Chinese Musical Instruments
An excellent documentary on Youtube: Part 1 and Part 2
According to recent archaeological findings, ancient Chinese music was much more developed and sophisticated than is generally believed. Music had already been an important element in traditional ritualistic ceremonies during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1550-1111 BC), and it reached one of its greatest peaks during the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1111-222 BC). It featured a great abundance of percussion instruments. There were also several wind instruments, but only a few zither-type string instruments were used. All the bowed string instruments and most of the plucked string instruments first came to China from Central Asia after the Han dynasty (202 BC-AD 219). The Tang dynasty (AD 618-907) saw the first wave of musical influence from Central Asia, which was a very important epoch in the evolution of Chinese music. However, it was during the Song dynasty (AD 960-1279) that Chinese music reached its maturity.
Traditional Chinese musical instruments were classified into eight groups (bayin) according to their materials: gourd, earthenware, hide, wood, stone, bronze, silk and bamboo. It is said that there were more than 70 different musical instruments, but many of them have been lost or are obsolete today.
The modern large Chinese orchestra is a 20th century development and is based on the Western symphony orchestra, but uses Chinese instruments in place of Western instruments. It also emulates the Western orchestra in terms of the seating position of its musicians. The typical Chinese orchestra of today also includes the Western cello and double bass, as well as other Western instruments like the vibraphone and triangle. Also, many of the Chinese instruments are modified versions of traditional instruments, for example, the diyinsheng (large bass sheng), and the zhongyin (alto) suona, which is fitted with keys.
Since its inception, the music produced by the Chinese orchestra is unique and very distinct from any Western counterpart. However, the repertoire of the Chinese orchestra may include adaptations of some Western orchestral pieces. Such orchestras often perform modernized traditional music called guoyue.
The modern Chinese orchestra typically consists of four main sections:
1) Plucked string (弹拨乐)
2) Bowed strings (弦乐)
3) Wind (吹管乐)
4) Percussion (打击乐)