Percussion Musical Instruments


Drum is a percussion instrument frequently used in China. From the perspective of the culture relics these days, drum has a history of an estimated 3000 years. In ancient times, it was not only used in sacrifices and dancing music, but also fighting against the enemies and wild beasts. It can be also used to give alarms and tell the time. Along with the social development, drum has been gradually used in various kinds of activities, such as ethnic bands, operas, folk art forms, singing and dancing, boat races, and festivals and laboring competitions and so on. The structure of drum is quite simple, which is made up of the drum skin and the body. The sounds are produced by striking or lapping on the skins. In China, there are many kinds of drums, yaogu indicating the drums tying to the waist, and gu is the Chinese translation of drum, dagu, tonggu, and huapengu.

Yaogu is big in the middle and small at the two ends, shaped like a canister. The two ends are covered with the cow skin or the skin of the mule. There are two rings on the surface of the drum, tied with a rope in order to fix up the drum. There are four specifications of yaogu, but none of them have fixed tones. They sound clear, and are often used to perform accompaniments for the folk dancing. Drums are also an instrument for the dancers. While performing, dancers usually hang the drum on the waist, holding drumsticks in both hands and striking it.


Gong is a traditional Chinese percussion instrument, which has played a very important role in the ethnic bands. It is widely used not only in the ethnic bands, folk concerts, dramas, operas and singing and dancing, but also the celebrations, boat races, lion dances, labor races and harvest festivities.

There are three kinds of gong, which may be made of metal, bamboo or other materials. Gong belongs to the metal percussion instrument. It comes from the melted copper. The structure is quite simple; it is shaped like a circular arc. The performers use the wood sticks to strike the middle of gong, which makes the instrument liberate and produces the sound.

The ethnic groups in the southwest China were the first to play the instrument. At around the 2nd century BC, gong gradually became popular in the Chinese mainland because of the strengthened cultural exchange. The military leaders at that time often made use of this instrument to command their armies.

For a long time, due to its popularity in different areas and occasions, there has been developed about thirty kinds of gong. The big and small gongs are in common use.

The big gong is the biggest among all those similar instruments. It measures thirty to a hundred centimeters in diameter. It is featured in deep and powerful pronunciation, soft tone and long after sound. In the grand musical bands, the big gong is often used to strengthen the rhythm. In dramas, it is used to add romance and give prominence to the characters' personality.

The small gong is divided into alt, mediant and bourdon, which may measure twenty-one to twenty-two and a half centimeters in diameter. It is widely used as well, especially in the Peking opera, pingju that is a local opera in north and northeast China and many other local operas, folk art forms, dramas, pipe and percussion instruments and the folk dancing.

Chime Bells 
Chime Bells, or Bianzhong, are an important percussion instrument in ancient China. Chime Bells are divided into one or more groups in which there are dozens of big and small bells. Each of them has different tones. Developed in different years, the forms of the bells are also different, but there are fine designs on all of them.

In the early the Shang Dynasty at the 16th¡ª11th century B.C., there had been Serial Bells in existence, which was made up of three pieces of bells. Along with the development of the times, the number increased. The ancient instrument was used in royal performances, while it was unpopular among the folk people. On the occasions of wars, royal meetings and sacrifices, people would play it.

In the ancient China, Chime Bells were an exclusive musical instrument for the upper class. It is regarded as the symbol of power and social class. Recently, pieces of ancient bells have been discovered in the royal tombs in Yunnan, Shanxi, Hubei and other provinces. The most remarkable one is the one found in Hubei. This set of bells is well designed, and have five octaves. In addition, there are inscriptions with regard to swings, among which there are many music terms showing the advanced development of the ancient musical instrument. So far, it has been the bells, which has the largest number, scale, and the best preservation. It is a wonder in the human history. The music performed by the bells sounds clear and bright, like the lyric of songs, so it is also called gezhong, meaning bell of songs.

In 1982, the ethnic music instrument designing factory and Machinery Manufacturing Factory of Wuhan created a new type of Chime Bells in duplicate to the ancient ones. They have also reformed on the platform performances and the modern music. Arranged in three lines, there are twenty-four pieces of bells, each of which can produce two tones.

The music Chu Shang has expressed the grief and indignation of Qu Yuan, a patriotic poet in 340¡ª278 B.C. after he was exiled from the mainland.

Qing is the oldest ethnic musical instrument. It is designed finely, and carries with it an ancient flavor. In the far ancient society when the female played the leading role, this instrument was called shi and minqiu, meaning stone and ringing ball respectively. At that time, people lived on fishing. They enjoyed themselves after the labor work by dressing themselves in the images of wild beasts, dancing and knocking on the stones.

Qing was first performed in the civilian music and dancing activities. Later, like another ancient musical instrument called bianzhong, it was used to play some graceful music when the ancient governors sent troops for wars and offered sacrifices.
In terms of places and ways it is performed, the instrument is divided into two groups. One is performed when the emperors held a memorial ceremony for the God and ancestors. The other is called bianqing, used in the royal music performing. Bian here means being bound together. A number of qing are grouped together and hung onto the wooden frames. During the Warring States Period at 403¡ª221BC, the making craftwork of the Chu state had reached a relatively high level.

In August 1978, a royal tomb of more than 2400 years was discovered in Hubei province. More than a hundred and twenty pieces of instruments and cultural relics were dug out from the tomb. There were together thirty-two pieces of qing, which were hung in upper and lower lines. They were made of limestone, bluestone and bowlder. The sound was bright and clear. It was a pity that most of them were broken, so they cannot produce any sound. In 1980, the museum of Hubei province and the Wuhan Institute of Physics worked together to duplicate those instruments found in the tomb. The sounds produced by the new were basically in accordance to the standard ones. The tones were moving and graceful.

In 1983, the Dance and Sing Ensemble of Hubei province created a set of stone-made bianqing with thirty-two single pieces. In September 1984, an ethnic instrument-designing factory and a bowlder sculpture mill in Suzhou again developed a set of bianqing with eighteen single pieces.