Wind Instruments - Flute



Once upon a time, one of the 56 nationalities of China—Miao lived at a place where there were beautiful mountains and rivers. There was a boy called Bamboo who lived on making bamboo baskets and could blow bamboo leaves into songs. His bamboo songs touched a pretty girl called Flute Sister. Every time Bamboo Boy blew bamboo leaves, Flute sister and other girls would sing together with the music. One day, a girl asked the Bamboo Boy if he could blow the bamboo stalk instead of the leaves, the boy thought for a little while, and then he cut a section of the stalk, cleared the central part of the stalk, drilled a few holes and started to blow. It sounded bettered than the leaves. He then gave it to the Flute Sister as a token of his love, the girl accepted it and called it “Bamboo Flute”. This is a legend about how Chinese bamboo flute came into being. In reality, in 1986-1987, 21 “Bone Flutes” 8000-9000 years ago were discovered at Jiahu Village, Wuyang County, Henan Province of China. These flutes were made of elbow-bone of cranes, most of them have 7 holes. They are the earliest Chinese musical instruments ever found.

骨笛It is a vertical flute and its range is d1—e3. WE could still blow a folk song Little Cabbagewith it.

Bamboo flutes came into being circa 4,000 years ago; by the time of Qin and Han Dynasties, there were 12-tone flutes, each flute blew one tone.

In 1978, two bamboo “Chi” like the ones below were excavated 竹篪from the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng State; almost at the same time, two bamboo flutes were excavated from Han tomb number 3 at Mawangdui as the ones below. The difference between them is that “Chi” has 6 holes and there is a narrow opening at the top, and was painted while bamboo flute has 7 holes, the top end is 竹笛entirely open and was not painted.


During the reign of Emperor Wu of Han, the envoy Zhang Qian came back from other countries with horizontal flutes. The flutes discovered at Mawangdui are horizontal ones.

At the end of Sui Dynasty, 10-hole flute emerged which could play the chromatic successions.

In the Tang Dynasty, vertical “Chi” was named “Xiao”—a name we are using today. Liu Xi was the first person to attach membrane onto one of the holes of the flute to enhance sounding.

There had been some variations of flute before Yuan Dynasty. During Yuan Dynasty, flute began to be used for 梆笛operas. Two kinds of flute branched off as “flute with slit drum” for northern operas, this kind of flute is good at expressing bold and powerful feelings and song flute” for southern operas, which is thicker and longer and good at giving melodious and

曲笛mellow notes; most of them are C and D modulate flutes. Many other kinds of flute evolved from the original bamboo flute, such as “tune-setting flute” and “flutes in a row”.

It should be mentioned here that the famous Song Dynasty poet Su Shi once described the musical texture of flute thus in one of poems, “the blowing of one note cracks the Cuiya Hill.” In his note to this poem, the poet wrote: “the sound from the flute master’s play could really pierce through clouds and crack hill.”



Famous Flute Pieces

The Riverdescribes a sad story about a couple, and the husband died in the corvee in the army service, the wife cried and wept by the river side where they parted.

The Haha Tuneis adopted from a northern local opera, has a strong local flavor.

Green Willow Leaves, a solo piece depicting joyful farmers of northern Shanxi Province.

Tea Pickingused to accompany song and dance of the same name, which could be traced back to late Ming Dynasty.