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Chinese Folk (Sino-Folk) Music Instruments 民族樂器

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Bawu (巴乌)
- This reed instrument from China looks like a normal transverse flute, but has a copper reed embedded inside the mouthpiece structure, in which the user actually cups it with his/her mouth, rather than creating an embouchure as with typical transverse flutes, such as that of the bamboo dizi flute and Western classical flutes.

The Bahu's 9-note range+overblown notes are described to have a tonal-quality between that of a flute and a harmonica; producing "mellow and charming" organ-like sounds.

The origins of the Bahu is particularly linked to a variety of ethnic minority cultures of southern China, such as the Miao/Hmong, Hani, and Yi people, most of whom live in Yunnan province of southern China. The Bawu garnered nation-wide attention in China, outside its local native-ethnic realms during the early 1960's, and can be seen in the performance of a range of multi-ethnic folk and modern melodies, akin to the classical guitar being used to play modern musical pieces and arrangements.

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Banhu (板胡)
- Among the large family of Huqin spike fiddles, the Banhu would come in second or third behind that of the Erhu in terms of Huqin-popularity (see the "Erhu" instrument below for more details). Often described misleadingly as a "Chinese violin", the Erhu in fact, far predates the Western violin, and the Banhu itself may possibly predate the Erhu, as it possesses a wooden soundboard similar in design as used by the ancient nomadic people of China's historic frontiers, and who are commonly credited with introducing the Huqin (a.k.a. Hu'chin; Mongolian: khuu'chir).

While the Banhu is associated with the Han people of the northern-central plains of China, the ancient nomadic Hun people who have assimilated into ancient Han people's advanced agrarian culture and civilization have contributed very significant musical and ethnic heritage to China's rich cultural history.

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Cha'pian (釵片) Cymbals
- Also known as Chazi (釵子). Refined bronze percussion instruments discovered by archaeologists date back to about 3000 years past (Western Zhou Dynasty 1046-771 BCE).

The simple high-tin bronze Cha'pian cymbal is popularly seen in traditional events such as wedding processions, Lion Dances/Qilin Dances, traditional-folk operas, etc.

Like the function of the clave in latin music, or the hi-hat cymbals in a modern rock band, the Cha'pian cymbals is primarily used to keep a rhythmic ostinato for other musicians, dancers, or other performers to follow.

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Dagu/Tanggu (大鼓/堂鼓)
- The Dagu is a large "bass drum" similar to the sound produced by that of the typical 22" kick-drums used in Western-styled drum sets and concert/marching bass drums. It is commonly seen in adjacent Asian cultures, employing drums of this type in various ceremonies and rituals, most notably, the Japanese Taiko drum.

This is used in many types of performances and rituals, including that of the commonly-seen Lion Dance and Qilin Dance popularly accompanied by the Dagu and associated with Lunar New Year celebrations by not only the people of the Han-majority, but also by that of ethnic minority people of China, such as the Hakkas and Tibetans, as well as the people of Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc. The Dagu may be rooted in the development of the Zhangu (战鼓) "war-drum", which was used as a ritual and rallying call to battle in the ancient cultures of China and surrounding ancient kingdoms.

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Erhu (二胡)
- This traditional spike-fiddle is probably the most prominent of all folk-music instruments of China, and is but one member of the very large Huqin/Hu'kin family of spike-fiddles that is widely used as a stand-alone solo instrument, melodic accompaniment instrument, and ensemble instrument. It is very closely related to the Mongolian Khuuchir/Khoochir.

Often referred to as a "Chinese violin", this ancient design far predates the Western violin; its origins typically pointing to the nomadic ancestry of the people of the Asian heartland, and typically used by the general populace and ethnic minorities in and around China. The Huqin family includes similar spike-fiddles such as the Banhu (板胡), Zhonghu (中胡), Gaohu (高胡), Sihu (四胡), Jinghu (京胡), etc.

The Erhu and many similar spike fiddles used in Sino-folk music are known for using the skin of snakes, typically python, for its soundboard material, some species of which are considered on the list of endangered-species, which has caused import-issues in the USA. It is recommended that the bridge that suspends the strings above the snakeskin soundboard be moved to the edge of the soundboard, especially when there is an extended period of non-use, to help relieve string-tension pressure off the snakeskin to keep it flexible and supple for years of quality sound and performance.

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Hulusi (葫芦丝)
- The Hulusi is a free reed instrument from China that whose design is that of a gourd body, a center bamboo main-pipe, and usually flanked by two bamboo drone-pipes.

The name hulusi literally translates to "gourd silk", which describes the smooth and "silky" tone that possesses an often hard-to-describe "mellow cry of the human-voice" quality that may be considered a blend between a clarinet and a violin-ish tone that it produces.

This woodwind-type instrument was principally used by the Dai people and other ethnic minorities of southern China, but is has now gained nation-wide popularity throughout China among the masses, similar to the popularity that the harmonica has gained with the common-folk in many countries around the world.

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Jinghu (京胡)
- Highest pitched of the Huqin family of spike-fiddles, which includes the Banhu, Erhu, Gaohu, Sihu, Zhonghu, etc.

This particular sopranino-ranged spike-fiddle is primarily used in northern China, in particular, the Beijing area, where it is almost exclusively associated with the melodies and ensembles within the performances and theatrics of Peking Opera.

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Liuqin (柳琴)
- Also known as the Liuyeqin (柳葉琴), this fretted lute-like instrument with four strings, appears like a miniature version of the popular Pipa lute (see below), but is tuned much higher and typically played more that of the mandolin; i.e. with a plectrum, rather than the finger-style of the Pipa.

The Liuqin has documented in historic texts as an instrument found in an ensemble, although due to its unique tonal qualities, has found itself prominence as a stand-alone solo intrument, particularly through the compositions and performances of Liuqin legend Wang Huiran (王惠然) in the latter-half of the 20th century.

Liuqins of greater antiquity had been made with willow wood, and those of higher quality tend to be made with rosewood or sandalwood. Modern Liuqins are popularly constructed of paulownia wood for the top sound and finger board, with red sandalwood used on the backside, neck, and headstock.

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Muyu (木鱼)
- Generally referred to as the temple block. This seemingly primordial percussive musical instrument may function simply as a wood block percussion, but typically feature refined hand-carved aesthetics and precise tunings in its "modern" rendition ̶ a transitional and refinement period dating far-back in the Spring and Autumn period (771-476 BC) or before.

Often connected to traditional Buddhist and Taoist formalities, as well as modern musical arrangements (often called "dragon's mouths" by Western orchestral musicians), the "modern" rendition of the Muyu temple block likely evolved from a primitive "wood block", to its perennial design resembling a stylized Jiyu (锦鲤, referring to the domesticated Chinese goldfish breeds), which are popular and auspiciously-symbolic pets derived from the ancient aquaculture of China.

The Muyu temple block form may also be an offshoot and/or surrogate of the ancient Yugu (鱼鼓), another percussion instrument of antiquity from China, but exhibiting a bamboo sound chamber and dried fish skin formed and stretched over one end like a drum.

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Pipa (琵琶)
- A fretted lute with four strings whose typically demanding technical fingerstyle of play is similar to that of the flamenco guitar.

The use of the Pipa and variations of it have been recorded in ancient texts since the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), and has since in this two-thousand year period, spread to various cultures from Northeast to Southeast Asia; i.e. the Japanese Biwa, the Korean Bipa,  the Vietnamese Tyba, etc.

While ancient texts mention pipa, or what is believed to be the pre-pipa ancestry of the instrument (i.e. piba-枇杷, ruanqin-阮琴, xiantao-弦鼗, among others), some researchers such as Laurence Picken and John Myers, tend to disagree it has any Chinese origin, suggesting a "non-Han Chinese" origin of the modern pipa instrument.

The pipa is traditionally strung with silk-strings, but modern advances in materials allows for greater volume and durability with metal, nylon, or composite strings.

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Ruanqin (阮琴)
- This very ancient fretted string instrument is popularly referred to simply as the Ruan (阮), and has typically has an easily identifyable round-shaped body that is aesthetically metaphoric of the full moon.

The Ruanqin is believed to have been developed from the qin-pipa (秦琵琶) and the xiantao (弦鼗) dating back to the Qin Dynasty (221-226 BC) and before, and these instruments were developed from other pipa-type of ancient chordophones from well before that period.

A famous historic figure in Chinese history, the scholar and musician Ruan Zhongrong, was a "very skilled player of an ancient lute-type instrument", and the Ruan has thus also been called the Ruanxian (阮咸) in his honor, as the most notable player of this type of instrument, and as a legendary member of the "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove". However, the instrument that Ruan Xian actually play may not have the same design as Ruan we know of today, as various illustrations from different time-periods depict.

An exquisite example of the ruanxian from the Tang Dynasty era (618-907 AD), made with red sandalwood and inlayed with mother of pearl, is preserved in the Shosoin treasure house.

The modern Ruan is now available as a family of soprano, alto, tenor and bass configurations; a development intended to increase its range and versatility in modern Chinese folk orchestras and rock/pop music.

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Sanxian (三弦)
- 3 string, snake skin "banjo-lute". Traditionally used as a busker's self-accompanying instrument, and much less as an ensemble instrument in operas.

The Sanxian is has spread to neighboring cultures around the Asian heartland; most notably the Japanese version of this instrument is know as the "Shamisen", the Mongolian version known as the "Shanz", and the Vietnamese version known as the "Dan Tam".

The modern shamisen, as used in Japan, enjoy a level of popularity that may exceed the popularity over that of its origins in China; the Shamisen in Japan have been traditionally made with dog-skin, and are now commonly available with dog-skin alternatives including synthetic-substitutes, such as FiberSen, over that of the traditional snakeskin, which are prone to tonal-change and durability issues related to temperature and humidity levels. Dog skin and synthetics produced enhanced tonal responses as well as improved durability.

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Sheng ()
- A bamboo-made free-reeded mouth organ consisting of 17 to 32 bamboo pipes, with each pipe fitted with a brass reed similar to the Western harmonica, in fact, the free-reeded Shengs and such were known to be introduced to the European domain during the 18th century, by Jesuit missionary Jean Joseph Pere Amiot, which lead to the development of the harmonica of the Western musical world.

Shengs were developed from the He and Yu free-reeded instruments from as far back as the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC), although the Sheng itself, as the instrument is known today, was first mentioned in historical texts during the Zhou Dynasty era (1046-256 BC).

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Suona (唢呐)
- Often regarded as a "Chinese trumpet", the Suona is in fact a double-reeded woodwind that projects its double-reeded voice through a brass bell that resembles the commonly seen Western-styled bugle or trumpet.

While there appears to be consensus that the origins of the Suona is from outside the borders of ancient Chinese kingdoms, it is disputed as to exactly where the Suona originated from; some argue it is of Arabian origin, while others argue it is of Indian or other origins.

A popular Tibetan-version of this double-reeded horn is known as the Gyaling, while one that is regarded as an indigenous Bhutanese version, is known as the Lingm; both are typically used by Buddhists monks.

This double-reeded horn began appearing in medieval Europe as early as the 9th or 10th centuries, where it became known as the Shawm, and is regarded as the predecessor of the modern oboe.

In recorded historical accounts of Chinese history, the Suona wind instrument was first mentioned in the Wei and Jin period (200-420), and may have uses as a military-type bugle call, but only known to be popularized much later with the common folk for use as standards in wedding, parades, and funeral processions as documented in the Zhengde-era (1506-1520) of the Ming Dynasty.

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Tong Luo

Tong Luo (铜锣)
- Gongs come in many sizes and pitches. Refined bronze percussion instruments discovered by archaeologists date back to over 3000 years past (Zhou Dynasty 1046-771 BCE).

After Buddhism was integrated within the culture of China, sacred gongs were specially-made and inscribed with the Hanzi (Japanese: Kanji, Korean: Hanja) characters "泰来" (pronunced 'tailai'); meaning "serendipity has arrived", and became a valued worldly-possession and symbol of happiness and prosperity of the more-affluent.

It is unknown whether the simple high-tin bronze Cha'pian (hand-held paired-cymbals), as popularly seen in traditional events such as parade and wedding processions, Lion Dances/Qilin Dances, and traditional-folk operas, pre-dated, or were concurrently developed musically with the advent of the basic gong.

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Xiao (萧)
- The Xiao end-blown "vertical" flute represent the second most-popular of the flute-type instruments used in Chinese folk music, and is often described as having a delicate, mellow, and "haunting" tone quality.

9,000 year-old ancient bone flutes have been found in archaeological sites in northern China with pentatonic and other tunings have fingerings which remarkably resemble that of the modern Xiao, it is unknown how this contributed to the development of the popular bamboo flutes is unknown; it is plausible that such flutes made with bamboo existed at or near the same time as the Neolithic-era bone flutes, but would not be as durable, and not be expected to survive intact for periods of millenia.

Nowadays, the Xiao is most popularly available in the favored choice of material: the purple bamboo; although it is not unusual for the Xiao to be made with common and controlled materials such as porcelain, wood, jade, ivory, among others. The bamboo Xiao is most often pitched to the keys of D and G, although many other keys have also been made available for the modern artist or hobbyist.

The player of the Xiao would be required to develop some technical skill, primarily, creating an embouchure with the mouth-lips over the notched cut-out at mouth-end of the Xiao, and blows across the cut-out, as if trying to create an audible and solid tone with the open-end of a glass soda bottle. The use of the Xiao vertical-type end-blown flutes were popularly accounted for during the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220AD).

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Dizi (笛子)
- Perhaps the most popular and visibly demonstrated of all folk wind instruments of China; the Dizi is traditionally and ideally made from bamboo, and played as a transverse-type (horizontally-held) flute.

The bamboo construction and the application of a rice-paper resonating membrane over an air-hole made for the expressly for purpose of tone-generation of the instrument, creates a "fat" buzzing-vibrato quality to its already woody-timbre, to which the Dizi have no peers.

Like the end-blown Xiao flute (see above), the Dizi exhibits a fingering remarkably similar to Neolithic-era bone flutes found by archaeologists at the Jiahu Neolithic site; examples of which also included unusual hexatonic and heptatonic fingerings. However, regardless of pentatonic, hexatonic, or heptatonic fingerings, experienced Dizi players can employ "underblowing/overblowing" and "half-hole fingering" techniques to produce "chromatic notes" and scales.

Examples of the Dizi have been found in Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) tombs, and images depicting ensemble music with the Dizi are vibrantly illustrated in paintings from the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (907-979 AD) and the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), particularly in the works of Gu Hongzhong (顧閎中 ~ 937-975 AD).

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Guzheng (古筝)
- Often called by its English term "Chinese Zither", the Guzheng and its variants have spread across Asia to places such as Japan, where it is called the Koto, to Korea, where it is known as Gayageum, to Mongolia, where it's called the Yatga, to Vietnam, where it's called the Dan Tranh.

Although the Guzheng appeared with various different number-of-strings configurations, the modern performance Guzheng is configured with 21 strings. The Guzheng appears to have been developed from a very ancient zither-type of instrument called the Se, and possibly the Guqin (古琴 - often simply referred to as "Qin"), both of which are mentioned in ancient Chinese historical texts such as the Book of Odes (诗经) and Analects of Confucius (论语); about 3,000 and 2,500 years-old respectively. Earliest intact-examples of such instruments have been found in an ancient musical-instrument treasure trove, otherwise known as the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng of the Spring and Autumn period (771-476BC). However, the Se and Qin are commonly believed to have already been in use in the very beginnings of the civilization of China - the Xia Dynasty and before, and the archetypical "Qin" instrument and suffix to describe stringed musical instruments in general, is derived from the very ancient "Qin" (琴 - guqin).

The character or word for "music" itself is "樂" (pronounced "yueh") which is made from the fundamental characters of silk (丝) and wood (木). Unlike the Guqin, the strings of the Se and Guzheng are fix-tuned by a series of adjustable wood or metal pegs and moveable bridges, and a melody is played by plucking each string assigned to one specific pitch; whereas the Guqin typically has 7 open-tuned strings, kept in tune by only adjustable wooden or ivory/sinew pegs, but must be fretted with fingers pressing the strings down against the fingerboard to create complex melodies.

The Guzheng is among the “Top 5" of the most-representative and visible of Chinese non-percussion type of folk music instruments, which include the Dizi (esp Zhudi), Huqin (esp Erhu), Pipa, and Yangqin. The Guzheng is also favored in various fusions on the World Music stage as such arrangements in rock, reggae, jazz, etc.

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Yangqin (扬琴)
- The Yangqin is played with a pair of lightweight mallets, typically made of bamboo, and traditionally dampened at tips with silk or felt (rubber typically used nowadays), one held in each hand, alternately striking each "course" of strings that consists of 5 strings representing one note (which helps boost tone and volume), producing chordal-harmonies and arpeggios - various methods and techniques may be applied to produce unique sounds and effects.

Technically, the Yangqin is a hammered-dulcimer, whose very similar examples are used by unique cultures from around the world. It is regarded as a precursor of the piano, which fundamentally is also a stringed-instrument whose sound is produced by the striking action of mechanically-actuated mallet-hammers, instead of directly hand-hammered.

The Yangqin and other hammer dulcimers are musical instruments of such distant antiquity, with a dearth of historic accounts and documentation, but yet it is so widespread in use that it is difficult to determine just who or what group/nation of people developed this rather internationally-ubiquitous folk musical instrument. The hammered-dulcimer is found in many countries and used by very many ethnic groups worldwide, including those of Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East.