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A Comparison of Traditional and Modern Chinese Music

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1 A Comparison of Traditional and Modern Chinese Music
By: Rebecca Dubois December 14th 2009

2 The Beginning of Music Artifacts that have been found throughout China have shown that China had a developed musical culture as early as 1122, in the Zhou Dynasty. A Legend in Chinese culture tells of how the founder of music, Ling Lun carved bamboo pipes and tuned the notes to the sounds of birds.

3 Earliest Song The earliest song known in existence is “Youlan” or in English, “Solitary Orchid”, and is thought to have been written before AD 908. The manuscript for the song was found in Japan, but as a copy. The original hasn’t been found, so no one knows when the actual date was that the song was written. The manuscript that was found contains no notes, only a description on how it should be played. This is called Wenzi notation. Many people have tried to interpret the song and record it, but no one can tell how it should actually sound.

4 Youlan This is an example of Youlan being played on the Gu Qin. It is someone's own interpretation on how it should be played. A portion of the sheet music for Youlan

5 Traditional Chinese Instruments
Traditional Chinese instruments fall into 3 different categories. They are: Woodwind and Percussion, Bowed strings, and Plucked strings Generally, traditional instruments are played solo, as opposed to in an orchestra. The pentatonic scale is the most common scale. Pentatonic scale

6 Gu Qin A Gu Qin is categorized under a plucked string instrument.
It’s one of the oldest instruments that are still used in China. The origins of the Gu Qin are Thought to go back at least 5,000 years. The oldest Gu Qin in existance is From the Tang Dynasty(618 – 907)

7 Gu Qin The Gu Qin is played with the instrument laid flat on a table. The strings are plucked in an upward motion. There are around 1070 different hand techniques, but only 50 of them are necessary to know to play a modern piece. Songs that are written for the Gu Qin generally have many spaces between the notes, and does not have a steady rhythm. Gu Qin’s have seven strings. A Gu Qin has a 4 octave range.

8 It was written in the 3rd century by Ji Kang, a famous Gu Qin master.
Guangling San This is the longest piece of music written for the Gu Qin, at 22 minutes in length. It was written in the 3rd century by Ji Kang, a famous Gu Qin master. The song is supposed to recount a story about Nie Zheng, a man who assassinated the King of the Han kingdom, to avenge the murder of his father.

9 Erhu An Erhu is categorized as a Bowed string instrument.
It is sometimes known as the Chinese two stringed fiddle. It is believed that this instrument was created in the 10th century in Central Asia. “Er” means two, which is referencing the two strings on the instrument, while “Hu” means it’s part of the huqin family. Huqin means “Barbarian Instrument”, hinting that it originated from Northern China, where non-Han people live.

10 There are only about 5 to 6 different hand techniques
Erhu An Erhu is always played sitting down, with the right hand pressing down the strings and the left hand in an underhand grip around the bow. The Erhu can also be plucked, using the right hand, to produce a muted tone. There are only about 5 to 6 different hand techniques

11 Lady Meng Jiang is a famous Chinese folk song written for the Erhu.
The story behind the folk song is a lady’s husband is forced to go help build the Great Wall of China, and after not hearing from her husband for a while she decided to go look for him. She discovered that her husband had died, along with thousands of other men and they had been stuffed inside the Great Wall.

12 The Dizi is categorized as a woodwind instrument.
The Dizi is commonly used for Chinese folk music and in Chinese operas. Bamboo is the main material used to make the Dizi, but occasionally they are made from Jade or other types of wood. It is believed that the Dizi was invented during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD)

13 The Dizi is held the same way a regular western flute is played.
Different techniques that are often used while playing a Dizi are circulated breathing, flutter tonguing, and double tonguing. The majority of professional players have a set of seven Dizi, each different sizes and different key.

14 Jasmine Flower Jasmine Flower is a famous ancient Chinese folk song that was written for the Dizi. It was written in the Qing Dynasty, and is about the beauty of a jasmine flower.

15 Vocal Music Chinese vocal music is traditionally sung in a high, thin voice or in falsetto. Vocal music is usually sung solo, rather than choral. It is believed that Chinese vocal music began with people singing the verses of poems to the melody of music. Often in vocal music, a voice is put in to provide the harmony or melody to the instrument, instead of the instrument accompanying the vocals.

16 Around 1910, China began to adopt a more western sound to their music.
Around 1910, China began to adopt a more western sound to their music. Older instruments were less frequently used, and instruments such as guitars and drums were in most modern songs. New genres such as Mando-pop were created, and they were the main thing people were listening to.

17 Teresa Teng Teresa Teng is probably the most famous Mando-pop singer in China and Taiwan. She sang throught the 1970’s into the 1990’s and sang in a variety of different languages including Japanese, Taiwanese, and Indonesian. She died of an asthma attack while vacationing in Thailand in 1995 at the age of 42.

18 The Moonlight Represents My Heart
The Moonlight Represents My Heart is one of Teresa most famous and most recognizable songs throughout Asia. This song is categorized under Mando-pop and no prominent traditional Chinese instruments are used.

19 Present In the early 1990’s, Mando-pop became even more popular with the influence of Teresa Teng. Traditional instruments began showing up in modern music again, most prominently heard are the Gu Qin and Pipa.

20 S.H.E S.H.E is the longest running Mando-pop girl group in China and Taiwan. They debuted in 2001 and have released 12 albums. They are known for their emotional and poetic lyrics, and their wide variety of genres. S.H.E has remained one of the top artists for 9 years.

21 Moonlight Letters is a song off S.H.E’s most recent album FM S.H.E.
It’s significant for it’s use of the Erhu and Gu Qin, as well as a more westernized rhythm.

22 Jade Liu Jade Liu is a runner up contestant on Super Girls, a Chinese show based on American Idol. She is well known for her strong vocals, and her beautiful ballads, in which traditional Chinese instruments are frequently present.

23 This song features a Gu Qin as well as an Erhu.
Reminiscing Rain Reminiscing Rain is a song from Jade’s debut album I Am Just What I Am. This song features a Gu Qin as well as an Erhu. This song also has many western instruments, such as wind chimes and piano.

24 Jay Chou is the best selling Mando-pop artist of his time.
Jay is known for never recording a song he hasn’t written himself, and also his ability to play a variety of different instruments including the Erhu, Gu Qin, piano, Guzheng, Pipa and cello. Jay is also credited with coining the term “Zhong Guo Feng” which is a term used to describe a piece of music that has both Chinese and western elements to it. Most Zhong Guo Feng use the pentatonic scale to accent a more oriental sound and style.

25 Chrysanthemum Terrace
Chrysanthemum Terrace is a song Jay Chou wrote for the movie, The Curse of the Golden Flower. This song features Jay Chou playing the Guzheng, as well as cello and violin.

26 Traditional and Modern Chinese Music
In conclusion, it is evident that current Chinese artists have attempted to bridge the gap between traditional and modern music. By adding traditional instruments to their songs, they’re keeping their culture intact, and also introducing ancient sounds to a younger audience. It’s important that the culture of traditional Chinese music is not lost, and a newer generation can appreciate China’s culture through music.

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