China boasts an ancient, vibrant tradition of folk music dating back 7,000 years and continuing today. This form is distinguished by a pentatonic scale and focused more on expression than Western classical music.
Chinese folk music encompasses four main genres: folk song, opera, guoyue patriotic song ensembles and Xian drum music. These forms originated as part of the New Culture Movement during the 1910s and 1920s that coinciding with the formation of modern nations.
Music is an integral component of Chinese culture, boasting an expansive history and wide array of instruments. Traditional folk music zhongwen includes stringed instruments (erhu and gu zheng), wind instruments such as dizi, suona and xiao, drums and gongs as well as drum pads for rhythmical accompaniment.
The erhu is a two-stringed violin first played during China’s Tang Dynasty. It can be played solo or with an ensemble. One popular tune on an erhu is known as ‘Two Springs Reflect the Moon’ – this song conjures up an idyllic night scene that captures both desolation and hope of composer’s despondence and hopefulness.
Erhu music typically employs pentatonic scales and uses silences to shift its meaning, creating poems-like songs with slow tempos that express emotions that resonate with its listeners or players.
As part of folk music zhongwen, pipa and guqin are two additional instruments popularly employed. Pipa players occupy an upright seated position with pear-shaped bodies featuring frets similar to guitar frets; one hand is used to strum while the other presses strings on their fretboards.
Guqins have an ancient place in Chinese culture and can be seen both religiously and cosmically. Players believed they brought peace and enrichment, and many ancient Chinese scholars used the instrument as a way of contemplating an insightful life of wisdom.
The Guqin has long been one of the most beloved string instruments in China, dating back over three millennia. Constructed with hardwood resonator and 16-21 strings strung across a soundboard.
Chinese culture holds the instrument to be sacred and powerful, once even being associated with Confucius as a sign of morality and education. Furthermore, it has been employed in civic and religious ceremonies.
A guqin, often made of bamboo or wood, but other materials may also be used, is an instrument frequently played at ceremonies as well as being part of Chinese folk music genres.
Chinese folk music is an umbrella genre which encompasses various regional musical traditions from around China. There are various subgenres within this category; each has their own set of characteristics; notable genres include shengguan, dagu and xipi.
Shengguan is one of the oldest and most traditional forms of Chinese music, often performed at court events or ceremonial occasions with instruments like sheng or dizi. It often features accompaniment by drum or gong for added drama and dramatization.
Dagu, or modern Chinese music, often incorporates influences from Western instruments and styles into its composition. Dagu is widely popular across China and can be heard all throughout the nation.
Xipi is another genre of Chinese music performed on either an erhu or pipa and is extremely popular among folk musicians, often making an appearance at weddings and other special events.
Guoyue (), is another genre of Chinese traditional music created in response to an evolving nationalist consciousness. At first, this term only applied to Han Chinese music but has come to encompass music from all ethnic minorities within China.
This genre’s primary draw is its ability to evoke feelings similar to poetry through soothing rhythms that reach out to listeners or those performing it, connecting directly with audiences or players alike. Songs in this style also often include silences which alter meaning or create sounds resembling poetry.
These emotions can also be expressed through song lyrics, which typically use pentatonic scales and include symbols and metaphors from Chinese culture.
Chinese music has gained widespread respect across society, becoming an essential component of Chinese culture and society today.
Chinese music enthusiasts have made great efforts to preserve traditional Chinese musical traditions, leading to books, documentaries and exhibitions about China’s vast musical legacy.
Chinese music has a rich and complex heritage that dates back over millennia. Comprised of classical and folk styles, Chinese music forms part of global culture today and has been heavily influenced by Western musical concepts and traditions while maintaining its roots within Chinese history and culture.
Traditional Chinese music was developed since ancient times to aid society in relieving tension and obedience issues. Its basic structure is composed of melody and rhythm; with different tempos and ornamentations used to convey feelings that connect with its listeners; such as happiness, sadness or martialness.
Folk music styles vary by region and climate. Northern folk songs tend to be high-pitched and intense while southern songs are typically more melodic and emotional.
Traditional Chinese music utilizes both melody and silences to change the meaning of songs, often to heighten feelings or produce poetic effects. These silences may also serve to increase or decrease emotional response during performances.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties, an extensive variety of operatic performances were developed at Beijing palaces. Today, several distinct varieties remain popular across different regions of China.
Other traditional Chinese music genres include guoye (national music) and shidaiqu. Unlike Western classical music, these forms do not involve orchestras but instead are composed and performed solely by one individual.
These genres were particularly prevalent during the 19th century and remain integral components of Chinese music today. After the Cultural Revolution and rise of Communist Party, national music gained more importance and had more of a political undercurrent to it.
Chinese scales tend to be pentatonic with half steps, although there are also various seven-tone and five-tone scales in use. Chinese music differs from Western music in that there are no notes in the fifth and fourth positions.
Traditional Chinese instruments include the pipa, xiao, zheng and erxian – musical instruments designed for vocal use but capable of being plucked or bowered as well.
Folk music is an ancient and universal musical form composed of various styles such as work songs, mountain songs, dance songs and ritual songs that has existed for millennia. Folk music remains popular today and continues to influence countless lives worldwide.
China boasts many regional styles of folk music that can be heard everywhere from small towns to bustling metropolises. Musicians from across China use wind and percussion instruments, including mouth organs (sheng), suonas, flutes (dizi) and drums.
Chinese folk music is widely recognized for its gentle rhythms and poetic-esque tone, often employing silences to change the meaning of songs.
Dance is an ancient tradition which involves much expression and body movement, making it fascinating and fun to watch. Dance can provide insight into a culture’s history.
Zhongwen is a traditional performance art performed by an ensemble of musicians who share a strong love for both culture and performance art. This 90-minute show offers new arrangements of traditional melodies.
Zhongwen performances provide audiences with a captivating introduction to Chinese culture and musical heritage, featuring both classical works as well as more modern works performed by an ensemble of traditional musicians from China.
People of all ages will enjoy the music and dance performance, giving a deeper insight into Chinese culture. Visitors will witness first-hand how traditional forms of music can adapt to contemporary audiences.
Are you curious to gain more knowledge about Chinese music and instrumentation? Join the Sounds of China on Thursday, February 7 at 7:30 p.m for a 90-minute performance that features new arrangements of traditional melodies as well as an exciting watersleeves dance choreographed by Er-Dong Hu involving Bucknell University students Eva Munshower ’20 and Yili Wang ’21 who performed it live!
The ensemble of traditional musicians also presents modern pieces that combine Chinese music with modern instruments, including one piece that features both the hang drum (developed in Switzerland in 2000) and shakuhachi flutes – traditional end-blown flutes played since China’s 7th century history – in one performance piece.