Skip to content
Site Tools
Increase font size Decrease font size Default font size default color blue color green color
Home History and Culture Chinese Classical Music
Chinese Classical Music
Learn Chinese - History and Culture

Chinese classical music

The origins of Chinese music can be dated back to distant antiquity. Approximately 3000 years ago, European music was experiencing its first rustlings of life whereas a complete musical theory and sophisticated musical instruments began to appear in China, owing largely to the orthodox ritual music advocated by Confucius. Chinese music is the body of vocal and instrumental music composed and played by Chinese people. For several thousands of years Chinese Culture was dominated by the teachings of the philosopher Confucius, who conceived of music in the highest sense as a means of calming the passions and of dispelling unrest and lust, rather than as a form of amusement.

panpipesChinese music is as old as Chinese civilization. Instruments excavated from sites of the Shang dynasty (1766 -1027 B.C. shāng cháo 商朝) include stone chimes (shí zhōng 石钟), bronze bells (tóng zhōng 铜钟), panpipes (pái xiāo 排箫), and the sheng (shēng 笙).

In the Chou dynasty (1027-256 B.C. zhōu cháo 周朝) music was one of the four subjects that the sons of noblemen and princes were required to study, and the office of music at one time comprised more than 1400 people. Although much of the repertoire has been lost, some old Chinese ritual music ( “yayue” yǎ yuè 雅乐) is preserved in manuscripts.
During the Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C. qín cháo 秦朝) music was denounced as a wasteful pastime; almost all musical books, instruments, and manuscripts were ordered destroyed.
Despite this severe setback Chinese music experienced a renaissance during the Han dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D. hàn cháo 汉朝), when a special bureau of music was established to take charge of ceremonial music. During the reign (58-75 A.D.) of Liu Zhang (liú zhāng 刘璋), the Han palace had three orchestras (guǎn xián yuè duì 管弦乐队) comprising in all 829 performers. One orchestra was used for religious ceremonies, another for royal archery contests, and the third for entertaining the royal banquets and harem. The imperial court had set up a Music bureau (yuè fǔ 乐府) which was in charge of gathering and editing ancient tunes and folk songs (mín gē 民歌). Because of commercial contacts China had with Central Asia, foreign music entered the country in the form, for example, of the Pipa (pí pá 琵琶), or lute (gǔ pí pá 古琵琶), and the hu-qin (hú qín 胡琴), a vertically held violin. Composers of this time modified and improved Chinese music because the foreign originating music influenced them to do so.
ceremonial musicBy the time of the Tang Dynasty (713 - 755 A.D. táng dài 唐代) the court organized the Pear Garden Academy (lí yuán 梨园) song and dance troupe which cultivated a large number of musicians. This then laid a firm foundation for Chinese music. Chinese secular music ( “suyue” sú yuè 俗乐) reached its peak. Emperor Tai Zong (tài zōng huáng dì 太宗皇帝) had ten different orchestras, eight of which were made up of members of various foreign tribes; all the royal performers and dancers appeared in their native costumes. The imperial court also had a huge outdoor band of nearly 1400 performers. Portions of Tang music are preserved in Japanese court music, or gagaku (yǎ yuè 雅乐[日本宫廷音乐]).
As with anything, traditional Chinese music had many different variations depending on the time period, region, and individual. Each imperial court had its own specialty. Each dynasty focused on different aspects of the music. And within each dynasty, different regions and localities possessed their own style of music. As with Western music, solo performances of musical instruments also exist. Some musical pieces are performed slowly to creating a relaxing ambience while others are performed very quickly to mark an atmosphere of excitement and festivity.
Traditionally the Chinese have believed that sound influences the harmony of the universe. Significantly, one of the most important duties of the first emperor of each new dynasty was to search out and establish that dynasty's true standard of pitch. Until quite recently the Chinese theoretically opposed music performed solely for entertainment, accordingly, musical entertainers were relegated to an extremely low social status.
performanceThe ancient Chinese belief that music is meant not to amuse but to purify one's thoughts finds particular expression in the cult of the qin (qín 琴), a long zither (zhēng筝) possessing a repertory calling for great subtlety and refinement in performance and still popular among a small circle of scholar-musicians. A famous Qin scholar once said, "Though the qin player's body is in a gallery or in a hall, his mind should dwell with the forests and streams."
Melody and tone color are prominent expressive features of Chinese music, and great emphasis is given to the proper articulation and inflection of each musical tone. Most Chinese music is based on the five-tone (wǔ yīn 五音), or pentatonic, scale, but the seven-tone (qī yīn 七音), or heptatonic, scale, is also used, often as an expansion of a basically pentatonic core. The pentatonic scale was much used in older music. The heptatonic scale is often encountered in northern Chinese folk music (mín jiān yīn yuè 民间音乐).
Chinese Instruments
music instrumentsThe Chinese believe that music is an expression of harmony that exists among heaven, earth and man, and nature has provided man with eight kinds of such materials to build musical instruments. Therefore traditionally, Chinese instruments are also classified according to the type of material they are made from. The eight categories are: silk (sī 丝), bamboo (zhú 竹), wood (mù 木), stone (shí 石), metal (jīn 金), clay (tǔ 土), gourd (páo 匏) and hide (gé 革).
GuzhengSilk - Refers to the stringed instruments (xián yuè qì 弦乐器). Silk instruments are mostly string instruments which can be further divided into three categories: the bowed strings (lā zòu xián 拉奏弦e.g. Erhu èr hú 二胡), the plucked strings (tán bō xián 弹拨弦e.g Guzheng gǔ zhēng 古筝) and the struck strings (dàn jī xián 弹击弦e.g. Yangqin yáng qín 扬琴). Since ancient times the Chinese have used twisted silk for strings, though today metal or nylon are more frequently used.
Bamboo - The majority of woodwind instruments (mù guǎn yuè qì 木管乐器) are made from bamboo, which includes: the flutes (dí zi 笛子), the oboes (guǎn 管)and the free reed pipes (huáng guǎn 簧管). Examples include the dizi (flute dí zi 笛子), suona (trumpet suǒ nà 唢呐).
xunWood - This section includes a large variety of small percussion instruments (dǎ jī yuè qì 打击乐器) including wooden blocks (zhù 柷), boxes (yǔ 敔)and xylophones (mù qín 木琴) with wooden blocks. These were used by Buddhist monks (fó jiào sēng lǚ 佛教僧侣) during religious ceremonies.
Stone - The "stone" category comprises various forms of stone chimes, for example, Bianqing (biān qìng 编磬).
Metal - Includes Bells (zhōng 钟), Luo (gongs luó 锣) and Bo (cymbals bó 钹).
Clay - The ocarina (xūn 埙), a small, egg-shaped wind instrument (guǎn yuè qì 管乐器with six holes for the finger tips) made of clay.
HulusiGourd – The most famous “Gourd” are Sheng and Hulusi (hú lú sī 葫芦丝). A sheng (mouth organ kǒu qín 口琴) is one of the oldest Chinese instruments made out of hollowed-out pumpkin-like vegetables. It consists of a wind-chest (fēng xiāng 风箱) and a number of bamboo pipes set in a circle. The sheng imitates the sound of a phoenix.
Hide - Drums (gǔ 鼓) are often covered with different types of animal skins along the top or head.
The variations of rhythm, beat, tone quality, and embellishments in Chinese music are highly distinctive and unlike their Western counterparts. This is mainly due to the unique sounds and playing styles of traditional Chinese musical instruments.
BianzhongMost Chinese instruments are performed as solo (dú zòu 独奏) form as well as a part of an ensemble (hé zòu 合奏) or orchestra. A Chinese orchestra is a mixture of many cultural traditions. Similar to a western philharmonic orchestra (jiāo xiǎng yuè 交响乐), a full Chinese orchestra is made up of four sections as below:
Plucked-strings - Pipa, Liuqin (liǔ qín 柳琴), Yangqin, Ruan (ruǎn 阮), Yueqin (yuè qín 月琴), Guzheng, Guqin (gǔ qín 古琴), Sanxian (sān xián 三弦), etc.
Bowed-strings - Erhu, Jinghu (jīng hú 京胡), Gaohu (gāo hú 高胡), Gehu (gé hú 革胡), Banhu (bǎn hú 板胡), Matouqin (mǎ tóu qín 马头琴), etc.
Blown Woodwind instruments - Dizi, Xiao (xiāo 箫), Guan, Xun (xūn 埙), Souna, Sheng, etc.
Percussion instruments - Bangu (bǎn gǔ 板鼓), Bo, Bianzhong (biān zhōng 编钟), Tanggu (táng gǔ 堂鼓), Muyu (mù yú 木鱼), Luo, Yunluo (yún luó 云锣), etc.
      中国古典音乐发展久远,最早可追溯至黄帝时期,当时就有音乐作品的记载,而周朝制定六艺“礼、乐、射、御、书、数”中,乐也占了重要的地位。这里所说的 “乐”并不是单独用乐队来演奏的乐曲。而是与舞蹈同时进行的古典音乐,古代称“乐舞”,另一种古典音乐用于祭祀和庆典的专用音乐,古代叫“雅乐”。到了唐 朝更高立“乐府”专司其职,至于乐器的出现也始于远古时期。中国的古典音乐更为世界三大乐系之一,而东方国家的诸多音乐,若考证其本源的话。也都可以归属 于中国古典音乐体系之下,可见其历史的悠远及辉煌是不能让人轻易忽视的。
      中国古典音乐的乐律相传皇帝命伶伦律吕,同时按音律,铸钟十二件,以和五音,古代史书上称之为“五音十二律”。到了周代,典藉记载:“五音十二律”已完全 确立。中国远古时代的古典音乐,是五声音阶。到了周代,增加了“变徵”(Fa)和“变宫”(Si),形成七声音阶,因为当时“三分损益法”,已经日臻完 善,使五音十二律用于实际的音乐活动之中。五音:宫、商、角、徵、羽,约等于简谱:1、2、3、5、6


      中国民族乐器,历史悠久,源远流长。仅从己出土的文物可证实:远在先秦时期,就有了多种多样的乐器。如新石器时代文化遗址浙江河姆渡出土的骨哨,仰韶文化 遗址西安半坡村出土的埙,河南安阳殷墟中出土的石磬、木腔蟒皮鼓;湖北随县曾侯乙墓(公元前433年入葬)出土的编钟、编磬、悬鼓、建鼓、枹鼓、排箫、 笙、箎、瑟等等。这些古乐器向人们展示了中华民族的智慧和创造力。

      先秦时期的乐器,见于文献记载的有近70种。仅在《诗经》一书中提及的即有29种,打击乐器有鼓、钟、钲、磬、缶、铃等21种,吹奏乐器有箫、管、埙、笙 等6种,弹弦乐器有琴、瑟等2种。由于乐器品种的大大增加,于是在周代时产生了根据制作乐器的不同材料而分为:金、石、土、革、丝、木、匏、竹八类,称作 “八音”分类法。
Liuqin     自秦汉以来,又不断涌现出新乐器。如秦时出现了一种新型的弹弦乐器——“百姓弦鼗(táo)而鼓之”。弦鼗是一种圆形音箱、直柄的琵琶,后至汉代发展成四弦十二柱的“汉琵琶”,又称“阮咸”。
      中华民族是一个善于吸收的民族,自汉以来,广泛吸收了大量的外来乐器。如汉武帝(公元前140—前87年)时张骞通西域时传入的横吹(亦称横笛);汉灵帝 时传入竖箜篌(曾称胡箜篌;约在公元350年前后的东晋时,从新疆、甘肃一带传入了“曲项琵琶”,明代传入了扬琴和唢呐等。这些外来乐器,经过不断地改 进,使它们逐渐成为中国民族乐器大家族中的重要成员。
      在中国乐器发展史中,值得注意的是拉弦乐器的出现大大晚于打击乐器、吹管乐器和弹弦乐器。据文献记载,唐代(公元618—907年)才出现以竹片轧之的 “轧筝”和“奚琴”(在宋时作“嵇琴”)。宋时的嵇琴用马尾弓拉奏,并出现了“胡琴”的名称。如宋沈括在他的《梦溪笔谈》中云:“马尾胡琴随汉车,曲声犹 如怨单于。”自元代之后,在奚琴、胡琴的基础上发展成各种类型的拉弦乐器。
      中国传统器乐吹打乐的一种。原为中国古代乐器分类法的名称,西周时已将当时的乐器按制作材料,分为金(钟 、鎛)、石(磬)、丝(琴、瑟)、竹(箫、箎)、匏(笙 、竽)、土(埙、缶)、革(鼗、雷鼓)、木(柷、敔)8类。
Drum      八音也指民间器乐乐种 。如山西五台山一带的八音会,所用乐器有管子、唢呐、海笛、笙、梅笛、箫、堂鼓、小鼓、大镲、小镲、大锣、云锣等;广西壮族的隆林八音乐队,使用的乐器共 有 8 件,它们是:横箫(笛子)一对,高胡、二胡各一把,小三弦一把,锣、鼓、钹各一副;海南地区流行的海南八音源于潮州音乐,因使用 8 类乐器而得名,即:弦(二胡、椰胡)、琴(月琴、扬琴、三弦)、笛( 唢呐 )、管(长、短喉管)、箫(横箫、直箫、洞箫)、锣、鼓、钹等;彝族八音所用乐器有二胡、环箫(无膜笛)各一对,以及牛角胡、五鍟(小锣)、鼓、钹等;仡 佬族八音又名八仙,所用乐器有二胡、横箫(笛)各一对和五鍟、锣、鼓、钹等。

Sponsor Ads

China Yellow Pages