Many of today’s cultures are indebted to the influence of Chinese folk music. From its humble origins in the courts of ancient China, this unique form has taken on many guises over the centuries and developed into a myriad of genres. While the Chinese court music of the Song dynasty was largely composed for performance rather than simply aesthetic appeal, this was later refined with the advent of Kung Fu and Zen to form the foundations for modern classical Chinese music. Today’s performers use an eclectic range of traditional instruments, as well as modern ones, such as flutes, pianos, and the ever-popular banjos. If you want to learn Chinese folk music or any other type of Chinese music, your best bet is to start by learning the basics of Chinese opera.
In Chinese folk music, all instruments are used to tell a story. This is true for both the actual story being told, and the instruments used. The use of flutes, for example, is common in Chinese opera, as are the ever-popular li’ang, which can be used to express sadness or happiness. These traditional instruments, along with more modern ones like the piano, are the perfect way to get started learning about the rich history and tradition of Chinese folk musical theater.
One of the most popular songs from Chinese folk music is the song Baatou (lit. Mountain Bass). This song was originally written for a different purpose, but because it is an essential part of Chinese folk music, it continues to be popular today. The Baatou, which means “bitter melon water”, is performed mainly on river banks, where the instrument is often played by musicians and singer-song composers. The basic note of this song is E. Because this instrument is played on the edge of the water against the current, there is a pronounced variation in the tonal quality of the song. Sometimes, the tone is light and sometimes it is dark. It depends entirely on the mood of the singer or musician.
Another well-known type of Chinese folk music is the song San Ce and Tai You (lit. Goodnight and Good Luck). This type of Chinese folk music shares some of the same characteristics of Baatou and the living, but also has some unique qualities of its own. While the li’ang uses a single tone to express sadness or happiness, the San Ce uses two tones, the first one is low while the second one is high. As with the previous song, this song is performed on river banks, but in this case, the melody is slightly faster, probably because it is played at a slightly faster tempo. These two songs, along with other songs in the genre, have become the traditional folk songs of the Fujian Province.
Another very popular song from Chinese folk music is Zhen Jiu (lit. Windmill Song), which is another great example of how unique and complex this culture is. This song tells of the hardship that the characters had to face when their rice crop was ruined by bad weather. As a result, they had to take up sewing as a means of making money to feed their family. The windmill song then describes how these women put on the embroidery and created beautiful cloths for the people to sell. The unique sound that this song makes is likely to have inspired the beat that many people use today when they listen to a recorded version of the song.
Lastly, we will talk about western popular music. Chinese musicians are well known for their skills in using traditional instruments such as the guffi, the bamboo flute, and the Li Ping. Because of this, many western musicians today choose to perform the traditional music of China. A good example of this is an American guitarist, Glen Campbell, who is said to have introduced the Chinese traditional instrument, the liang bangla, to America. Although there is no hard proof evidence of this, it is undeniable that the influence of Chinese traditional music has spread into the western popular music scene.