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Chinese Culture >> Chinese Society Traditions

History of Ancient Chinese Musical Instrument

One of the most important facets of Chinese culture is its music. Ancient Chinese music made its presence felt as early as 256 BC with the emergence of the Zhou Dynasty. The success of the contemporary Chinese music can be traced back to the country's rich taste in music.

Ancient Chinese musical instrument can be broadly classified based on the material with which they are manufactured. The classifications of ancient Chinese musical instruments can be done depending on materials like wood, stone, hide, silk, bamboo, gourd, clay, and metal. Ancient Chinese musical instruments are also divided according to wind, percussion, plucked, bowed, and hammered string instruments.

There are a wide variety of Chinese instruments ranging from gongs, flutes, drums, mouth organs, and clappers among others. The silk instruments had strings that could be struck, plucked, or bowed. Silk had been the favorite material of Chinese when it came to making musical instruments. Pipa, Liuqin, Duxianqin, Se, Guin, and Saxin are some of the silk string instruments that had to be plucked. Erhu, a fiddle with two strings, is one of the most popular bowed silk string Chinese musical instruments. The others in the same category are Gaohu, Yehu, Datong, Hexican, and Huluquin.

Many of the old Chinese musical instruments were made up of specific materials because of their tonal versatility. The importance of the bamboo musical instruments can be deciphered from the work Night Revels of Han Xiazai. There are a plethora of flutes made of bamboo, like Bangdi, Dongdi, Yue, and Chi. Reeds were also extensively used for creating musical instruments like Nazi, Guan, Mangtong, and Bawu.

Wooden musical instruments were equally popular in ancient China. Wood was used for making the Bangzi, Guban, Yu, Muyu, and Zhu. These were mainly used during the ancient rituals. They formed an important part of the ancient Chinese music. It seems that the Chinese turned all the materials they laid their hands on into musical instruments. With their years of tried and tested expertise they were successful in creating distinct melodious tunes with the help of these musical instruments.

The Chinese used stone to manufacture the Bianqin. It was a group of stones hung with a rope from a wooden structure. Metals were mostly used to make percussion instruments, like gongs, cymbals, and bells. Bronze was the most frequently used metal in making musical instruments. Laba, Chun, bronze drum, Luo, Bo, Nao, and Bianzhong are some of the famous metal made instruments. Fou and Xun were made from baked clay.

Gourd was used to make mouth organs like Yu, Hukusheng, Sheng, and He. Animal skin was utilized to make some of the finest ancient Chinese musical instruments. Some of them were Tao, Bofu, Yaogu, Tanggu, Bangu, Biangu, Huzuo Wujia Gu, and Daigu.

The Chinese introduced more than 80 kinds of musical instruments and ushered in foremost classification structure of musical instruments in the world. 

About the Author

Snowbird C. Murray is an author of Chinese Women international. She has unique understanding of Chinese Musical Instruments