Chinese Blown-woodwind instrument


Blown-woodwind instruments produce sound by blowing to vibrate the tube and reeds of the instruments. The tone produced depends on the strength of the wind. Different strengths can produce pitches that differ by a perfect fifth or an octave. Its origin can be traced back to BC 1100, the Shang Dynasty, when there were Xun, He (Sheng), and Yan (Da Xiao) etc.

The more popular wind instruments include Sheng, Suona, Di and Xiao.

Dizi (Di, Transverse Flute)

Dizi Chinese instrument

Chinese Flute Dizi

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Range: d2 - g4 (G key type)

Early in the reign of Emperor Wudi (141-88 BC) of the Han dynasty, the di flute was introduced to China from western areas. into china and standardised in construction through revisions. But broadly speaking, such features as its bamboo make, edged tone and side-holes have given the evidence of its existence in the ensembles of the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). Archaeological finds revealed one of the earliest type of flute unearthed from a tomb in Hubei province. It had a very similar construction as a modern bamboo type, only without the hole for membrane. Despite these old flutes being 8000 years old, they can still be played.

The modern flute has an octave range of about two and a half. It is often bound with bands of silk or thread for crack proof. There are many types of flute, the bangdi and quid are the most common. The bangdi is the shorter and has a bright clear tone. It's name comes from the bangzi opera of northern china. The longer one known as quid. It has a more mellow tone and is associated with the kunqu opera of central china.

The di is very popular and is widely used for solos and in ensembles.

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Xiao or Dongxiao (Notched Flute)


Xiao Chinese instrument

Xiao Chinese flute

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Range: d1 - c3
(G Key type)

The term dongxiao distinguishes the instrument as an end-blown notched flute. The prefix dong means "hole" in Chinese.

Xiao players can be seen among pottery figurines of the Han dynasty and in the tomb brick-wall paintings of the Wei and Jin period (220-420).

The modern type is often made from a nine joint black bamboo, has six finger holes, five at the front and one at the rear, and 2-4 air holes at the lower end.

The instrument has soft, subtle tones and is suitable for solo performances and duets with the qin zither or used in the sizhu (silk and bamboo instrument) chamber music traditions. The so called long feng xiao refers to the coupled flutes respectively engraved with dragon and phoenix patterns.

Length: 80cm

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Guan or Bili (Oboe)


Guanzi Chinese instrument

Guan Chinese flute

Range: a1 - d4
(D Key type)

The guanzi as it is now commonly known as, originates from Kucha in central Asia. It's old name is bili. It has a deep and melancholic tone gives the instrument another name, belili, which means the "sad oboe".

The Tang poet Bai Juyi (772-846) wrote about its effectiveness:
Frost moon shines high on the wall of Runzhou,
Such a night inspires the sound of oboe.
In the hills and rivers all become quiet,
Fish are motionless and monkeys cry.

During the Sui and Tang period (581-907) the bili was adopted commonly in court orchestras. In the music teaching institutes of the Song dynasty (960-1279) a section for the bili was set up. Because of its frequent leading position in the orchestra, it was also termed as touguan (the first oboe). The type used in the folk music after the Song dynasty was mostly made of bamboo, and later of red sandal, and bound with metal rings or tin hoops on both ends. The instrument is suitable for an inspiring or sad mood.

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Xun (Clay Vessel Flute)

Xun Chinese instrument



The Xun was said to be made of baked clay by the legendary Bao Xin Gong the first male ancestor in Chinese myth. It falls into the category of earth in the traditional bayin classifications of musical instruments based on eight kinds of materials (metal, stone, silk, bamboo, gourd, earth, hide, and wood).

7000 years ago a single-finger-hole type was found in Hemudu Village, Zhejiang province. The instruments with 1-5 finger holes were from areas such as Banpo Village (Xian, c. 000-3000BC). Xun flutes varied in shape ranging from an olive, a ball, a fish, or an egg, most with flattened bottoms. Its construction was standardised in the Shang dynasty (1766-1122BC). It is generally pear shaped with five finger holes, three at the front and two at the rear.

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Sheng (Mouth Organ)

Sheng Chinese instrument Sheng Chinese instrument

Sheng Chinese mouth organ

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Range: a1 - d3
(17 pipes type)

It is said that the first female ancestor Nüwa or one of her followers called Sui invented the instrument. It is listed in the gourd category of the bayin classifications. The early type had a calabash base with pipes mounted through its holes in its top. According to ancient literature, the sheng symbolizes everything that breaks through the soil. The larger type is called chao and the smaller he. The earliest type ever seen is 14 piped unearthed from Zenghou Yi tomb in Hubei province. During the period from the Southern Dynasties to the Tang dynasty (420-907) the instrument played an important role in court music. And in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911) it was used extensively both in folk instrumental ensembles and in accompaniment to local theatres and popular narratives. The bowl like wind chamber was large or small in size, square or round in shape, and variable in pitch arrangement as well.
Nowadays the most common type has 17 pipes and the improved one for the contemporary compositions has 21-37 pipes, with keys and a metal resonating pot for the pipes to insert. The result is a bright and harmonious tone quality, a chromatically complete scale and an extended compass.

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Suona (Trumpet)


Suona Chinese instrument

Suona Chinese trumpet

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Range: a1 - b3
(D key type)

The suona, often called laba (trumpet), first appeared in the Wei and Jin period (220-420). It has a penetrating tone quality, The suona is has a passionate and lively sound, particularly good at imitating the singing of hundreds of birds. Experienced players can control their breath with double lips to produce the characteristic soft tone (called tone of xiao) for a plaintive or sentimental effect. A smaller high pitched variety is known as haidi (sea-flute) is a fourth higher in range than the common type. In a modern Chinese orchestra the suona has a revised alto and bass variants with added keys.

The instrument is commonly used as an accompaniment in theatres or to singing and dancing. It is also used for solos or ensembles on such occasions as weddings, funerals or other ceremonies and celebrations.

Range: a1-b3

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A 2 size traditional Chinese instruments poster available.