Three thousand years ago, performers in ancient China used 70 different types of musical instruments to perform for the royal family and aristocrats. Each royalty even had their own orchestra as this was a way to display their power, position, and taste differentiating them from the commoners or lower classes.
Aside from assuming their social class, ancient Chinese believed that music could also purify people’s minds. Music gradually became inclusive and soon became a source of entertainment rather than a display of abundance.
One of the strongest Chinese empires, the Tang Dynasty, had a great influence on musical development. In fact, a number of the Tang emperors were musicians or composers. As time passed, frequent cultural exchanges with different cultures happened, leading to an introduction to new instruments that were soon considered to be part of the Chinese traditional instruments. Check these out:
1. Guzheng (古筝) ɡǔ zhēnɡ
The Guzheng, also known as the Chinese zither, is estimated to be 2,500 years old. Historical records from books and writings gave vivid descriptions of the instrument and its music. Hou Jin, a scholar of the Eastern Han Period (25 AD – 220 AD) wrote, “Guzheng’s sound touches the Heavens above and the Gods and spirits below.”
2. Pipa (琵琶) pí pa
The pipa has a long history with compositions passing from master to student for years. While many of these compositions have been lost over time, a number still exists to which we are enjoying today. Some contemporary performers have even started to also integrate pipa with western sounds to create twists in modern music.
3. Dizi (笛子) dí zi
China is home to the oldest playable flutes, which are the most representative musical instrument with strong ethnic characteristics. Dizi is always performed on occasions and is regarded as an inseparable part of the wind instruments. It is usually made of bamboo and is made up of one blowing hole, one affiliated hole, and six sound holes.
4. Guqin (古琴) ɡǔ qín
Guqin is the oldest musical instrument in China and is also known as the Seven-stringed instrument. The body of this instrument is a long and narrow wooden soundbox. It is typically made of paulownia wood or China fir. The instrument is rich in tone with airy notes. Perhaps Guqin is the most unique instrument to play because before starting a performance, the player takes a shower and burns incense in the room in order to concentrate and ward off evil spirits.
5. Erhu (二胡) èr hú
Erhu is a bowed instrument that is most represented in traditional Chinese folk music. The Erhu is a two-stringed vertical fiddle and has a history of over a thousand years. It is capable of making expressive and haunting sounds that plays an important role in traditional or contemporary music whether it may be a solo or orchestral performance.
6. Suona (唢呐) suǒ nà
The suona was first introduced to ancient China from Persia. In China, it is commonly called laba (which means horn). On the other hand, it is called bayin (which means eight tunes) in the Guangdong province. It has a distinctively loud sound and is used in much traditional Chinese music. This instrument is quite prominent on the northern side of Chinese which are the Shandong, Shanxi, and Henan provinces.