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The dizi (笛子) is a Chinese transverse flute, a major Chinese musical instrument, popular in Chinese folk music, Chinese operas, and Chinese orchestras. It has a deep, rich history, and a lasting appeal. Traditionally,the dizi has also been popular among the Chinese common people, since it is simple to make, easy to carry, and beautiful when played.

Most dizi are made of bamboo, which explains why dizi are sometimes known by simple names such as "Chinese bamboo flute.". Although bamboo is the common material for the dizi, it is also possible to find dizi made from other kinds of wood, or even from stone. Jade dizi (or yudi) are popular among both collectors interested in the almost magical beauty of jade dizi, and among professional players who seek an instrument with look that matches the quality of their renditions.

view large photo

Whereas most simple flutes have only a blowing hole and finger-holes, the dizi has very different additional hole, called a mo kong, between the embouchure and finger-holes. A special membrane called dimo (di membrane), made from an almost tissue-like shaving of bamboo, is made taut and glued over this hole, traditionally with a substance called a jiao. Garlic juice or glue sticks may also be used to adhere the dimo. This application process, in which fine wrinkles are created in the centre of the dimo to create a penetrating buzzy timbre, is an art form in itself.

The mo kong has a distinctive resonating effect on the sound produced by the dizi, making it brighter and louder, and adding harmonics to give the final tone a buzzing, nasal quality. Dizi have a relatively large range, covering about two-and-a-quarter octaves.

Dizi are often played using various advanced techniques, such as circular breathing, slides, popped notes, harmonics, flying finger trills, multiphonics, fluttertonguing, and double-tonguing. Most professional players have a set of seven dizi, each in a different key (and size). Additionally, master players and those seeking distinctive sounds such as birdsong may use extremely small or very large dizi. When all of these qualities are combined by a master player, the dizi can be a very versatile, unique, and beautiful instrument.

There are many suggestions for the source of dizi. While some suggest that the Yellow Emperor ordered his government official to make the bamboo musical instrument, others believe that dizi was imported into China during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD).

Bones flutes were found at the village of Jiahu in the Yellow River Valley of China view large photo

Recently, archaeologists have discovered evidence suggesting that the simple transverse flutes (though without the distinctive mokong of the dizi) have been present in China for over 8,000 years. More than thirty over 8,000 year old flutes, made from the wing bones of the red-crowned crane and carved with five to seven holes, were found at the village of Jiahu in the Yellow River Valley of China. Fragments of bone flutes from this period are still playable today, and are remarkably similar to modern versions in terms of hole placement.

Contemporary dizi styles are divided into two: Northern and Southern, each style having different preferences in dizi and playing skills. In Northern China, for example, the bangdi is used to accompany Bangzi opera, with a sound that is bright and vigorous. In Southern China, the qudi accompanies Kunqu opera, with a more mellow, sentimental tone.


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