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Chinese Traditional Drum

Percussion is the oldest form of non-vocal music, and as a result, reflects many of the social and historical peculiarities that evolve throughout a culture. In China, traditional drumming is associated with pomp, circumstance and jubilation. It is a hallmark of prosperity and celebration, uniting people through collective rhythm and tempo. As China continues to revisit its ancient culture, Chinese traditional drumming or is once again becoming popular in the mainland and even abroad. The character for drum, (gǔ), is often preceded by a modifying adjective that reflects the size of the drum, how it’s played (one hand or two) or where it’s from. Chinese drums are usually a simple construction of stretched hide over a hollow vessel. Most traditional drums are played with two bamboo sticks tapering at the ends. Due to the celebratory nature of Chinese drumming, both instrument and instrumentalist are often decked out in ornate cloth and attention-grabbing colors. During a performance, a drummer often participates in choreographed movement and chanting to engage and entertain the audience further. Chinese drumming, like most things Chinese, is a group activity, often involving 10 or more percussionists in the group. While similar to Western notions of “drum circles”, these groups often follow a very prescribed and choreographed routine, providing one aspect of the rhythm to the overall beat. In this sense, Chinese drumming is a collective action, kind of like a marching band’s percussion section. Aside from adding complexity to the rhythm, other players are often used to add “volume” and “presence” to the performance, which to me means that they’re simply acting as amplifiers (historically this has been the case).



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