Your Cart UMS

[LISTENING GUIDE] Traditional Chinese Instruments – Chamber Ensemble of the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra

UMS is presenting the Chamber Ensemble of the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra on February 10. They perform on the zheng, dizi, erhu, pipa, and other Chinese instruments seldom featured in the West.

Chinese music is based on pentatonic scales. Most European scales have seven notes, but the pentatonic only has five. The pentatonicscale can be demonstrated by playing the five black keys in an octave on the piano.

Many instruments were brought to China from Central Asia by way of the Silk Road, but the form these instruments have now assumed is uniquely Chinese.

The Zheng was developed during the second half of the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BCE). It is shaped like a large trapezoid, with 13-21 strings that a musician plucks with picks attached to their fingers. It sounds and functions much like a harp, played horizontally rather than vertically.

The Dizi is of Han origin (206 BCE- 220 AD). It is a traditional bamboo flute with six finger holes and a blowhole. The blowhole has a kazoo-like membrane covering it that vibrates when the instrument is played, creating a buzz that accompanies the instrument’s hollow sounding tone.

The word Erhu literally translates to a “stringed instrument adopted from the northwestern barbarians of antiquity,” which suggests that it developed during the Tang or the Song Dynasty. It is a twostringed fiddle, which is played with a bow with strings made of silk. At the time of its conception, it was considered a “folk” instrument, which was not worthy of court music. The Erhu has an open, smooth sound.

The Pipa is a “pear-shaped” lute, modified from Central Asian instruments, particularly those in Iran. It is possible that Japanese dignitaries brought it to China in the seventh or eighth century. A member of the lute family, the Pipa sounds and is played much like a modern-day guitar.

Adapted from UMS Education & Community Engagement Teacher Resource Guide, distributed to teachers in conjunction with UMS Youth Performances.