Blog > Chinese Musical Instruments: Wood
by Maureen Buja | October 11th, 2015

standard Chinese Musical Instruments: Wood

Zhu

Zhu

Musical instruments in China were traditionally classified into 8 groups delineated by the material used in the instrument: Silk, Bamboo, Wood, Stone, Metal, Clay, Gourd and Hide. We will look at selected instruments in six of these groups in this series.

Tiger

Tiger

Wood Instruments are percussion instruments and most have a very old heritage. The oldest are rarely used today or are used mainly in religious ceremonies. These include the Zhu, a tapered wooden box that is struck on the inside;

Fish

Fish

the yu, an instrument carved in the shape of a tiger with a serrated back – it is played by hitting it with a stick made up of multiple pieces of bamboo;

Frog

Frog

and the muyu, an instrument carved in the shape of a fish. Note the ball in the fish’s mouth – this will also move and cause sound.

A simpler version of the yu tiger is the frog: smaller but also with a serrated back. The hollow body becomes the resonator.

A related instrument to the muyu, and what may just be a simpler smaller version of it is the Chinese slit drum. The size of the instrument determines the pitch, so these come in many different sized.

Another percussion instrument made of wood includes the ban, or wooden clappers. These are almost a universal instrument, found in cultures all over the world. The Chinese bans are fastened together and held so that the two clappers strike each other.

Chinese slit drums

Chinese slit drums

Note the difference in sound between the single clappers the man holds in his right hand and the multiple clappers he holds in his left hand.

The last wooden percussion instrument is the small woodblock, called the bangzi. This is mainly used today in Chinese opera performances as an accent.

Ban

Ban

Many of these instruments started in ceremonial or religious roles and, as the ceremonies have changed, have come into popular use.

Next time: Metal Instruments.

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