Chinese music came into being when accompanied the people's
productive activities. Chinese music can be traced far back into
far remote ages. Around 3,000 years ago, when European music was
just experiencing its first breath of life, a complete musical theory
and sophisticated musical instruments began appearing in China.
In the slave society just royal families and dignitary officials
enjoyed music which was played on chimes and bells when they offered
By the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), the imperial court set up a
Music Bureau, which was in charge of collecting and editing ancient
melodies and folk songs. Because of commercial contacts with Central
Asia, foreign music entered China and modified as well as improved
Chinese music. By the time of Emperor Xuan Zong (713-755 AD) of
the Tang Dynasty, the court organized the Pear Garden Academy. Singing
and dancing troupes which cultivated a large number of musicians
and laid a firm foundation for Chinese music.
In the Song Dynasty (960-1279AD), original opera such as Zaju and
Nanxi was performed in teahouse, theatres. Ci, a new type of literature
similar to lyrics prevailed. Ci could be played and sung. During
the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368AD), qu, another type of literature based
on music became popular. This was also a period when many traditional
musical instruments were developed such as the pipa, the flute,
and the zither.
During the Ming (1368 – 1644AD) and Qing Dynasties (1644 – 1911AD),
the art of opera developed rapidly and diversely in different regions.
Latter the Peking Opera became popular.
Besides these types of music, Chinese farmers composed folk songs,
which also developed independently with local flavor. Folk songs
described the contents of daily life such as fishing, farming, and
Traditionally the Chinese have believed that sound influences the
harmony of the universe. In ancient time the Chinese musical entertainers
were relegated to an extremely low social status because ancient
Chinese culture was dominated by Confucian teachings and people
believed that music was used not to amuse but to purify one's thoughts
or for rituals.
As with anything, traditional Chinese music had many different variations
depending on the time period, region, and individual. Each imperial
court had its own specialty. Each dynasty focused on different aspects
of the music. And within each dynasty, different regions and localities
possessed their own style of music. As with Western music, solo
performances of musical instruments also exist. Some musical pieces
are performed slowly to creating a relaxing ambience while others
are performed very quickly to mark an atmosphere of excitement and
Chinese music is basically pentatonic-diatonic, meaning that the
basic pentatonic scale can be modulated within a diatonic context.
The variations of rhythm, beat, tone quality, and embellishments
in traditional Chinese music are highly distinctive and unlike their
Western counterparts. This is mainly due to the unique sounds and
playing styles of traditional Chinese musical instruments.
Traditional Musical Instruments
Traditional Chinese musical instruments can be divided into four
categories: stringed instruments, percussion instruments, plucked
instruments, and wind instruments. The following are just a few
Lute (Pipa) belonging to plucked instruments. Originally named after
the loquat fruit, the earliest pipa known was found to have been
made in the Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC). By the the Tang Dynasty
(618 – 907AD), the pipa had reached its summit. It was loved by
everyone--from the royal court to the common folk--and it occupied
the predominant place in the orchestra. Afterwards, the pipa underwent
improvement in playing techniques and structure. Players then changed
from holding the pipa transversely to holding it vertically, and
from using a plectrum to using the fingers to pluck the strings
directly. In modern times, the volume and resonance has also been
Guqin It is a seven-stringed zither without bridges, the most classical
Chinese instrument with over 3000 years of history. It is literally
called qin yet commonly known as "guqin" where "gu"
stands for ancient. Confucius (around 600 BC) was a master of this
instrument. To learn to play qin used to be regarded as a very important
element for education for the purpose of enriching the heart and
elevating human spirit. In Imperial China, a scholars and ladies
of the high society were expected to master the four arts, namely,
the qin (guqin), qi (weiqi or Go), shu (Calligraphy), and hua (painting).
The guqin has historically been regarded as the symbol of Chinese
high culture. Unfortunately only small number of people in China
could play the instrument, because classical musical education of
this kind has never reached general public. The situation for today
has not been improved much. The situation for lute (pipa) was similar.
Due to this reason, a lot of ancient repertoires were lost with
the pass-away of masters or the written scores were burned or destroyed
in war or turmoil. However, the guqin repertoire has been much better
preserved than all other instruments. Since November 2003, Guqin
has been registered as one of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of
the humanity by the United Nations' Educational, Cultural and Scientific
Zheng or Guzheng It was Chinese zither with movable bridges and
16-25 strings. It also belonged to pluck instrument.
Erhu, also called 'Huqin', belonging to stringed instrument, which
was introduced from the western region during the Tang Dynasty.
During the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), it was refined and improved
and new variations appeared. It was also an important instrument
for playing the melody of Beijing Opera. Besides Erhu, there ware
also Zhonghu, Gaohu and Hore Headed Fiddle, which are string instruments.
The Horse-headed fiddle is a bowed stringed-instrument with a scroll
carved like a horse's head. It is popular in Mongolian music. With
a history of over 1,300 years, it even influenced European string
music when Marco Polo brought one back from his jounery through
Asia. Its wide tonal range could express the joy or pathos of a
melody to its fullest.
When playing, the player usually stands the Erhu on his lap, and
moves the bow across the vertical strings.
Flute belonging to wind instrument. The earliest flute was made
from bone over 7,000 years ago. In the times since then, most flutes
were made of bamboo, which allowed even common people to play it.
By covering the holes and blowing through the side hole while moving
the fingers flexibly between the six holes, a sound will be produced
that is leisurely and mellifluous like sound from far away. This
always reminds people of a pastoral picture of a boy riding on a
bull while playing a flute.
Xun, which is made of clay with egg shape. It can play sorrowful
Sheng is another popular wind instrument. It has a lot of vertical
pipes with wholes combined together.
Yangqin is Chinese dulcimer, belonging to percussion instrument.
It has a squared soundboard with a lot of strings.
When played musicians used hummer to strike on the strings. Of course
China also has other percussions such as drum, gong, bell, clapper
Chinese Musical Instruments
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