Music is an inseparable part of a culture. Throughout history, the chinese people played music as an act of ritual, entertainment or a spiritual activity. Traditional Chinese music seeks harmony, offering a wide range of sounds and creating unique melodies which differs
from western classical music.
The traditional Chinese musical instruments are divided into eight categories (bayin- the eight notes) according to the material they are made of: silk, bamboo, wood, metal, stone, pumpkin, leather, pottery. Dozens of musical instruments can be counted in each category, however we will focus on the best known instruments: erhu, pipa, guzheng, dizi and guqin.
Erhu (èrhú 二胡)
A 2-string bow, and a small drum-like resonance box made of bamboo. Most of the researchers believe that Erhu origins from Mongolia. Traditionally, Erhu has a 81 cm long neck, two strings, and the resonance box is covered with snakeskin front.
Sometimes Erhu is called “Chinese Violin,” because it seems at first like they produce similar sounds. But these two instruments are very different: the structure, the range of sounds and the Erhu playing techniques creates special, varied and different sounds from the western violin. Firstly, the Erhu does not have a fretboard. Secondly, it has only two strings. In addition, the structure and size of the resonance box is different from that of the violin. Erhu’s resonance box is smaller, it is slotted at the back and covered with skin at the front.
Playing techniques: An Erhu musician plays sitting while the Erhu is placed on his leg vertically. In one hand he presses the strings, while the other hand holds the bow. Unlike the violin, the player presses The tiptoe strings when the strings do not touch the neck of the tool. Other elements affecting The uniqueness of the sound produced by the Erhu is the shaking of the skin that creates stronger sounds, and the proximity of the strings to each other. A professional Erhu musician can produce musical effects of bird chirping, horse racing, dog barking and more. All these elements make the Erhu a unique music instrument that produces deep, powerful sounds.
Pipa (pípá 琵琶 )
Traditional Chinese stringed instrument with a history of over 2000 years. Pippa has 4 strings, a pearly shaped resonance box Made of wood, and between 14 and 26 bridges. The well known pearly shaped pipa originates in China from Central Asia, and appeared in China at the end Han Dynasty (AD 200).
Pipa became especially popular during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), when it became the main instrument played in the Emperor’s court. During the Song Dynasty, it became less popular in the Emperor’s Court, but was widely used by the common people. Throughout history, pipa has been through a lot of changes: its amount of bridges was doubled, and it was also developed into 2 strings and 5 strings versions.
Playing techniques: Originally, a pipa musician played pipa holding it horizontally, similar to a guitar playing position, but over time this position has changed and today pipe is played vertically, similar to the erhu playing position. Playing Pipa involves both hands grip techniques. The musician wears finger-pickings, one hand holds the instruments neck and presses the string, while the other hand plucks the strings. The coordination and the sensitivity skills needed to produce a clean and accurate sound make Pipa’s playing techniques the most complex and difficult techniques.
Guzheng (gǔzhēng 古筝)
Gu Zheng is one of the oldest and most important musical instruments in the Chinese tradition. Gu means ancient, and Zheng means zither. Gu Zheng is in the category of Silk made instruments, because traditionally it was made with silk strings.
There are different kinds of theories about guzhengs origin. Some claim that a similar instrument was first seen during the Qin Dynasty (206-221 BC). However, the oldest version of the Gu Zheng (then only 13 strings) found, dates to The Warring States period (475-221 BC).
Playing techniques: Gu Zheng usually has 21 strings and bridges that stand on a wide resonance box. Gu Zheng players use finger pickup specifications (specifications) That clothe your fingers) usually with one or both hands. In the right hand, the player plucks the strings, and in the left hand he gives the sounds depth and length by pressing the string.
Dizi (dízi 笛子)
Traditional Chinese bamboo flute widely played in folk music, Chinese opera, and orchestras. Some claim that this instrument has been played in China since The Warring States period (475-221 BC), and it first appeared in the Hubei Province 7,000 years ago. Dizi flutes are divided into two groups by the stage art its played in: Bang Di – the short version used to accompany rattles, and Cho Di used as an accompaniment to the Kun Opera.
The grout is most often carved from bamboo, which has a mouthpiece, and six finger holes, similar to the Western flute. Dizi musicians are required for different and varied musical skills: tapping, puffing, flower tongue, surfing technique and more.
Guqin (gǔqín 古琴)
The most important stringed instrument in the Chinese culture is guqin- a 7 strings zither instrument. Guqin was very popular among scholars because of the subtle sounds it produces.Confucius, one of the greatest Chinese philosophers, played guqin and believed it enriches persons heart. Therefore, some people consider guqin as the essence of the chinese aesthetics and philosophy.
Much has been said about the origins of this musical instrument. Until the 20th century, people believed Guqin had appeared 5,000 years ago. According to legend, Fuxi, Shennong and the Yellow Emperor created the Guqin together. However, today we know Guqin first appeared in Chinese literature around 3,000 years ago, and the oldest evidence found in the tombs is 2,500 years old.
Playing techniques: In the past, there were about 1000 different musical techniques for Guccin, but only a few hundred are used to date. Like Gu Zheng, the Guqin produces gentle, smooth sounds, and encourages self-discipline and concentration. However, unlike Guzheng, Guqin’s playing technique emphasizes the left hand skill more than the right hand skill.