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Chinese Percussion Instruments

Percussion, to the Chinese orchestra, is a term that refers to an eclectic mix of Western and Chinese instruments. In recent years, the Chinese Orchestra has adopted, among other western percussion instruments, the timpani, glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, snare drum and triangle into its ensemble. Likewise, the Western symphonic orchestra adopted traditional Chinese instruments like the diyin daluo (tam tam), muyu (temple blocks), dabo (Chinese crash cymbals) and the bangzi (Chinese claves) into theirs.

As such, there is no limit to the numbers and types of instruments used, or combinations that can be followed. Some provincial traditional operas even have large variations of gongs and drums that are only indigenous to the opera or province itself.

Chinese percussion instruments are usually made of:

Wood: e.g. zhuban (bamboo clogs), muyu (temple blocks)

Skin: e.g. dagu (Chinese bass drum), yaogu (waist drum)

Stone: e.g. qing (ancient chimes)

Metal: e.g. luo (gongs), bo (cymbals)

Based on sound and performance methods, one can categorise the percussion instruments into the following categories:

Ban lei (board category): e.g. Chinese claves, temple blocks

Gu lei (drum category): e.g. Chinese bass drum, timpani, Chinese tom toms

Bo lei (cymbal category): e.g. bells, xiaobo (small cymbals)

Luo lei (gong category): e.g. pitched gongs, xiaoluo (small gongs) etc.

Percussion instruments can also be categorised into being of definite pitch or of indefinite pitch:

Definite pitch instruments include yunluo (pitched gongs) and bianzhong (bronze bells);

Indefinite pitch instruments are usually sub-categorised into high, middle or low-pitched because of their indefinite values.

a. High-pitched instruments include temple blocks and pengling (bells);

b. Middle-pitched instruments include jingluo (opera gongs), jingbo (opera cymbals) and paigu (Chinese tom toms);

c. Low-pitched instruments include dingyingu (timpani) and dagu (Chinese bass drum).

In most Chinese instrumental music, the percussion section serves to create an atmosphere or set the tempo for the orchestra to follow. In Chinese opera, the percussion section is most responsible for the dramatic feel. It is capable of deepening an actor’s character, complimenting singing and pushing for a climax.

To learn more about the different types of Chinese percussion instruments, click on the links below:


Drum

Drum

Drum 鼓

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Gong

Gong

Gong 锣

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Cymbals

Cymbals

Cymbals 钹

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