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Ancient Chinese Percussion Instruments

Intro to usage and history of various types of Chinese percussion instruments

08·21·2015

Ancient Chinese Percussion Instruments

Intro to usage and history of various types of Chinese percussion instruments

08·21·2015

Chinese people have enjoyed playing percussion instruments since the ancient Shang Dynasty (商朝, 1562 BC-1066 BC). Discovered were inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells indicating a character for ‘drum’. Percussion instruments have developed into various forms, each of which serves different purposes. Here is the brief history of three major types: bells, gongs, and drums.

 

Bells (钟/Zhong)

Bianzhongs (编钟/Collected Bronze Bells) are the most representative form of bells in China. The first version appeared during the Shang dynasty and commonly consisted of only three bells, and was enjoyed only by high-ranking authorities.

The number of bells used for a bianzhong increased until a king of Wei (魏 220 – 265) prohibited its production for it required massive amounts of expensive bronze. The one found in the tomb of Zenghou Yi (5th century BC) in Hubei province is the largest in size, and is comprised of 64 different bells.

Since inscriptions on it extrapolated on the culture of musical instruments in the Warring States (475BC-221 BC), scholars regard it as one of the most significant archeological findings.

 

Gongs (锣/Luo)

Though ethnic groups in Southwest China were the first ones to begin using this metal percussion instrument with wooden sticks, later cultural exchanges made its popularity wide spread in other regions by the 2nd century BC.

Afterwards, different kinds of gongs have been used for both musical events and general celebrations, like weddings. Since gongs can take various forms, their sizes also vary—from over 120cm Dachaoluo (大超锣) to only 8cm Goujiaoluo (狗叫锣). It can also take an unique form like Yunluo (云锣).

Drums (/Gu)

Almost as old as Chinese history itself, drums have always been the major instrument Chinese people use in many occasions, such as sacrificial events or during warfare to command armies. Though the basic structure of drums is very simple—the drum skin and the body—each kind has its unique usage and sound. While Bangu (板鼓/single-headed frame drum) is treasured in Peking Opera, Tanggu (堂鼓/medium-sized barrel brum) can often be heard during festivals with its deep and loud sound.

 

tanggu

Tanggu [item.jd.com]

These are just a few examples of Chinese percussion instruments. Maybe you will find other drums that may peak your interest.

 

Humans can be percussion instrument too!