flute (Di) and vertical bamboo flute (Xiao)
flute (Di) and vertical bamboo flute (Xiao)
（1）One bamboo will do! Since ancient times, China is famous with instruments that are made from bamboo. Among the instruments, flute and vertical bamboo flute are two of the most popular instruments due to the exquisite skill of the instrument makers. With only one bamboo, the instrument is made. Although the structure of these instruments is simple, the tonality is complete. In the hand of an outstanding musician, these flutes produce various fine and beautiful melody.
（2）Is it vertically or horizontally? A lot of people wanted to know whether the flute is played vertically or horizontally. The answer for this is that the one that is played horizontally is called “Di Zi”, while the one that is played vertically is called “Xiao”. In this case, why it is written in the book that we play “Di Zi” vertically? In older days, “Di Zi” and “Xiao” do not have obvious classification. No matter it is played vertically or horizontally, it is called “Di”; Nowadays, due to the differences in the distinguishing features of the tune and performance skills of both instruments, these instruments have been classified into “Di Zi” (being blown horizontally) and “Xiao” (being blown vertically).
（2）Shakuhachi (“Chi Ba”)? Is it Fujian province or Japanese? In Tang Dynasty, flute began to be popular in the southern part of China near the Fujian province. The flute was known as “Chi Ba Xiao” at that moment because this instrument is made from one bamboo that is exactly one foot eight inches long. Due to its origin place from the south and it was one of the representative instrument in the southern ancient musical instruments, it was called “Nan Guan” (Southern Flute). It was also called Fujian Chi Ba due to the originality from the Fujian Province. Japan sent envoy to China in order to learn the culture from Tang Dynasty and brought back the Fujian Chi Ba to Japan, hence, it became Shakuhachi, one of the crucial part in Japanese musical culture.
（3）Di Zi is a bamboo that played horizontally. Some people called it horizontal flute, while some people called it bamboo flute. Although it is just a bamboo, it produces fantastic and superb style of music through the hand of the musician. In the northern part of China, the flute is one foot long with narrow body, known as “Bang Di”. In the southern part, it is common to see flutes that are larger and longer (approximately 2-3 feet), known as “Qu Di”.
（4）In China, we can hear beautiful melody of flute everywhere, from folk music to opera, in the large scale of orchestra, in films and in modern music. In the northern part of China, musician loves playing “Bang Di”, which produces lively and bold music. Meanwhile in the southern part of China, the musician loves playing “Qu Di”, which produces melodious and soothing music. In modern orchestra, we can always hear the sound of a high pitch flute, known as “Xiao Di” (small flute) due to its small body size. This small flute always plays the highest pitch of the melody in orchestra. Another flute which has the lowest pitch is known as “Da Di” (big flute). Big flute often appears in modern music and movies. It has rich and mysteriously low sound.
（5）The Magical Effect. Since ancient times, among all the sounds of bamboo-made flute around the world, you can easily recognise the sound of a horizontal bamboo flute (“Di Zi”). The sound of a Di Zi is unique and different from the rest of the bamboo flute. The magical secret of it is on its thin film. On a horizontal bamboo, open a blowing hole on the left and a few sound holes on the right, it becomes a simple bamboo flute. However, it is different for Di Zi. If we open a hole in between of the blowing hole and the sound holes, something strange will happen. The flute will lost its voice; but magically, if we cover the hole with a thin film, the flute will gain a new and loud voice. Among all the flutes around the world, Di Zi is the only flute that changes its voice with the existence of only one thin film.
（6）Light as a feather, hard to obtain – the flute diaphragm. Long time ago, a master of flute brought his disciples to the mountain to find for the flute diaphragm, but not bringing all of his disciple. He only brought the disciples who gained his personal training to be future performers. Collecting the diaphragm is like an exquisite skill. Firstly, we have to collect and choose the bamboo that has the membrane. Then, we need to be careful during the process of cutting open the bamboo and getting out the membrane from the inner part of the bamboo. The membrane will then be kept for usage after the process. Every step is a skill. Nowadays, it is very convenience in blowing a Di Zi. We can get good quality diaphragm from instrument shops. In current market, the common diaphragm is the membrane from reed. From the refine process of cutting out and packing, it is very convenience to stick it on the flute. Moreover, the quality is assured, the tone is stable and the performance will not be ruined easily.
（7）Skill. Putting on the diaphragm of the flute is a very skilful and important process. Is the sound of the flute beautiful? If the diaphragm is put skilfully, the performance is considered partially successful. Beside having talent in the skill of blowing a flute, the performer has to be skilful and experienced in sticking the diaphragm on the flute. A more elegant way to stick the diaphragm is by using donkey-hide gelatin (originally it is a type of Chinese medicine with the purpose of enriching the blood, can be dissolve in water). Firstly, we wet the surrounding of the hole with water. Next, hold the flute with left hand while the gelatin with right hand and elegantly rub it onto the hole averagely, just like rubbing an ink-stick against the inkstone until the desire thickness. Then, slowly paste the pre-cut thin diaphragm onto the hole. During the pasting process, we need to be careful to align the lines of the diaphragm with the texture of the bamboo; cover the thin diaphragm and hold it firmly with left thumb and index finger while slowly vibrate with right thumb and index finger to produce horizontal lines. As for how the quantity of the line, the pattern and the tenseness will affect the tone of the flute, it is all depend on the experience and opinion of the musician.
（8）Skill – The skill in playing a flute refers to the utilisation of fingers and the tongue. The traditional finger skill are based on the changes of the left and right index, middle and ring fingers. Therefore, there are six sound holes in a traditional flute, called the six-hole-flute. Then, due to the issue of changing changing tone and half tone, six-hole-flute has changed to 7 sound holes, then later 8 holes and eventually become 9 holes. Although 9 holes flute has solve most of the issue in changing tone and half tone, these flutes caused the disability to perform traditional finger and playing skills. Therefore, the musicians nowadays insist on using the traditional six-hole-flutes to perform the uniqueness of the traditional flutes and show their skilful talents. In order to change tone, musicians will change to playing a different flute during a performance, or tie few flutes with different tones together to make the changing of flutes convenient during the performance, which is called a pan flute (“Pai Di”).
（9）Now, let us talk about vertically blown instrument – the vertical bamboo flute “Xiao”. The tone of this flute is elegant and tranquil, suitable for solo play, duet with zither, or play in small orchestra. The “Dong Xiao”, which is one meter long with fine and graceful tone, is popular in China. The flute which is used to play with zither has narrow body, named “Qin Xiao”. The common flute is G key and F key, one octave lower than “Bang Di” which has the same key. Another vertical bamboo flute which has broader body and 1 foot 8 inch length is called “Chi Ba”. It is originated from Fujian, called the Fujian Chi Ba. After spreading into Japan, it is called Shakuhachi. The blowing hole of Shakuhachi uses the design from the Tang Dynasty. The inclined surface of Shakuhachi is at the outer par, called “Wai Qie” or “Tang Kou”. It has bold and loud sound. The China Chi Ba and Dong Xiao are same, whereby the blowing hole is inner cut, called the U hole or V hole. It has fine and elegant sound.
（10）Pan flute is Di Zi, panpipes is Xiao not Di Zi. What is that? In the early Tang Dynasty, Xiao was not refer to Dong Xiao or Chi Ba Xiao, but it means the instrument that combined various bamboo tubes, called the panpipes (“Pai Xiao”). The panpipes is blown vertically. There is only one blowing hole in each bamboo tube and does not have any other sound holes. Therefore, each tube can only produce one sound. The structure is similar to South American pan flute, Romanian pan flute and Greek pan flute. It is blown vertically, with beautiful and mystical sounds, and full of emotions. Chinese pan flute is totally different. It is a combination of a few different key flute and is blown horizontally. Each bamboo tube is a complete flute (Di Zi), which has 6-7 sound holes. Each bamboo tube can be played in solo, has more than 2 octaves of range. Pan flute has a total of 3-4 octaves of key range so that the performers can easily change key during a performance. Therefore, Chinese pan flute and panpipes are totally different instruments from the western pan flute.