Traditional Chinese Music


Traditional 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 sacrifice.
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 herding.
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 festivity.
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 of them:
Ttaditional Chinese Musical Instruments
Ttaditional Chinese Musical Instruments

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 improved.
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 Organization (UNESCO)

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 melody.
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 and cymbal.

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