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A Comparison of Traditional
and Modern Chinese Music
D E C E M B E R 1 4 TH 2 0 0 9
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.
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.
 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
Traditional Chinese Instruments
 Traditional Chinese instruments fall into 3 different
 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
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
 The oldest Gu Qin in existance is
From the Tang Dynasty(618 – 907)
Gu Qin
 The Gu Qin is played with the instrument laid flat on
a table. The strings are plucked in an upward
 There are around 1070 different hand techniques,
but only 50 of them are necessary to know to play a
modern piece.
Gu Qin’s have seven
A Gu Qin has a 4
octave range.
Songs that are written
for the Gu Qin
generally have many
spaces between the
notes, and does not
have a steady rhythm.
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.
 An Erhu is categorized as a Bowed string instrument.
 It is sometimes known as the Chinese two stringed
 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.
 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
Lady Meng Jiang
 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.
 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)
 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.
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.
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
 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.
1910 - 1960
 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.
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.
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.
1990 - 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.
 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.
Moonlight Letters
 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.
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.
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.
Jay Chou
 Jay Chou is the best selling Mando-pop artist of his
 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.
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.
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