Sheng was China's oldest wind reed instrument. The small sheng was called he (1401 to 1122 B.C.). Later on, it developed to be the main instrument. The big sheng was called yu and had thirty-six reeds. In the early times, the reeds were made of bamboo, and it was changed to brass in later time. The unearthed yu of Han dynasty had twenty-six bamboo reeds. In Tang dynasty, they were mainly nineteen, seventeen and thirteen reeds. In Sichuan, there appeared a thirty-six reeds sheng in early Song dynasty. It was the thirteen and fourteen ones popularly be used in Ming and Qing dynasty. But there were one which could modulate in four keys and it was used only in special ensemble. The sheng was constructed by installing a number of bamboo tubes with reeds on the end of each tube to the wood or brass container which had a blowing end. The bamboo tubes were tuned in different pitch with a sound hole. By closing of these sound holes through fingering, we can perform melody from it. Nowadays, the sheng has constantly reformed to have twenty-one, twenty-four, twenty-five and twenty-six reeds with key controls. Besides used in accompaniment and orchestral works, sheng has been developed into a solo instrument.
Lusheng was the wind reed instrument of Miao, Yao and Dong region of the southwest China. It was said to be appeared in Han dynasty. FAN Cheng-da of the Song dynasty mentioned in his book that he had seen an eight-tube lusheng of Yao tribe. The size and the number of tubes of lusheng are different. There are usually single, double, five, six, eight and ten tubes instruments and the most popular is the six-tube one. It is to use six tubes of different length inserted in two rows into a wooden container. The tubes are installed with brass reeds at the end tuning at different pitch with small holes. By pressing these holes to produce musical sounds. It can play single sound and also cords. It is used for the solo, ensemble and dance accompaniment. At the Miao region of Guizhou, there are ensembles of lushengs with four different sizes and they have their complete set of traditional music. Nowadays, lusheng has been steadily reformed for many times. It has modified to consist of fifteen, twenty, twenty-six and thirty-six tubes instruments. The wooden container has changed to metallic. The scale is upgraded to have twelve semitones and can play more complex music.
Xiaio was the wind instrument of China. It was first appeared in Han dynasty and was called di. Di was spread by the Jiang tribe from the northwest to the central area of China. It originally had only four holes. Jing Fang of Han dynasty added one hole at the back of it and became a five holes instrument. Lie He of Jin dynasty made it to a six-hole one and almost the same as today's instrument. In Tang dynasty, there was a wind instrument called Shakuhachi which was similar to the xiao of today. It has a hole for the bamboo membrane sticker. Since Tang dynasty, di was steadily changed the name to xiao or dongxiao. The instrument is made of bamboo with five holes in the front and one hole in the back. It was blowing vertically at the upper end to produce a soft musical sound.
Gushao (Bone Whistle) and Gudi (Bone Flute)
In 1973, a hundred and sixty pieces of bone shao (whistles) and dizi were unearthed at Hemudu Site in the city of Yuyao of Zhejiang province. The bone relics, according to the science reports, were the remains of the New Stone Age, roughly 7000 years ago. Bone whistles at Hemudu Site are made of the mid-sections of bird limbs, of varying lengths ranging from six to ten centimeters. Shao are made of bones hollowed out, with one to three circular or oval holes on the convex surface of it. Some have two holes made at one end, while others have holes on both, which is how a shao differs from a di. Gushao has holes at one end while gudi has holes at both ends. The bone whistles and flutes excavated at Hemudu are capable of producing simple, high-pitched sounds like the birds. The primitives may have used them to catch game, or sent out messages. One of these pieces resembles the kind of flute children play today. Gushao and gudi are not only the prototypes of flutes, but also the earliest musical instruments hitherto unearthed in the country.
Paixiaio was a kind of ancient wind instrument of China. It was originally called xiao. The old history book mentioned that it was made by emperor Shun according to the shade of the phoenix's wing. The instrument had ten tubes in two rulers' length. Another ancient record mentioned that the bigger xiao had twenty-four tubes in free end and the smaller one had sixteen tubes with a closed end. Other book defined that the free-ended one was call dongxiao. We can always find the performing figures of paixiao from the rock carvings, paintings and pottery of Han and Tang dynasty. After the Song dynasty, paixiao had disappeared in the nongovernmental activity, it was only used at the court. In Sui county of Hebei province, there unearthed a bamboo paixiao with thirteen tubes setting order according to the tubes' length. The longest one was 22.5 cm and the shortest one was 5.1 cm bound together by three bamboo strips. This was the oldest archaeological discovery of paixiao.
Hulusi was a popular musical wind instrument of Dai, Yi and A-Chang tribes. The sound box is made of a dried fruit called hulu. There are three bamboo tubes with brass reeds in different length inserted. The longest one has opened six holes in the front and one hole in the back of it. By blowing the small end of the hulu and pressing the holes of the bamboo tube, we may produce beautiful musical sounds. The other bamboo tubes can also produce two sounds for harmony. It is commonly used as solo instrument and in ensemble works.
Suona is also called the trumpet. The smaller suona is called haidi. Since Jin dynasty, it was widely spread in Xinjiang. In Qing dynasty, it was called suernai. It was the most widely used musical instrument. Apart from the ensemble and solo, it was also be used in accompaniment of opera and dance. During the festival days, it was used together with other wind instruments and the percussions. The instrument has a conical tube with seven holes in the front and one in the back. At the small upper part, there is a brass system with a reed whistle. While at the bigger lower part is installed with a brass loudspeaker. Its sound is bright and some artists can control it to produce soft sound like the xiao. The suona has been reformed to consist of high, medium and low pitch series with difference keys.
Guanzi is spread popularly in the northern part of China. In ancient time, it was called bi li. In the Yungang Stone Grottoes of Northern Wei dynasty, there were carved with guanzi. Many ensembles of Sui and Tang dynasty used guanzi as their main instruments. In Song dynasty, the music-training department also included bi li in their project. The instrument was made by using a wooden tube as sound box, which had seven holes in the front and one in the back. It was performed vertically by blowing the reed whistle at the upper end. The sound of it is bright and always be used as leading instrument in the northern ensembles. Nowadays, guanzi has developed to have wider range and can play semitones.
Shuangguan is binded with two guanzi side-by-side. It is always be used in the northern part of China for solo and the ensemble. ZHENG Xuan of Han dynasty mentioned on his book an instrument some what like Shuangguan. In the music volume of Sui dynasty, there were double bi li. There was a double five-hole bi li carved in the Stone Grotto of Bazi Kerik in Xinjiang. CHEN Yang of Song dynasty, had described in his Book of Music about the double bi li. In Tang dynasty, there was a widely used instrument called double phoenixes guan. It was so called because there were carved with a phoenix on each end of the two pipes. These two pipes together can play twelve semitones. Nowadays, the shuangguan is an instrument by binding with two guanzi of the same length and pitch together. Each guanzi has seven holes in the front and one in the back. During performance, the performer can play two guanzi together or separately by using three fingers pressing the upper three holes to perform short notes. The representative music of shuangguan is River Water.
Houguan is also called bamboo pipe. The shorter one in high pitch is known as duanguan. While the longer one with a brass loudspeaker at the lower end and in low pitch is known as chentong. In the late of 1920s, it was used for performing Guangdong music and accompaniment of Guangdong opera. It was later widely spread in Guangdong and Guangxi. In the early 1950s, it was developed to have alto and bass houguan. The instrument is consisted of the whistle, the pipe and the loudspeaker. The whistle is made of reeds. The pipe is either made of bamboo, hard wood, plastic or metal. It is opened with seven holes and can produce different sound quality according to the substance of the pipe. It is the best of the bamboo ones. For chentong, it has a brass made loudspeaker at the lower end to enlarge the sound produced. In the traditional orchestra, it is always used the G alto houguan and the D bass houguan. The range is set at d-d1 and A-a. By controlling the whistle, it can change the melody to relative tones. Houguan produce sound of bass like the guanzi and always be used together with zhonghu in the ensemble. After 1960s, it is developed to install mechanical system to wider the performance techniques and range. It can play semitones of two and a halve octaves. It is now developed to a solo instrument.
Koudi is a newly invented wind instrument by YU Xun-fa of the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra. It is made from a small portion of bamboo tube with a blowing hole opened in the middle. By using the natural ends of the tube to perform is the two-hole koudi. If we open three more holes near the blowing hole, it is the five-hole koudi. When performing, the second and the first hole are controlled by the left and right thumbs. The third hole is controlled by the left index finger. While the fourth and the fifth holes are controlled by the right middle and index fingers. The lowest note can be produced by closing all five holes. The sound it produced is some what like the whistle. It has high frequency and volume. Its tone colour possesses a strong penetrative quality. It can play beautiful melodies and imitation of bird-calls. The solo pieces for koudi include Morning at Mount Miao, The Lark and the adaptation of Sunshine on Taxkorgan.
Ba-u is a single reed wind instrument of minorities Yi, Miao and Hani in Yunnan. The instrument is made of bamboo tube with seven holes opened in the front and one in the back. There is another blowing hole installed with a brass reed. It is performed horizontally by blowing the brass reed and pressing the other holes to produce musical sounds. The sound it produce is small, soft and beautiful, but the range is narrow. It is always used for the accompaniment of dance and sing, sometimes used for solo. In recent years, it has been reformed to have wider range and volume.
Xun is a wind instrument made of pottery. Its development was engaged to the manual labour in the early times. Its history can be traced back to the Neolithic period. One of the oldest xun of 7000 years before was unearthed in Hemudu of Zhejiang province. This was a single hole xun. Another two were unearthed in Banpo village of Xi'an. Xun were also unearthed in Shanxi, Gansu, Henan and Shandong provinces. It had undergone a long period of development and had different shapes like pear, fish, spherical and tubular. The manufacturing material included pottery, stone, jade, wood and ivory. But the most common one is earthenware. Today, we can easily approach the xun must attribute to those musicians and instrumentalists who are hard working in unearth, research, reform and bring forth new ideas. They have developed it to an over ten holes instrument and can play semitones. Today, xun is not only to play ancient melodies, it can also play melodies of warm, flowing, joy and with humor.