese orchestra toward the 60s resulted in the invention and revolution of various Chinese instruments, and the dropping of some instruments from the Chinese orchestra (like the 月琴 yueqin or moon lute) that were normally found in folk ensembles. The result of the modern day full Chinese orchestra is as such:

Bowed Stringed Instruments









(usually replaced by the Cello)


Diyin Gehu

(usually replaced by the Bass)



Plucked Stringed Instruments

(used only occasionally)








(only the中阮Zhongruan (alto) and 大阮 Daruan (bass) are usually used in an orchestra)






(used only occasionally)

Wind Instruments



(various variations like 梆笛Bangdi and 曲笛Qudi are used)



(soprano, alto, tenor and bass)


(soprano, alto, tenor and bass)


Xiao, Pai Xiao,


Xun, Bawu

(used only occasionally)


(soprano, alto, tenor and bass)


The percussion section includes various Chinese percussion instruments and Western Instruments. Some more common instruments include:



(Chinese tom toms)



(Chinese bass drum)


(cymbals, available in small, medium and large)


(gongs, available in small, medium and large)


Mu Yu

(wooden blocks)



It can be seen from the instrumental formation of the Chinese orchestra, that it is essentially a reformed Western orchestra. It has a bowed stringed section, a wind section and a percussion section. However, unlike the Western orchestra, the

Chinese orchestra has an additional section – a plucked stringed section. Interestingly enough, the Chinese orchestra does not have a brass section, with the closest member to a brass instrument being the reformed shengs, which have metal pipes. The plucked stringed section was added into the orchestra largely because of the importance of the pipa and zheng. The instruments had a huge influence on Chinese instrumental music, and many of the founders of the modern Chinese orchestra were plucked stringed instrumentalists themselves (Liu Tianhua was a renowned pipa player in his time). The addition of the plucked stringed section caused many problems for the internal blending of the orchestra’s sound while the emission of the brass section removed a sound texture that most trained composers were familiar with. This problem is still faced by many orchestras today and composers unfamiliar with the plucked stringed instruments sometimes do not know what to compose for the section. This problem, though present, has not hindered the concept of the Chinese orchestra from growing. With the ‘standardisation’ of the orchestra, compositions flourished. Students in composition departments in the major Chinese conservatories were all required to compose for the Chinese orchestra as a core curriculum, and repertoire became more complex in terms of harmony, pitch, counterpoint, technique, aesthetics and artistry. Orchestras also flourished, with all major conservatories having at least a single Chinese orchestra in their traditional music departments. The Chinese orchestra flourished abroad, and, some might argue, even more successfully outside mainland China, attracting scores of Chinese music students and reviving the concept of Chinese music – which was once considered a regressing tradition by many. The term for Chinese music took on the terms 民乐 minyue in mainland China, 国乐 guoyue in Taiwan, 中乐 zhongyue in Hong Kong and 华乐 huayue in Singapore and Malaysia as the Chinese orchestra’s influence spread among these countries. A clear distinction between professional and amateur Chinese orchestras was that professional orchestras boast a stable administration and independence. Some professional orchestras include the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra, Central Chinese Orchestra, Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, Taipei Municipal Chinese Orchestra and Singapore Chinese Orchestra amongst others. Musicians in professional orchestras can now command stability as performers – something that has not been made possible in the past 150 years in Chinese history. Chinese orchestral musicians are also required to sight read a score (either in cipher notation or in Western bar-staff notation), be led by a conductor, and follow the score and its dynamics. Compositions which Chinese instruments could support now included duos, trios, quintets, chamber works, concertos, full orchestral works and more. Compositions for the Chinese Orchestra started getting lengthier and more complex

in nature, and concepts like movements, overtures, symphonic poems and other orchestral forms and structures akin to Western music were introduced. Plucked stringed ensembles, bowed stringed ensembles, and wind and percussion ensembles were also written into existence by composers. These ensembles (not to be confused with the folk music ensembles) were developed as ensemble music from the Chinese orchestral genre itself and hence a plucked stringed ensemble piece like 三六 San Liu, adapted from the Jiangnan silk and bamboo tune of the same name by 顾冠仁 Gu Guanren, consisted of a combination of the plucked stringed instruments mentioned in the above list with the additions of a few percussion instruments.

Some of the early outstanding Chinese Orchestral compositions include:

i. 东海渔歌 Dong Hai Yu Gei (Fishermen’s Song of the Eastern Seas), composed by 马圣龙 Ma Sheng Long and Gu Guan Ren, and premiered by 上海民族乐团 Shang Hai Min Zu Yue Tuan (Shanghai Chinese Orchestra);

ii. 千里棉田庆丰收 Qian Li Mian Tian Qing Feng Shou, composed by 胡登跳 Hu Dengtiao and premiered by 上海音乐学院民族乐团 Shang Hai Yin Yue Xue Yuan Min Zu Yue Tuan (Shanghai Conservatory of Music Chinese Orchestra);

iii. 沿着社会主义大道奔前方 Yan Zhe She Hui Zhu Yi Da Dao Ben Qian Fang (Progressing On The Big Road of Socialism), arranged by 彭修文 Peng Xiuwen and premiered by the Central Broadcast Chinese Orchestra ; and,

iv. 红旗渠 Hong Qi Qu, composed by 徐景新 Xu Jingxin, 金复载 Jin Fuzai and 陈大 卫 Chen Dawei and premiered by the 上景乐团民族乐队 Shang Jing Yue Tuan Min Zu Yue Dui (Film Chinese Orchestra).

Although instrument types have been more or less stabilised, it is common practice for composers to add in other instruments that had been dropped from the orchestra previously or are considered minority in nature to fit the mood, style and demands of the composition. As such, instruments such as fangxiang, bianzhong, yueqin, 坠琴 zhuiqin and 京胡 jinghu have been added as extra instruments in some works.


Since the 80s, with the passing on of the pioneers of the Chinese orchestra, a new set of composers, conductors and musicians, trained in the Chinese orchestral tradition have started to emerge. Dubbed the new wave, many of these musicians, unlike their predecessors, have formal conservatory-type training and have training in western notation, harmony, history and analysis coupled with knowledge of Chinese traditional music, folk genres and performance techniques.

The conservatory system for traditional music in China was modelled after the Russian school and graduates from the conservatories have long been renowned for their technical prowess. Composers today have a strong grounding in western theory, composition and conducting, writing for the Chinese orchestra as though it was a symphonic one. There is a trend for compositions for the orchestra now to go toward the avant-garde, with American migrant Chinese composers like 谭盾 Tan Dun, 瞿小松 Qu Xiaosong, 周龙 Zhou Long, 陈怡 Chen Yi and 盛宗亮 Bright Sheng leading the pack by writing more adventurous works for the Chinese orchestra. This batch of composers, called the Columbian Chinese Composers (for all of them studied in Columbia University in New York as part of an American-Chinese exchange), with the exception of Qu, graduated with doctorates in composition in 1993. These composers have been frequently writing works for the reformed Chinese orchestral instruments to be played together with the Western symphony. In China, composers like 唐建平 Tang Jianping, 叶小钢 Ye Xiaogang, 郭文景 Guo Wenjing and the adventurous revolutionist composer 朱践耳 Zhu Jianer are behind many of the Chinese orchestra’s new works. In Hong Kong, composers like 罗永晖 Law Wingfai and 陈庆恩 Chan Hingyan have made inroads into the world of Chinese orchestral composition. Meanwhile Chinese migrant composers like 陈其钢 Chen Qigang, who is currently based in France, have written small amounts of new work for Chinese chamber ensembles. 关迺忠 Guan Naizhong, who is based in Canada, has written extensively for the Chinese orchestra. Composers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore, where the Chinese orchestra seems to have developed most rapidly, are also playing increasing roles in the development and creation of new Chinese orchestral work.


Chinese orchestral scores today are written in either cipher notation or in Western bar-staff notation, with cipher notation being preferred for traditional compositions and Western notation being preferred for use in contemporary compositions. The arrangement of instruments on the conductor’s score has evolved along with the orchestra, with the instruments being arranged in groups. In a conductor’s score, instruments are categorised based on their section – beginning from the wind section, to the percussion section, to the plucked stringed section, and finally to the bowed stringed section. Within each section, the instruments are arranged from their highest to lowest pitch values. The sections and instruments in a full orchestra in a typical orchestral score are usually placed in this order:

Wind Section

Bangdi Qudi Xindi Soprano Sheng Alto Sheng ** Bass Sheng * Soprano Suona Alto Suona **** Tenor Suona **** Bass Suona * Soprano Guan

Percussion Section

Plucked Stringed Section

Yangqin *** Liuqin Pipa Zhongruan **** (occasionally scored with treble clef) Sanxian Daruan * Zheng *** Konghou ***

Bowed Stringed Section

Gaohu Erhu Zhonghu **** Gehu (or Cello) * Bass Gehu (or Bass) *


Bass clef

Treble & bass clefs


Treble / alto clefs



Alto / bass clefs


instruments are scored with treble clefs.











The human voice or concerto instrument, if used, is scored in between the group of plucked stringed instruments and the group of bowed stringed instruments. Bowed stringed instruments form the foundation in Chinese orchestras. Modelled after the Western orchestra, the huqin sections correspond to the different viols in a symphony orchestra and due to their importance, they are grouped together at the bottom of the full score where they can be read easily. The rationale for the positioning of the instruments on a conductor’s score borrows from the past, where bowed stringed and plucked stringed instruments used silk strings (strings used today are usually made of steel). Traditionally, these instruments were collectively known as 丝弦 sixian (silk stringed) instruments. As these were all stringed instruments, their sound quality and volume were deemed to be closer. The plucked stringed instruments, sharing the common silk string tradition, are hence grouped above the bowed stringed instruments, and it is not appropriate to place other sections between the two. Wind and percussion instruments, generally possessing loud volumes, are a crucial combination in folk music. It is hence more logical to place the percussion section closely below the wind section instead of placing them together with the string instruments in the entire score. The positioning of the instruments in an orchestral score is still not uniform. To most composers, the arrangement of where instruments should be placed in a score is secondary as it does not have a great co-relation to the music quality. Anyone can arrange the score according to his familiar style or develop a new style. However, it is agreed that uniformity in the arrangement of typical Chinese orchestral pieces would result in a better organisation and easier analysis.


According to records, in court orchestras of the Zhou Dynasty, instruments were already divided into 堂上乐 tang shang yue and 堂下乐 tang xia yue, namely the group of stringed instruments (and vocals), and wind and percussion instruments respectively. It was recorded that during performances, tang shang yue instruments would be placed on raised platforms while the tang xia yue instruments would be placed on lower ground. It is obvious that the arrangement was done in consideration to the full orchestra’s sound. Similarly, the modern Chinese orchestra has also placed stringed instruments at the front of the stage while the wind and percussion instruments are placed at the back. This has been an agreed seating arrangement among all orchestras. As to where which stringed instrument is to be placed and where which wind instrument is to be positioned, it is still cause for debate. The presence of an extra plucked stringed section makes it even more difficult to position the stringed instruments.

It has been found that bowed stringed instruments, when flanking both sides of the front of the orchestra, are able to keep a greater balance in sound, whereas plucked stringed instruments, when placed at the side-front, give the orchestra a stronger folk authenticity. However, it is subjective to as what balance and folk flavour is achieved.

Plucked Stringed Instruments





The grand dame of plucked stringed instruments, the pipa is one of the most expressive instruments in the Chinese orchestra (Fig. 2.1). Recent moves by some major Chinese orchestras include removing the instrument entirely from the orchestral formation due to its overpowering character and inability to blend. Its techniques are applied to almost every plucked stringed instrument and its concepts have been borrowed for the reformations of various plucked stringed instruments. The term pipa used today refers to the lute-shaped instrument which comprises of four strings and a fretted soundboard of 20 to 25 frets. In the ancient Chinese dynasties of Sui and Han, the term pipa was generic for any instrument that was plucked or had a plucked string aspect to it. The word pipa is made up of two Chinese characters – pi and pa 1 . The words describe how the instrument is played and the sounds it produced. The forward plucking of the string using one’s right hand was termed pi, and the backward plucking of the string with the right hand was termed pa. The first recorded connotation to the word pipa was found in 刘熙 Liu Xi’s <<释名>> Shi Ming, where it was recorded as piba 2 . Although greatly associated with the Chinese, the pipa is not native to China; the instrument was introduced to China by Asia Minor over 2000 years ago. As the instrument is foreign, its counterparts in the forms of lutes and mandolins can still be found in Central and Western Asia. Researchers have been unable to discover remains of ancient pipas; it seems no one from the ancient civilisations thought to preserve it. Unlike the se or qin, both zither-like instruments with great scholarly significance and illustrious histories, the pipa was not considered important enough to be preserved. It was common for an ancient scholar to be buried with a qin, but being buried with a pipa was unheard of. It is argued that ancient pipas were not preserved as they were not considered objects of class and dignity. Another possibility put across was that the pipa could have been an extremely common item in the ancient civilisations. Hence, the Chinese did not see the need to preserve it.

However, historical connotations and drawings of the pipa can still be found in paintings on the walls of the 敦煌窟Dunhuang caves in Gangshu, highlighting the instrument’s great value in music. In any depiction of musical activity in the caves, there is at least one drawing of a pipa. As such, there were around 700 depictions of the pipas found on the cave walls, with 50 different types of pipas represented. The pipa, adapted by the Chinese, spread to different countries where it has been modified and re-adapted. In Japan, it is termed biwa; in Mongolia, the instrument is known as biba; in Tibet, it is known as piwang. Variations of the instrument are too numerous and diverse to be fully recorded. Based on historical records, it was found that during the Qin and Han dynasties, there were two major types of pipas. One had a straight neck and a round sound box, which had its front and back surfaces bound with animal skin. It was called a 直项琵琶 zhixiang pipa (straight- necked pipa). It is believed that this form of pipa descended from the instrument 弦鼗 xiantao, which emerged during the Qin Dynasty. Hence, it was also called 秦汉子 qin hanzi (See Sanxian ). The second type of pipa came about around 105 BC and had influences from the zheng, 箜篌 konghou (See Zheng and Konghou ) and other plucked stringed instruments. This type of pipa had a straight neck, a round sound box, four strings, twelve frets and was made of wood. The instrument was also known as ruan or 阮 咸ruanxian (See Ruan ). During the Dong and Jin dynasties, a crooked-necked version of the pipa, 曲 项琵琶 quxiang pipa (crooked-necked pipa), was brought to the Northern and Southern parts of China from the Western areas of Persia and Xinjiang. The crooked-necked pipa had four strings and only four neck (xiang) frets. It was played horizontally with the use of a plectrum. The Tang Dynasty was believed to be the golden age of the pipa, when numerous developments were made on the instrument, its playing methods and its compositions. During this period, the pipa was reformed by combining the characteristics of the traditional straight-necked pipa and the foreign crooked-necked pipa. The distinctive pear shape of the crooked-necked pipa was kept in the reformed pipa, though the use of the plectrum was abolished. Instead, the reformed pipa was plucked using fingers, as was the straight-necked pipa. The crooked-necked pipa’s four xiang frets were also done away with, and the straight-necked pipa’s numerous frets were used instead. The frets, in turn, were increased from an original 12 to 14 to provide a greater range. The reformed pipa was played vertically like a straight-necked pipa.

Because of these drastic reforms, there were great breakthroughs in pipa techniques and performances. Besides developing as an accompaniment or lead instrument in dances, the pipa now showed great value as a solo instrument. The number of famous pipa players also increased during this era. Famous Tang pipa

players include 曹善才 Cao Shancai, 曹保 Cao Bao, 王芬 Wang Fen, 米和 Mi He and 李士良 Li Shiliang. By the Ming and Qin dynasties, the instrument had attained a standard structure. However, pieces and techniques used were rapidly evolving with new breakthroughs, especially in pipa scores and performance. Among the early scores used were the 敦煌琵琶谱 Dunhuang pipa pu (Dunhuang pipa score), dated AD 933, which were found on the walls of the Dunhuang caves, and the 五弦谱 wuxian pu (five stringed score), estimated to be composed around the 10 th century for the five-stringed pipa. The Dunhuang pipa score contained 25 songs and the wuxian pu documented 28 songs. It was during the Ming and Qin dynasties that two major sects of pipa began to develop – the Northern and Southern sect. A newer batch of excellent pipa players began to emerge, including 李芳园 Li Fangyuan, 华秋苹 Hua Qiuping and 汪昱庭 Weng Yuting.

The Southern sect had five sub-divisions, which were known as schools of playing. These schools of playing had distinctive playing styles and recruited their own members, passing down their own characteristic methods of performance. They included:

i. Jiangsu’s 无锡派 Wuxi School which had Hua Qiuping and 杨荫浏 Yang Yinliu among its members;

ii. Zhejiang’s 平湖派 Pinghu School, which had 李廷森 Li Tingsen, Li Fangyuan, 吴 梦菲 Wu Mengfei, 程午嘉 Cheng Wujia and 吴柏君 Wu Bojun among others as its members;

iii. Jiangsu’s 崇明派 Chongming School , which had 刘天华 Liu Tianhua and 曹安和 Cao Anhe among others as its members;

iv. Shanghai’s 浦东派 Pudong School included Weng Yuting and 林石城 Lin Shicheng as its members;

v. Shanghai’s Weng School, the youngest and most radical of all the five schools, by Weng Yuting and named after himself. The school had Li Tingsen, Cheng Wujia, 孙裕德 Sun Yude, 卫仲乐 Wei Zhongle among many others as its members.

In the 1950s, the pipa, like most other instruments, went through reformation to meet up with the demands for the Western scale system. As such, more frets were added – a total of 24 (possibly more) frets and six xiang frets. The steel string replaced the original silk string and artificial acrylic nails (Fig. 2.2) were introduced to pipa performance, creating improvements in the tonal colour, texture, technique and dynamic range of the pipa. As the pipa was considered one of the more successfully reformed instruments (and as most of the pioneers of the modern Chinese orchestra were pipa players themselves), the modified pipa quickly initiated a string of new pipa compositions.

Fig. 2.2: Artificial acrylic nails Fig. 2.6: Yaozhi

Fig. 2.2: Artificial acrylic nails

Fig. 2.2: Artificial acrylic nails Fig. 2.6: Yaozhi

Fig. 2.6: Yaozhi

Fig. 2.3: Body of the pipa 1 琵琶 – The Chinese character for the word

Fig. 2.3: Body of the pipa

1 琵琶 – The Chinese character for the word pipa.

1 琵琶 – The Chinese character for the word pipa. Fig. 2.5: Frets allow different notes

Fig. 2.5: Frets allow different notes to be played

2 批把, 马上所鼓也. 推手前日批, 引手却日把, 像其鼓时, 因以为名也. The word had not evolved into pipa. Piba is the actual tone in pronunciation of the word during translation. In the translation, a drum is mentioned. Here, the drum refers to a musical instrument. As it was a period of time where the middle kingdom was undergoing strife, it was common for warriors to beat drums when going to war. A drum on a horse may refer to an instrument on a horse.





Also termed 柳叶琴 liu ye qin (willow leaf instrument), 土琵琶 tu pipa, or 金刚腿 jin gang tui, the liuqin looks like a small pipa and is known for its highly penetrative sounds in the Chinese orchestra (Figs. 3.1 & 3.2). With a history dating more than a hundred years, the liuqin is the main accompanying instrument for folk operas like Shandong’s 柳琴戏 liuqin xi and Anhui’s 泗洲戏 sizhou xi. It also gained popularity in the Su Bei and Lu Nan regions. In 1958, this folk instrument was reformed by famed pipa player 王惠然 Wang Huiran. Wang, the conductor of the 济南军区前卫歌舞团 Ji Nan Jun Qu Qian Wei Ge Wu Tuan (Jinan Military Qian Wei Artistic Troupe), incorporated the new instrument into his Chinese orchestra, later composing its first solo, 银湖金波 Ying Hu Jing Bo, in 1960. The solo, originally meant for the then 3-stringed liuqin, is now played on the 4- stringed liuqin as well. Before its reformation, the instrument had only two or three strings that were tuned to d 1 and a 1 or d 1 , a 1 , a 1 (from the inner strings to the outer strings). It had no more than seven frets and it produced rough folk sounds when played. The reformation produced an instrument that had a larger base, three strings and 24 frets. A fourth string and four more frets were added later (Figs. 3.3 & 3.4). A fine tuner was added at the base of the instrument to allow greater precision while tuning (Fig. 3.5); a stand could also be added at the instrument’s side to prop and stabilise it while playing. The liuqin was developed primarily to fill the gap of sound left by inadequate high pitches from the plucked stringed section (the orchestra’s only other higher pitched plucked string instrument was the pipa, and it is considered more of an alto instrument than a soprano one). Considered one of the more successful reformed instruments, the modification of the liuqin has raised the level of the liuqin’s performing technical capabilities and strengthened its showmanship.

Figs. 3.3, 3.4 & 3.5: Frets, strings & fine-tuners

Figs. 3.3, 3.4 & 3.5: Frets, strings & fine-tuners Today, the liuqin is a core soprano

Today, the liuqin is a core soprano instrument in Chinese orchestras. Adept at playing fast, passionate and carefree pieces, the instrument is growing slowly in repertoire and technique.




The ruan (Fig. 4.1 & 4.2) is one of China’s ancient plucked stringed instruments. During the evolution of the Chinese orchestra in the 1970s, it was found that there was no equivalent lower-pitched instrument among the plucked string family. As such, the ruan, a once obsolete instrument, was reformed to fill the gap of sound. Variations of the ruan, like the 高音阮 gaoyin ruan (soprano ruan), 小阮 xiaoruan (small ruan), 中阮zhongruan (alto ruan), 大阮 daruan (bass ruan) and 低音阮 diyin ruan (also known as bass ruan), were created based on specifications of the original. Ruan performers and enthusiasts initiated reformations of the instrument, which included increasing the number of frets (Fig. 4.3) to broaden its range, and adding a mechanical device in its tuning pegs to allow a greater convenience and accuracy in tuning. The ruan has become a staple plucked stringed instrument in the Chinese orchestra, capable of playing accompaniments and solos. As it is an ‘invented’ instrument, it cannot be found in folk music ensembles. The zhongruan (Fig. 4.4) is the most frequently used ruan today, both in orchestras and in solos. The ruan’s name, often used interchangeably with that of the 琵琶 pipa, only became distinct with the development of the Chinese orchestra. This development, which resulted in the reformation of the pipa and the invention of the various ruans, differentiated the two instruments. According to records, during the time of 汉武帝 Han Wu Di (140 BC – 87 BC), plucked stringed instruments like the qin, zheng, zhu and 箜篌 konghou were already in use. A pipa (generic term for instruments that were plucked in ancient times), which had a round body, straight neck, 12 frets and four strings, was played. This shape, akin to the modern day ruan, is believed to be the form of the earliest ruan. It is argued that the ruan was invented during this era. During the Jin dynasty, the poet and musician 阮咸 Ruan Xian, who was one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, was renowned for his virtuosity in this particular plucked stringed instrument. Due to his contributions to literature and his

distain for politics, the common folk at that time, out of respect, named the ‘pipa’ instrument after him 1 . The instrument became known as the ‘ruanxian’ and was later shortened to ‘ruan’. By the Tang dynasty, the ruan’s standards in terms of instrumental production and performance had reached a new high. The Tang poet 白居易 Bai Ju Yi (AD 772-846) even describes his appreciation of the ruanxian in his poem <<和令狐仆射 小饮 阮咸>> He Ling Hu Pu She Xiao Yin Ting Ruan Xian 2 . Some argue that the Tang dynasty, considered the golden age of China, was also the golden age of the ruan. After the Tang dynasty, the development of the ruan slowly deteriorated together with historical materials that had records of ruan scores. It was only after the liberation of China that the ancient instrument was resurrected. The 中央人民广播乐团 Zhong Yang Ren Min Guang Bo Yue Tuan (Central People’s Broadcast Chinese Orchestra), one of the first few prominent Chinese orchestras, began the reformation of the ruan, envisaging it as the ideal instrument to fill the gap of sound. It was the successful assimilation of the different ruans in the 1970s within the Broadcast Orchestra that prompted other Chinese orchestras to follow suit.

1 杜佑 Du You’s <<通典>> Tong Dian writes ‘晋竹林七贤图阮咸所弹,与此类同,因谓之阮咸Jin Zhu Lin Qi Xian Tu Ruan Xian Suo Tan, Yu Ci Lei Tong, Yin Wei Zhi Ruan Xian, which roughly translated, means the Jin Poet Ruan Xian, one of the seven sages of the bamboo grove, played such an instrument. Hence, it was given this name.

2 A phrase in the poem is as such:













Fig. 4.3 (Bottom-Left): Frets Fig. 4.4 (Top-Left): Zhongruan Figs. 4.5 & 4.6 (Right): Ruan is
Fig. 4.3 (Bottom-Left): Frets Fig. 4.4 (Top-Left): Zhongruan Figs. 4.5 & 4.6 (Right): Ruan is
Fig. 4.3 (Bottom-Left): Frets Fig. 4.4 (Top-Left): Zhongruan Figs. 4.5 & 4.6 (Right): Ruan is
Fig. 4.3 (Bottom-Left): Frets Fig. 4.4 (Top-Left): Zhongruan Figs. 4.5 & 4.6 (Right): Ruan is

Fig. 4.3 (Bottom-Left): Frets Fig. 4.4 (Top-Left): Zhongruan Figs. 4.5 & 4.6 (Right): Ruan is played using a plectrum





The 三弦 sanxian (or 弦子xianzi), having been passed down for generations, is one of China’s most traditional plucked stringed instruments (Figs. 5.1 & 5.2). It gained cult status when it was introduced in Japan and the resultant variation samisen was created. Aptly named, the instrument has san (three) xian (strings). The sanxian is believed to have originated from the 弦鼗 xiantao 1 , an ancient instrument of the Qin Dynasty (246 BC – 207 BC), as with many other plucked stringed instruments. The Qin scholar 毛奇龄 Mao Qiling recorded in <<西河词话>> Xi He Ci Hua 2 that the sanxian originated from the Qin Dynasty and was a third generation evolution of the 鼗鼓 taogu. The famed musicologist 杨荫浏 Yang Yinliu expressed in <<中国古代音乐史稿>> Zhong Guo Gu Dai Yin Yue Shi Gao that the sanxian, based on its shape and form, might be the most accurate descendent of the xiantao. Although the sanxian’s history seems long, little of it is recorded. The limited historical material, such as archaeological information and recorded works, cannot fully reflect its historical presence. Musicians and theorists still do not have a completely reliable history of the sanxian. This lack of information seems to stem from the fact that for a long time, the instrument had no fixed shape or name, taking on different shapes in different regions and alternative names in various provinces. However, it was concluded 3 that before the Liao Dynasty, the sanxian along with other plucked stringed instruments, was called the 琵琶 pipa, 秦汉子qin hanzi (See Pipa ) or 秦琵琶 qin pipa. It was not until the Yuan Dynasty that the sanxian began to show prominent developments – it started to take on a standard form. Furthermore, the instrument slowly manifested to regions such as Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Fujian, where it became very popular. The development of the sanxian reached an important historical point during the Ming and Qin dynasties. By this time, the instrument had already developed published repertoire and initiated the development of numerous sanxian performers. Since the Qin and Ming eras, the sanxian had become one of 昆曲 kunqu’s (a form of opera that originated from Jiangsu’s 昆山Kun Shan) main accompaniment

instruments. It gradually became one of the main accompanying instruments in 戏曲 xiqu music. Before the Qin Dynasty, the sanxian had two different physical forms – the 小三弦 xiao sanxian (small sanxian), which was also called the 曲弦 quxian or 南弦 nanxian, and the slightly larger 中鼓三弦 zhonggu sanxian (middle-drummed sanxian). Before the Qin Dynasty, the small sanxian was frequently used. It was not until the latter years of the Qin dynasty that a variation of the small sanxian, the 大三弦 da sanxian (big sanxian), came about. The birth of the da sanxian is closely linked to the rise in popularity and the development of the 北方大鼓beifang dagu (Northern big drum) and its music. As such, there are three different types of sanxian used in China:

i. The small sanxian, used in operas, 江南丝竹 Jiangnan sizhu (silk and bamboo music of Jiangnan), Cantonese music, Teochew music and 苏洲评弹 Suzhou pingtan;

ii. The middle-drummed sanxian, used in Henan musical pieces, Shanxi local operas and Shanbei narrative songs;

iii. The big sanxian, an accompanying instrument in 京韵大鼓 jingyun dagu, Northern narrative song and Northern operas. Significant operas that used the da sanxian include Tianjin’s 梅花大鼓 Mei Hua Da Gu (Plum Blossom Drum).

It was only after the liberation of China that the sanxian was used as an instrument in the Chinese orchestra, playing orchestral pieces and composed ensemble material. After the reformation, various music conservatories took to offering sanxian as an instrument to major in, leading to an increase in the number of sanxian musicians, teaching materials, books and repertoires. Like most other instruments in the Chinese orchestra, the sanxian was not spared reformation. The unreformed sanxian, suitable for 曲 艺 quyi (song) accompaniment, was not considered capable of playing pieces of significant difficulty. The liberation of China saw sanxian musicians making changes to different aspects and parts of the instrument, including its shape, strings and qinma (Fig. 5.3). A支架 zhijia (metal stand) (Fig. 5.4) with a supporting board was also added, making the playing of the sanxian much easier. This reformed sanxian, based primarily on the big sanxian, has been termed 改革大三弦 gaige da sanxian (reformed big sanxian). Its development is largely credited to 肖剑声 Xiao Jiansheng, who produced the first version of the reformed big sanxian in 1980. A revision of the instrument followed in 1986, which made the instrument easier to play. Today, the sanxian comprises the following parts (Fig. 5.5): 鼓头 gutou (drum head, also considered the 共鸣箱 gongmingxiang or sound box of the instrument), 琴杆 qingan, 琴头 qintou (head) and 轴子 zhouzi (tuning pegs) (Fig. 5.6). The instrument’s three strings – made of metal or nylon – are called 外弦 waixian (outer string), the first and thinnest string, 中弦 zhongxian (middle string), the second string and 里弦 lixian

(inner string), the third string. The only plucked stringed instrument in the Chinese orchestra that uses a snake’s skin for a membrane, the sanxian’s sound is unique, individualistic and full of folk flavour. Unlike the pipa and ruan, the sanxian has a flat, fretless fingerboard (Fig. 5.7); the left hand’s performing techniques and 音准 yinzhun (pitch accuracy) are therefore not limited by frets, making the instrument more difficult to control. However, as the instrument does not have a fretted fingerboard, the sanxian easily supports numerous glissandos, making these inflections characteristic of the sanxian’s sound.

1 The 弦鼗 xiantao was one of the most important instruments with its roots from the 鼗鼓 taogu, an ancient instrument similar to the 拨浪鼓 bolanggu (wave drum). The taogu, essentially a percussion instrument, was later developed to encompass a string. Hence the term ‘xian (string) was added to the word ‘tao.

2 The <<西河词话>> Xi He Ci Hua records, ‘三弦起于秦, 本三代鼗鼓之制, 而改形易响, 谓之弦鼗;

时乐人多习之, 世以为胡乐, 非也’. Roughly translated, it reads: the sanxian originated from the Qin

Dynasty and from a third generation of the taogu. instrument.

In the Tang Dynasty, musicians often used this

3 According to Tang Dynasty’s 杜佑 Du You’s <<通典>> Tong Dian, ‘今清乐琴琵琶,俗谓之秦汉子,园 体修颈而小,疑是弦鼗之遗制’. Roughly translated, it reads: the instrument pipa, also known as qin hanzi, had a small neck and was a descendent of the xiantao.

Fig. 5.3: Qinma and Strings Fig. 5.4: Metal stand Fig. 5.5: Parts of the Sanxian
Fig. 5.3: Qinma and Strings Fig. 5.4: Metal stand Fig. 5.5: Parts of the Sanxian
Fig. 5.3: Qinma and Strings Fig. 5.4: Metal stand Fig. 5.5: Parts of the Sanxian

Fig. 5.3: Qinma and Strings

Fig. 5.4: Metal stand

Fig. 5.5: Parts of the Sanxian

Fig. 5.6: Tuning Pegs Fig. 5.7: Fretless fingerboard

Fig. 5.6: Tuning Pegs

Fig. 5.6: Tuning Pegs Fig. 5.7: Fretless fingerboard

Fig. 5.7: Fretless fingerboard





The words yang or yang (foreign) and qin (instrument) describe a dulcimer played with rubber-tipped sticks (Fig. 6.1). Essentially a hammered instrument rather than a plucked one, the yangqin, which is shaped like a trapezoid box, has strings that come in sets. A set of strings comprises four or five individual strings that have been tuned to the same pitch; long bridges with plastic, ivory or metallic wired tips support the sets (Fig. 6.2). It is believed that the instrument originated in Central Asia but was introduced to China by sea-faring European traders at the end of the Ming Dynasty (around AD 1600); this is evident from the popularity of the yangqin in the coastal trading regions around Guangdong. The instrument later became common throughout China, gaining acceptance in regions as far as Tibet and Xinjiang. As such, Cantonese music, 广西文场 Guangxi wenchang, 常德丝弦 Changde sixian, 江南丝竹 Jiangnan sizhu and Shandong’s 泸剧 luju, among other forms of folk music, operas and songs popular around Guangdong, regard the yangqin as an important instrument. In the past, the folk yangqin only possessed two 码子mazi (bridge sets) and three rows of strings. As such, the range of notes that could be played on the instrument was limited. For example, the Jiangnan sizhu yangqin in D (like wind instruments, the yangqin too came in various keys [See Dizi ]) had a range of d a ² ; the Cantonese yangqin, usually tuned to C , only had a range of g c ³ . After the liberation of China, the yangqin underwent various reformations, which led to the creation of the instrument used in the Chinese orchestra today – the revolutionised yangqin.

Fig. 6.3 (Top-Left): The Yangqin Fig. 6.4 (Top-Right): Sets of strings supported by peaks on
Fig. 6.3 (Top-Left): The Yangqin
Fig. 6.4 (Top-Right): Sets of strings supported by peaks on bridges
Figs. 6.5, 6.6 & 6.7 (Middle & Bottom): Yangqin is played using
bamboo sticks




The zheng, a generic term for a long plucked boxed zither, is one of the most popular instruments among learners of Chinese instruments (Fig. 7.1). Not to be confused with the seven stringed 古琴 guqin, the zheng is an ancient reformed instrument that has unrivalled popularity. Zheng ensembles, where groups of zheng players play in unison or in parts, have become fads in various parts of Asia, America and Europe. The instrument, when struck by a beginner, effortlessly produces beautiful sounds. Thus, it does not require much effort to pick up. The Han Dynasty historian, 司马迁 Si Maqian, writes in <<史记 列传>> Shi Ji Lie Zhuan 1 that around 200 BC, the period before the Qin Dynasty, the zheng was already a popular instrument that was used as an accompaniment to vocal music. In 1970, at an excavation of graves in the Jiangxi province dated to be as old 500 BC, two 13-stringed instruments similar to the zheng were found. These instruments, if confirmed to be the first zhengs, would provide a whole new perspective on the zheng’s history. It would prove that long before the pre-Qin Dynasty period, the zheng had already spread to 南方越国 Nan Fang Yue Guo (The Southern States), and could have had a history of thousands of years. 汉应劭 Han Yingshao’s <<风俗通义>> Feng Su Tong Yi written at the end of the Warring Period 2 and 许慎 Xu Shen’s 说文解字 Shuo Wen Jie Zi (Explanation of Terms) from the Eastern Han period record 3 that the first zheng had five strings, had a zither- like body and was played by hand. During the Qin and Han dynasties, the instrument developed into a 12-stringed one. By the Tang and Song dynasties, the instrument had progressed to 13 strings. By the Ming and Qin dynasties, the instrument possessed 14 to 16 strings. The appearance of a zheng is similar to that of another instrument, a se. Although their names are sometimes used interchangeably, they are in fact two different instruments. Both instruments have different string counts, with the se having more strings than the zheng (23 to 25 strings); the se was used in court ceremonies, while the zheng was used outside the court.

There is folklore that credits the appearance of the zheng as a result of two quarrelling sisters, who broke a se into two, producing two different zhengs – a 12- stringed one and a 13-stringed one.

1 大夫瓮叩岳,弹争搏髀而歌呼呜呜快耳目者,真秦之声也Da Fu Weng Kou Yue, Tan Zheng Bo Bi Er Ge Hu Wu Wu Kuai Er Mu Zhe, Zhen Qin Zhi Sheng Ye

2 筝,五弦筑身也Zheng, Wu Xian Zhu Shen Ye roughly translated means Zheng – a five stringed instrument with a Zhu body.

3 筝,鼓弦筑身也Zheng, Gu Xian Zhu Shen Ye and ‘筑,以竹曲五弦之乐也Zhu, Yi Zhu Qu Wu Xian Zhi Yue Ye roughly translated means Zheng – a stringed instrument with a Zhu body and Zhu – a five- stringed wooden musical instrument.

Fig. 7.2 (Top-Left): The Zheng Fig. 7.3 (Top-Right): End of the string is wound and

Fig. 7.2 (Top-Left): The Zheng Fig. 7.3 (Top-Right): End of the string is wound and bound to axels Fig. 7.4 (Middle-Left): Bridges act as a pivot for the strings Fig. 7.5 (Middle-Right): Artificial fingernails Figs. 7.6 & 7.7 (Bottom): Bending the strings to produce portamento effects





Also known as the 坎候 kanhou, this ancient plucked stringed instrument is similar to

the harp (Fig. 8.1).

different instruments – 卧箜篌 wo konghou, 竖箜篌 shu konghou and 凤首箜篌 fengshou

In ancient times, the term konghou was representative for three

konghou. 杜佑 Du You of the Tang Dynasty recorded in the <<通典>> Tong Dian 1 that the konghou was an instrument used in the era of Emperor Han Wu Di. It is believed that the instrument described in the Tong Dian was akin to the wo konghou; it was portrayed as a small seven-stringed plucked stringed instrument similar to the pipa. The <<随书·音乐志>> Sui Shu · Yin Yue Zhi 2 records that the shu konghou manifested during the Han Dynasty from 西域 Xi Yu (modern day Xinjiang). The Tong Dian 3 also described the shu konghou as a 22-stringed instrument that was played in the arms. It is believed that the instrument’s shape was similar to a lyre and the crook-necked pipa. The fengshou konghou had a shape similar to the shu konghou. As the former was decorated with images of phoenixes, 凤首 fengshou (phoenix head) was used to describe this konghou. The fengshou konghou entered China through India and Burma during the Tang Dynasty, was used in 燕乐 Yan Yue’s 天竺乐Tian Zhu Yue (See An Overview of the Chinese Orchestra), and prospered greatly during the Han and Tang dynasties. This is evident due to the numerous Chinese paintings, sculptures and murals of these dynasties that often depicted konghou players. During the Song Dynasty, variations of the konghou were developed. However, after the Ming Dynasty, the instrument was progressively used less frequently until the original konghou’s shape and tuning became extinct. In the 1970s, various departments of instrument research like the Shanghai Instrument Factory, Suzhou Instrument Factory and the Shen Yang Conservatory looked to ancient literary records and the construction of the modern Harp with plans to design a new konghou. The result is today’s modern konghou, a 1.8 metre tall and 0.9 metre wide Chinese replica of the Western Harp, weighing approximately 50kg.

Fig. 8.3: Bridges for portamentos

Fig. 8.3: Bridges for portamentos Fig. 8.2: Pedals Figs. 8.4: Position of fingers on konghou 1
Fig. 8.3: Bridges for portamentos Fig. 8.2: Pedals Figs. 8.4: Position of fingers on konghou 1

Fig. 8.2: Pedals

Fig. 8.3: Bridges for portamentos Fig. 8.2: Pedals Figs. 8.4: Position of fingers on konghou 1

Figs. 8.4: Position of fingers on konghou

1 The <<通典>> records ‘似琵而小, 七弦, 用拨弹之如琵琶也’ Si Pi Er Xiao, Qi Xian, Yong Bo Tan Zhi Ru Pipa Ye. The sentence describes the wo konghou being a small instrument with sevens strings, plucked like a pipa.

2 The <<随书·音乐志>> Shui Shu · Yin Yue Zhi records of the shu konghou ‘今曲项琵琶,竖头箜篌之 徒,并出自西域,非华夏之旧器’.

3 ‘竖箜篌,胡乐也,汉灵帝好之,体曲而长,二十二弦,竖抱于怀中,用两手齐秦…’

Bowed Stringed Instruments





Without a doubt, the 二胡 erhu (Fig. 9.1) is the chief bowed stringed instrument in the Chinese orchestra. Characterised by its versatile playing technique, the erhu, which is often associated with sorrow, is capable of producing the most heart-wrenching sounds.

The two-stringed fiddle is termed er (second) hu (fiddle) as it plays secondary roles to many instruments (e.g. second to the 板胡 banhu in Northern music, second to the 京胡 jinghu in Peking opera, second to the 高胡 gaohu in Cantonese music etc). The instrument comprises a 琴筒 qintong (instrumental body) (Fig. 9.2), 琴杆 qingan (instrumental stem), 琴轴 qinzhou (tuning pegs) (Fig. 9.3), 琴弦 qinxian (strings), 千斤 qianjin (Figs. 9.4 & 9.5), 琴马 qinma and 琴弓 qingong (bow). This usually homophonic instrument is played with a bow which is trapped in between the instrument’s two strings (Fig. 9.6). The bow is usually made of bamboo and horsetail hair (Fig. 9.7). The rosin-lathered horsetail hairs’ movement against the strings produces soul-stirring sounds, through left-right bowing actions. The absence of a fingerboard (Fig. 9.8) renders the instrument’s pitch more difficult to control when bowing, but at the same time allows the instrument to have greater gradations in pitch and a richer palette of tone colours. The erhu belongs to the 胡琴 huqin (the generic term for bowed stringed instruments) family, and it was only in the early 1900s that the erhu was developed and standardised. The development of the erhu today is largely credited to 刘天华 Liu Tianhua. It was with Liu that the erhu, previously an exclusive ensemble instrument, gained a stronger repertoire and playing technique. With Liu’s new developments, the erhu quickly became the most outstanding and representative of all bowed stringed instruments. According to records, the huqin first appeared in the Tang Dynasty as an instrument called the 奚琴 xiqin; 宋陈旸 Song Chenyang’s <<乐书>> Yue Shu (Book of Music) describes the xiqin as being shaped like a 弦鼗 xiantao 1 and having a bamboo strip in the middle of its two strings.

During the Song Dynasty, a huqin with a bow made out of horsetail hair was already in use around the North-west regions. During the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongolian tribes used the 忽兀儿 Hu Weng Er (a form of huqin) in religious festivals and in the military. The Ming Dynasty’s painting of 麟堂秋宴 Lin Tang Qiu Yan (Autumn Party at Lin Tang) portrays the huqin being played with a bow which had its hairs trapped in between the instrument’s two strings. The painted instrument had a structure highly similar to the modern erhu. Over the course of a thousand years from when it had first been played, the huqin has evolved and developed into numerous other variations like the 皮膜二胡 pimo erhu (skin-membrane erhu), 京胡 jinghu, 京二胡 jing erhu, 软弓二胡 ruangong erhu, 粤胡 yuehu, 四胡 sihu, 板面板胡 banmian banhu and 椰胡 yehu.

1 弦鼗 Xiantao refers to an ancient string instrument that could have been percussive despite its stringed nature. Its shape and form is not fully known (See Sanxian and Pipa ).

2 国乐之在今日, 有如沙里面藏着的金, 必须淘金出来, 才能有用’.

Fig. 9.1: (Top) The Erhu Fig. 9.2: (Bottom) Qintong
Fig. 9.1: (Top) The Erhu Fig. 9.2: (Bottom) Qintong

Fig. 9.1: (Top) The Erhu Fig. 9.2: (Bottom) Qintong

Fig. 9.3 (Top): Tuning Pegs Figs. 9.6 & 9.7 (Second Row): Bow is in between
Fig. 9.3 (Top): Tuning Pegs Figs. 9.6 & 9.7 (Second Row): Bow is in between
Fig. 9.3 (Top): Tuning Pegs Figs. 9.6 & 9.7 (Second Row): Bow is in between

Fig. 9.3 (Top): Tuning Pegs Figs. 9.6 & 9.7 (Second Row): Bow is in between the two strings Fig. 9.8 (Left): Absence of fingerboard





Uncommon in the Chinese orchestra, the 板胡 banhu, also known as the 琴胡 qinhu, 胡 呼 huhu, 梆子胡 bangzihu or 大弦 daxian, is most commonly associated with Northern folk music, where it has an important role as an accompanying instrument in folk operas (Figs. 10.1 & 10.2). Smaller in size than the 二胡 erhu, traditional banhus use coconut shells or concave bamboo structures for their 琴筒 qintong (body). Solid rosewood is used for the stem of the instrument. Its strings, similar to those of the erhu, have a千斤qianjin that gives the instrument its free string pitches. Strings, tuning pegs, a bridge and a horsetail hair bow complete the banhu (Fig. 10.3). The banhu is used in Xibei as an accompanying instrument to the ancient folk operas 西秦腔 xi qin qiang and 梆子腔 bang zi qiang.

西秦腔 xi qin qiang and 梆子腔 bang zi qiang . Fig. 10.3: Strings, tuning pegs, a

Fig. 10.3: Strings, tuning pegs, a bridge and bow complete the banhu.





The 革胡 gehu, which has variations like the 大革胡 da gehu (big gehu) and 低革胡 di gehu (bass gehu), was created in the 1950s to fill sound gaps caused by inadequate low registers in the Chinese orchestra (Figs. 11.1, 11.2 & 11.3). This reformed version of the 胡琴 huqin consists of the 琴筒 qintong (body) (Figs. 11.4 & 11.5), 琴马 qinma (bridge) (Fig. 11.6), 琴杆 qingan (spine) (Figs. 11.7, 11.8 & 11.9) and 弓子 gongzi (bow) (Fig. 11.10). A hybrid of the Western Cello and the erhu, the instrument is bowed like the Cello and has an animal skin (usually horse, lamb or snake) surfaced qintong (Fig.


The Shanghai Conservatory of Music’s 杨雨森 Yang Yusen is credited largely for the creation of this instrument, having envisioned an instrument that would merge the characteristics of the erhu with the science of the Cello. Today, only instrument factories in Shanghai manufacture this instrument, and it is lately declining in popularity. Most orchestras prefer to use the Cello and it is common for composers to simply write for the Cello in a Chinese orchestra rather than for a gehu.


Like the cello, the da gehu’s four strings are tuned to C , G , d , a (each a fifth apart from the next). Scored identically to the Cello, the instrument employs almost all of the Cello’s techniques as well as those of the erhu, with the exception of 压弦 yaxian. (See

Erhu ). The instrument’s range of C to e 2 is commonly used in Chinese orchestras. The instrument is, however, fast being replaced by the Cello, as most composers and conductors have found the Cello to possess a thicker timbre, a more established tonal quality and a larger volume. The 低革胡 di gehu, the largest of all huqin (fiddle) instruments, is a variation of the Double Bass. Like the Double Bass, the di gehu is tuned to E 1 , A 1 , D , G (each a

Figs. 11.1, 11.2 & 11.3 (P.110 Top, Middle-Left): The Gehu Figs. 11.4 & 11.5 (P.110 Middle-Right, Bottom-Left): Body Fig. 11.6 (P.110 Bottom-Right): Bridge Figs. 11.7 & 11.8 (P.111 Top, Middle): Spine Fig. 11.10 (P.111 Bottom-Left): Bow Fig. 11.11 (P.111 Bottom-Right): Snake-skin surfaced qintong

Top, Middle): Spine Fig. 11.10 (P.111 Bottom-Left): Bow Fig. 11.11 (P.111 Bottom-Right): Snake-skin surfaced qintong
Top, Middle): Spine Fig. 11.10 (P.111 Bottom-Left): Bow Fig. 11.11 (P.111 Bottom-Right): Snake-skin surfaced qintong
Top, Middle): Spine Fig. 11.10 (P.111 Bottom-Left): Bow Fig. 11.11 (P.111 Bottom-Right): Snake-skin surfaced qintong
Top, Middle): Spine Fig. 11.10 (P.111 Bottom-Left): Bow Fig. 11.11 (P.111 Bottom-Right): Snake-skin surfaced qintong







Known originally to the ancient Chinese people as 横吹 hengchui (horizontal blow), the dizi was renamed 横笛 hengdi (horizontal flute) and finally dizi (Fig. 12.1). This instrument was popular even before the decline of the Three Kingdoms and commands a history of over 2000 years. One of China’s oldest, most popular and widely spread instruments, the dizi is often remembered as a small, convenient pipe that emanates a clear and resonant sound, possessing a strong performing character. It is a common belief that the instrument first appeared during the reign of 汉武帝 Han Wu Di (around 119 BC), where 张骞 Zhang Qian – then an envoy to 西域 Xi Yu (The Western Regions) – brought the flute to 长安 Chang An, the capital at that time.

In <<乐书>> Yue Shu (Book of Music), 陈旸 Chen Yang recorded that the hengchui was a flute made of bamboo 1 , brought by Zhang Qian to the north. However in 1973, among the archaeological findings of 长沙马王堆三号墓 Chang Sha Ma Wang Dui San Hao Mu (The 3 rd Tomb of King Chang Sha Ma), which dates back to 168 BC, two instruments similar to the flute were found. These excavated instruments provided substantial proof that the flute was already in use in ancient China half a century prior to the voyages of Zhang Qian. In 1977, excavations in Zhejiang’s 河姆渡 He Mu Du unearthed the existence of 骨笛 gudi (bone flutes) that were estimated to be 7000 years old. During the Sui and the Tang dynasties, there were records of da hengchui and xiao hengchui, which proved the widespread use of flutes by the common folk. After the Song Dynasty, the flute found an even more prominent place when 鼓笛曲 gudiqu (flute and drum music) gained popularity. Literary records 2 have mentioned the prominent role the flute played in the lives of the common folk. After the Ching Dynasty, the flute found even greater importance in folk music as it was often used as an accompaniment and in operas and musicals like 二人台牌子曲 Er Ren Tai Pa Zi Qu, 江南丝竹 Jiangnan Sizhu, 西安鼓乐 Xi An

Gu Yue, 十番鼓 Shi Fan Gu, 十番锣鼓 Shi Fan Luo Gu and 潮阳笛套大锣鼓 Chao Yang Di Tao Da Luo Gu among others. Although the dizi has a set of diverse techniques and a wide ranging repertoire, it still has drawbacks as unlike the Western flute, semitones (and microtones) though attainable, are hard to reach for dizi players. Similarly, switching between keys is inconvenient as a performer might have to change instruments to be able to play certain notes. The blowing of an accurate pitch is also a problem for many amateur dizi players. Of late, many conservatories in China have started experimenting with the dizi with the aim of creating a more scientific instrument. 蔡敬民 Cai Jingmin from the Nanjing Arts College designed a semi-toned dizi called 新竹笛 xin zhu di. The flute, almost physically identical to the Western flute, prides itself in possessing 10 holes with levers, rollers and adjusting screws, like the Western flute, with the ability to play all semitones. The Shanghai Conservatory of Music has also created their version of the ‘new’ flute, with the aid of Western flute levers. This flute has six holes and five of the six playing holes have levers. The flute is able to play all semitones from a to d 3 . However, not all dizi players welcome such ‘improvements’. The debate on the improved dizi is split between two camps – one that encourages such development, believing it as an advancement of the instrument and its playing, and another that is heavily opposed to such developments, claiming the changes have destroyed the traditional playing techniques of the dizi.

1 陈旸 Chen Yang’s <<乐书>> Yue Shu (Book of Music) writes, ‘大横吹, 小横吹并以竹为之, 笛之类也. 侓 书乐图云: 横吹胡乐也, 昔张博望(张褰)入西域, 传其法于京’. Roughly translated, it reads: Da Heng Chui, Xiao Heng Chui, instruments made of bamboo that fall under the category of flutes. From the Western regions Zhang Qian brought the flute, and carried it up North”.

2 Records came in the form of poems, essays, calligraphy among others. For example, in 杨万里 Yang Wanli’s poem 安乐放牧童 An Le Fang Mu Tong he wrote, ‘一儿吹笛签簪花 Yi Er Chui Qian Zan Hua, 一牛载儿行引子 Yi Niu Zai Er Xing Yin Zi’, referring blatantly to the flute as the word ‘’.

Figs. 12.2 & 12.3 (Top): Anyin kong Fig. 12.5 (Middle-Left): Mouthpiece Fig. 12.7 (Middle-Right): Dimo
Figs. 12.2 & 12.3 (Top): Anyin kong Fig. 12.5 (Middle-Left): Mouthpiece Fig. 12.7 (Middle-Right): Dimo

Figs. 12.2 & 12.3 (Top): Anyin kong Fig. 12.5 (Middle-Left): Mouthpiece Fig. 12.7 (Middle-Right): Dimo stuck over a separate hole Figs. 12.9 (Bottom): Dizi of various lengths

Mouthpiece Fig. 12.7 (Middle-Right): Dimo stuck over a separate hole Figs. 12.9 (Bottom): Dizi of various
Mouthpiece Fig. 12.7 (Middle-Right): Dimo stuck over a separate hole Figs. 12.9 (Bottom): Dizi of various
Mouthpiece Fig. 12.7 (Middle-Right): Dimo stuck over a separate hole Figs. 12.9 (Bottom): Dizi of various








The bawu is an instrument used by tribes such as Miao, 哈尼 Ha Ni, Wa, 布朗 Bu Lang and Dai in the Southwest regions of China (Figs. 13.1 & 13.2). Its body, traditionally made of either bamboo or wood, has eight playing holes (seven in the front and one at the back). The bawu can be played in two ways, either horizontally or vertically, and has a range of one octave. Like the dizi (See Dizi), this instrument comes in a range of keys, with the most commonly used instruments being the bawu in G and the bawu in F. This instrument is often used as an accompaniment to dances and 说唱音乐 shuochang yinyue (oratorical music). The vertically played bawu (alternatively known as the 葫芦丝 hulusi [Fig. 13.3 & 13.4]), is not as prevalent in orchestras as the horizontal bawu. The vertically played bawu is popular especially among the 彝族 Yi Zu (Yi Tribe) of the Yunnan regions, where a double bawu, which consists of two vertical bawu joined together, is commonly used. Since 1956, many people have tried to improve the bawu by trying to increase its volume, improve its sound quality, and expand its range. The result is a reformed bawu that has a longer body and a greater diameter. This reformed instrument has the additions of 音键 yinjian (lever keys), which allow the instrument to play semitones and switch between keys effectively. However, the effectiveness of such a reformed instrument is still contentious and few players use such reformed instruments. Techniques involved in playing the bawu are similar to those of the dizi. This includes 滑音 huayin (portamento/gliding), 打音 dayin, 吐音 tuyin, 飞指 feizhi among others. Some traditional bawu repertoire includes 玩耍调 Wan Shua Diao (Playful Tunes) and 三步弦 San Bu Xian, while recent compositions include 傍晚的声音 Bang Wan De Sheng Yin (Sounds of Dusk), 欢乐的巴乌 Huan Le De Ba Wu (The Joyful Bawu) and 侗乡的夜 Tong Xiang De Ye.


Panpipes are considered ancient wind instruments, and the paixiao (also sometimes referred to as the xiao) is rarely used in a Chinese orchestra (Fig. 13.5 & 13.6). The <<世本>> Shi Ben records that the paixiao was likened to the shape of a phoenix’s wing, made up of 10 tubes of different lengths joined together, the longest tube being 20 inches long. The ancient book <<博雅>> Bo Ya records two different types of paixiao – one that has 24 tubes without a base and one with 16 tubes with a base. Since the Han and Tang dynasties, there have been many stone engravings, murals and burial statues depicting scenes of performers with the paixiao. After the Song Dynasty, the paixiao ceased to be used by the common people and was used solely in the palace for court music. In the extricating of the graves of 曾候乙 Zeng Houyi in 湖北随县 Hu Bei Sui Xian, a bamboo paixiao comprising 13 tubes arranged in decreasing lengths (ranging from 5.1 – 22.5cm) was found. Today, the paixiao used in orchestras has no fixed number of tubes, and hence, no fixed range. Paixiaos today are furnished with adjustable corks that adjust the pitch of each individual pipe, hence providing a variety of pitches for each pipe. Paixiao pieces includes 刘富荣 Liu Furong’s 帕米尔的春天 Pa Mi Er De Chun Tian (Spring in Pa Mi Er) arranged by 杜聪 Du Cong, 彭正元 Peng Zhenyuan’s 相思河 Xiang Si He (Xiang Si River), 橄榄树 Gan Lan Shu (Olive Tree) and 关山月 Guan Shan Yue (Moon of Guan Mountian).


An ancient wind instrument likened to a dragon’s eggs because of its odd shape, the early xun was created out of mud or clay (Fig. 13.7 & 13.8). Although it is impossible to verify most of the findings on the xun, all findings have indicated that the xun has enjoyed a long history. In Zhejiang’s 河姆渡 He Mu Du, a xun made from clay was found to be 7,000 years old, making it the oldest xun artifact discovered. The xun has also been found in archeological sites in Xi’an, Shanxi and Henan. These xun were all made of clay, and were of different shapes – spherical, oval, fish-shaped, egg-shaped – among other forms.

The structure of the xun was eventually standardised; the later xun, made of clay, were all egg-shaped with flat bottoms. The material used to make the xun also slowly diversified, from clay to stone, bone, ivory, porcelain and, in more modern times, plastic. Previously, clay was always the preferred material for making the instrument.

The xun was mainly used in court music, though it was by no means exclusive. It was also used among common folk. There were three clay xun unearthed from the Shanxi 万泉荆村 Wan Quan Jing Cun archaeological site. Their ranges were interesting:

i. Xun without playing holes – f 2 ;

ii. Xun with one playing hole – c #3 (when hole was covered) and e 3 (when the hole was not covered);

iii. Xun with two playing holes – e 2 (both holes covered), b 2 (left air hole open), b 2 (right air hole open), and d 3 (both holes open).

The xun that were found then had a range of one to five playing holes. Today, the Chinese orchestra uses a xun that commands up to eight or nine playing holes, able to play a full octave. Like the dizi, the xun also comes in keys, with the most common being the xun in G. Xun pieces include 阳关三叠 Yang Guan San Die (Farewell at Yangguan Pass), 张维良 Zhang Weiliang’s 晨曦 Chen Xi (Sunrise), 问天 Wen Tian (Of Heaven and Earth) and 秋风 Qiu Feng (Autumn Breeze).

Figs. 13.1 & 13.2 (Top): Bawu Figs. 13.3 & 13.4 (Middle): Hulusi Figs. 13.5 &
Figs. 13.1 & 13.2 (Top): Bawu Figs. 13.3 & 13.4 (Middle): Hulusi Figs. 13.5 &
Figs. 13.1 & 13.2 (Top): Bawu
Figs. 13.3 & 13.4 (Middle): Hulusi
Figs. 13.5 & 13.6 (Bottom & Right): Paixiao




The sheng, a multi-reed mouth organ, is one of the oldest Chinese reed wind instruments. The instrument’s bamboo pipes, each of a different length, have been likened to a phoenix at rest with its wings closed (Figs. 14.1 & 14.2). As early as the Yin Dynasty (1401 BC – 1122 BC), there were already inscriptions on oracle bones bearing the characters ‘龠禾’ (the character is read as ‘he, representative of the 小笙 xiaosheng [small sheng]). Numerous historical records 1 have mentioned the sheng as an important instrument in ancient music, popular in the imperial palace and in court processions. Another reed instrument known as the yu, which looked like and was played in a manner similar to the sheng, also prevailed in ancient times and for years, both instruments co-existed as China’s prevailing reed instruments. In contrasting the structural differences between the yu and sheng, <<宋史 乐志>> Song Shi Yue Zhi notes 2 that the yu typically had 36 reeds while the sheng had 13 or 19 reeds. Historically, studies have stated that instruments with 22, 23 or 36 reeds were classified as yu, but those with 19, 17 or 13 reeds fell under the category of sheng. The sheng and yu co-existed for a long time, but following the demise of the Song dynasty, the yu gradually lost its place. Today, most multi-reed mouth organs are known as sheng regardless of the number of reeds they possess. This instrument continues to be popular with the common folk for festivities, weddings and celebrations The sheng is a wind instrument but it uses the vibration of 铜制簧片 tongzhi huangpian (bronze reeds) attached to bamboo pipes to create sound. The rich and dynamic sound qualities of the sheng make it a popular instrument in the Chinese orchestra as it is complementary with the chui (wind), la (bowed stringed), tan (plucked stringed) and da (percussion) sections of instruments. In folk music, it is common for the sheng to be used as accompaniment for the 笛子 dizi, 管子 guanzi and 唢呐 suona. The traditional sheng has many structures, with the most common being the 圆笙 yuansheng (round sheng) with 17-reed pipes, popular in Hebei, Shanxi, Inner

Mongolia, Liaoning as well as Shandong. The 红竹笙 hongzhu sheng (otherwise known as the 苏笙 susheng) is popular in the Jiangxi region. After the 1950s, new sheng models were introduced, such as the 21, 24 and 36-reed piped sheng as well as the 排笙 paisheng (keyboard sheng), 中音笙 zhongyin sheng (alto sheng), 次中音笙 cizhongyin sheng (tenor sheng) and 低音笙 diyin sheng (bass sheng), for the purpose of the Chinese orchestra.

Figs. 14.2: The traditional sheng

of the Chinese orchestra. Figs. 14.2: The traditional sheng 1 Some of the records include <<尚书

1 Some of the records include <<尚书 益稷>> Shang Shu Yi Ji which states, ‘笙镛比间, 鸟兽呛呛’, Sheng Yong Bi Jian, Niao Shou Qiang Qiang, which compares the sheng with the yong, an ancient instrument for rhythm, likening the playing of the sheng to the breathing of the birds. In 诗经 Shi Jing (Book of Psalms), the section 小雅中 Xiao Ya Zhong <鹿鸣> Lu Ming states ‘鼓琴吹笙, 吹笙鼓簧Gu Qin Chui Sheng, Chui Sheng Gu Huang, paralleling the sheng and its reeds with the drums, and in <<尔雅.释乐>> Er Ya Shi Yue (Book of Musical Explanations) it writes, ‘大笙之巢, 小者谓之和Da Sheng Zhi Chao, Xiao Zhe Wei Zhi He, stating the names of the large sheng (Chao) and the small sheng (He ).

2 <<宋史·乐志>> Song Shi·Yue Zhi writes, ‘宫管在中央, 三十六簧日竽; 宫管在左旁, 十九簧至十 三簧日笙Gong Guan Zai Zhong Yang, San Shi Liu Huang Ri Yu; Gong Guan Zai Zuo Pang, Shi Jiu Huang Zhi Shi San Huang Ri Sheng.

Figs. 14.3 & 14.4: The hand held sheng requires air holes to be covered

Figs. 14.3 & 14.4: The hand held sheng requires air holes to be covered

Fig. 14.5(Top-Left): Mouthpiece Figs. 14.6 & 14.7 (Top-Right and Middle): Bamboo pipes extending from base

Fig. 14.5(Top-Left): Mouthpiece Figs. 14.6 & 14.7 (Top-Right and Middle): Bamboo pipes extending from base Fig. 14.8 (Bottom): Wax dotted on reed defines pitch





The suona is a military instrument, characterised by its especially loud blasts and distinctive Northern flavour (Fig. 15.1). Once a suona is blown, its sound immediately takes lead among all other sounds and audiences are drawn to it instinctively. The perception of most in Asia is not of the suona as a military instrument but rather as an instrument of processional nature that is used most frequently in funerals and weddings. Some have since associated the instrument’s blaring and blasting to be of good luck; chasing away evil spirits and bringing in festivity. 王圻 Ming Wang Qi in <<三才图会>> San Cai Tu Hui, gave a more concise description of the instrument: ‘锁奈 1 , 其制如喇叭, 七孔. 首尾以筒为之, 管则用木, 不知起于何时代, 当是军中之乐也. 今民间多用之.’ 2 In the description, it is stated that the origin of the suona is unknown, though it was a common military instrument. Nonetheless, some musicologists argue that the suona hailed from India, as many Indian trumpets show uncanny similarities to the suona. The suona’s role as a military instrument is evident in 戚继光 Qi Jiguang’s <<武 备志>> Wu Bei Zhi (Military Annals): 反掌号笛, 即是吹唢呐. When directly translated it reads, ‘any handheld military trumpet is a suona’. As such, the ancient Chinese were well aware of the suona’s innate ability to stir emotion and rouse an army with its powerful projections. Apart from its use in the military, the suona was also widely used in ancient Chinese daily life. Hence, it was given a variety of names such as 喇叭 laba, 大号 dahao, 大杆 dagan, and 二杆 ergan. There are few records on the use of suona in ancient China. One of the closest graphical representations of the instrument was found in the 故宫 Gu Gong (Imperial Palace) in Beijing. The palace houses a statue, from the Tang Dynasty, of a boy on a horse playing the suona. This Northern instrument we know today is believed to have spread to the 中原 Zhong Yuan (Central Plains) slightly after the Tang Dynasty, despite the presence of the statue.

In the Ming Dynasty, the suona was mainly used for court and military music. Today’s concept of the suona is a large range of trumpets that is used by many of the common folk. The bigger suonas can measure up to five chi (a chi is about one third of a metre), while the smaller suonas are only a few inches long. Hence, it is possible to divide the family of suonas into two broad categories based on their sizes. The larger suonas often go by the names 大唢呐 da suona, 大喇叭 da laba, 大笛 dadi and 黑管 heiguan, among other names. The smaller suonas are often known as 小喇叭 xiao laba, 海笛 haidi and 吹仔 chuizai. The present Chinese orchestra makes use of the traditional suona and a series of revolutionised suonas to help cover gaps of sound which the traditional suona cannot accomplish.

1 锁奈 Suonai was the original name of the instrument suona. The name has since evolved but no one really knows when the words suona came into use.

2 锁奈 (唢呐), 其制如喇叭, 七孔. 首尾以筒为之, 管则用木, 不知起于何时代, 当是军中之乐也. 今 民间多用之. Directly translated it reads, ‘Suonai, or suona, is a trumpet with seven playing holes. With a hollow centre from top to middle, it is made of wood. It is not known when this instrument came into being, but it is a renowned military instrument. The people use it commonly today.

3 中原自金, 元虎猾乱之后, 胡曲盛行至於喇叭, 唢哪之流, 并其器皆金, 元遗物矣.

Fig. 15.2 (Top-Left): Parts of a suona Fig. 15.3 (Bottom-Leftt): Mouthpiece Fig. 15.5(Right): Brass amplifier
Fig. 15.2 (Top-Left): Parts of a suona Fig. 15.3 (Bottom-Leftt): Mouthpiece Fig. 15.5(Right): Brass amplifier

Fig. 15.2 (Top-Left): Parts of a suona Fig. 15.3 (Bottom-Leftt): Mouthpiece Fig. 15.5(Right): Brass amplifier

Fig. 15.2 (Top-Left): Parts of a suona Fig. 15.3 (Bottom-Leftt): Mouthpiece Fig. 15.5(Right): Brass amplifier





A relatively unknown instrument, the guanzi is without a doubt one of the most difficult and expressive wind instruments (Figs. 16.1 & 16.2). Seldom used in Chinese orchestral pieces till recently, this reed instrument’s husky yet refined sounds are a paradox to the ears. In ancient times, the guanzi was known as 筚篥 bili (or 悲篥 beili, 必篥 bili), and was believed to have progressed to China from 西域 Xi Yu 1 . It dates back as early as the 北朝 Bei Chao (AD 386 – AD 581) era, where the instrument was carved on sculptures found in the ancient caves of Shanxi. By the Sui dynasty (AD 581), the guanzi was used in court orchestras and was becoming popular in the regional stretch of Huabei, Dongbei, Shandong and Shanxi. It was also during the period of the Sui and Tang dynasties that the bili developed greatly in variety. The instrument had diversified in name and in structure, taking on forms including 双筚篥 shuang bili, 漆筚篥 qi bili, 银字筚篥 yinzi bili, 桃皮筚篥 taopi bili, 大筚篥 da bili and 小筚篥 xiao bili. The instrument was also becoming widely used in 鼓吹乐 gu chui yue (percussion and wind music) and other forms of folk music from different regions. Famous bili players then included 尉迟青 Wei Chiqing, 王麻奴 Wang Manu, 黄日 迁 Huang Riqian, 刘楚材 Liu Chucai, 尚陆陆 Shang Lulu and 史敬约 Shi Jingyue.

1 西域 Xi Yu refers to the Western plains as defined by the Han dynasty. These places include Xinjiang and the stretch along the Silk Road.

Figs. 16.1 & 16.2 (Top-Left & Middle-Left): The guan Figs. 16.3 & 16.5 (Middle-Right &
Figs. 16.1 & 16.2 (Top-Left & Middle-Left): The guan Figs. 16.3 & 16.5 (Middle-Right &

Figs. 16.1 & 16.2 (Top-Left & Middle-Left): The guan Figs. 16.3 & 16.5 (Middle-Right & Right): Playing holes

16.1 & 16.2 (Top-Left & Middle-Left): The guan Figs. 16.3 & 16.5 (Middle-Right & Right): Playing
16.1 & 16.2 (Top-Left & Middle-Left): The guan Figs. 16.3 & 16.5 (Middle-Right & Right): Playing

Figs. 16.6 & 16.7: The guan is played using a large double reed mouthpiece

Figs. 16.6 & 16.7: The guan is played using a large double reed mouthpiece Fig. 16.8:

Fig. 16.8: Manipulating a mouthpiece




Percussion, to the Chinese orchestra, is a term that refers to an eclectic mix of Western and Chinese instruments. In recent years, the Chinese Orchestra has adopted, among other western percussion instruments, the timpani, glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, snare drum and triangle into its ensemble. Likewise, the Western symphonic orchestra adopted traditional Chinese instruments like the 低音大 锣 diyin daluo (tam tam), 木鱼 muyu (temple blocks), 大钹 dabo (Chinese crash cymbals) and the 梆子bangzi (Chinese claves) into theirs. As such, there is no limit to the numbers and types of instruments used, or combinations that can be followed. Some provincial traditional operas even have large variations of gongs and drums that are only indigenous to the opera or province itself. In some of Tan Dun’s musical pieces, like ‘Ghost Opera’ and ‘Water Passion after St Matthew’, bowls filled with water and hissing sounds made by players were considered percussion. In most Chinese instrumental music, the percussion section serves to create an atmosphere or set the tempo for the orchestra to follow. In Chinese opera, the percussion section is most responsible for the dramatic feel. It is capable of deepening an actor’s character, complimenting singing and pushing for a climax. Perhaps, in Chinese instrumental music, the most significant use of percussion is in festivities, processions and Chinese religious occasions. The beats provide energy to festivities like dragon boat racing or lion dancing, and sobriety to funerals and chanting. Chinese percussion instruments are usually made of:

i. 竹木 Zhumu (wood) : 竹板 zhuban (bamboo clogs), 木鱼 muyu (temple blocks) etc.;

ii. 皮革 Pige (skin)

iii. 石头 Shitou (stone)


金属 Jinshu (metal)

: 大鼓 dagu (Chinese bass

drum) etc.;

: qing (ancient chimes) etc.;

: luo (gongs), bo (cymbals) etc.

drum), 腰鼓 yaogu (waist











percussion instruments into the following categories:

i. 板类 Ban lei (board category): Chinese claves, temple blocks etc.;

ii. 鼓类 Gu lei (drum category) : Chinese bass drum, timpani, Chinese tom toms etc.;

iii. 钹类 Bo lei (cymbal category): bells, 小钹 xiaobo (small cymbals) etc.;

iv. 锣类 Luo lei (gong category) : pitched gongs, 小锣 xiaoluo (small gongs) etc.

Percussion instruments can also be categorised into being of definite pitch or of indefinite pitch:

i. Definite pitch instruments include 云锣 yunluo (pitched gongs) and 编钟 bianzhong (bronze bells);

ii. Indefinite pitch instruments are usually sub-categorised into high, middle or low-pitched because of their indefinite values.

a. High-pitched instruments include temple blocks and 碰铃 pengling (bells);

b. Middle-pitched instruments include 京锣 jingluo (opera gongs), 京钹 jingbo (opera cymbals) and 排鼓 paigu (Chinese tom toms);

c. Low-pitched instruments include 定音鼓 dingyingu (timpani) and 大鼓 dagu (Chinese bass drum).


Board Instruments

拍板 Pai Ban (Clappers) Pai Ban, or Chinese Clappers are made of wood and are commonly also known as Ban. The thinner wooden piece of the instrument is held with one hand and used to strike the other two to three wooden pieces that are tied together. Often played with the left hand while simultaneously playing a drum on the right hand, the clappers cut through the music and are used mostly to keep time.

梆子 Bangzi (Chinese Claves) The Bangzi consists of two sturdy pieces of cylinder-shaped rosewoods which, when hit together, produce sharp and penetrating wooden sounds similar to the sounds produced by Western claves. Popular in the regions of Hebei, Henan and Shandong, the instrument is an important characteristic of the region’s operas and ditty music. In an orchestra, it helps to keep time.

木鱼 Muyu (Temple Blocks) Muyu, which consists of odd-shaped wooden blocks with a hollow centre (Figs. 17.1 & 17.2), are often associated with temple beats. Often used as chanting blocks in Buddhist music, these wooden blocks vary in size and pitch, and produce thick and rounded wooden sounds.

Figs. 17.1 & 17.2: Temple blocks

wooden blocks vary in size and pitch, and produce thick and rounded wooden sounds. Figs. 17.1

Figs. 17.3, 17.4 & 17.5: Huapengu, datanggu, and wooden frames being struck

17.4 & 17.5: Huapengu, datanggu, and wooden frames being struck Figs. 17.7 & 17.8: Drumsticks Figs.

Figs. 17.7 & 17.8: Drumsticks

17.4 & 17.5: Huapengu, datanggu, and wooden frames being struck Figs. 17.7 & 17.8: Drumsticks Figs.

Figs. 7.9: Menji

17.4 & 17.5: Huapengu, datanggu, and wooden frames being struck Figs. 17.7 & 17.8: Drumsticks Figs.


Buy a digital or physical copy of the full book: