The Melodious Flute

The dizi is a bamboo transverse flute and was known as the hengdi 橫笛 ("horizontal flute") or hengchui 橫吹 ("horizontally blown") in ancient China. It is traditionally believed that the instrument originated in Central Asia and was introduced to China in the early Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 25 AD). T he Chinese Dizi flute is famous for its brilliant clear sound, variety of tone colors and extensive dynamic range. These flutes are usually pitched higher than their relatives the vertical or end-blown flutes, also known as xiao (蕭). A traditional six-hole dizi plays a major scale, usually in the western key of C or D Major, with the fifth pitch (sol) as its lowest tone. The dizi is a unique solo instrument and is also used extensively in ensembles and orchestras. The earliest dizi were made from the wing bones of the red-crowned crane. The modern dizi is a tubular bamboo made side-blown wind instrument, whose structure is rather simple compared with other Chinese musical instruments. The dizi has 12 holes on its body: one blowhole, one membrane hole, six finger holes, and two pairs of holes in the end to correct the pitch and hang decorative tassels. The range is two and a half to three octaves. The player plays the dizi by blowing across the mouthpiece and produces different notes by stopping the six finger holes in the rod. Located between the blowhole and the sixth finger hole, the membrane (dimo 笛膜) was invented in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) by Liu Xi, who named the flute the "Seven Star Tube," referring to romantically to the seven holes as seven stars. Made from the inner tube of a bamboo or reed plant, the membrane vibrates with the instrument when played, producing a sweet, bright tone. In addition it helps to project the sound far away, giving the instrument its characteristic buzzing sound. Often, dizi players will carry several flutes designed for different keys. There are three commonly used types of dizi: the qudi 曲笛, the bangdi 梆笛 and the xindi 新笛. The qudi, originating from the kunqu opera of south China, is sweet and mellow in tone. The shorter bangdi, on the other hand, features in the northern bangzi 梆子 (wood clapper) opera and sounds shrill and sharp like the chirping of a bird. The xindi is the longest and lowest-pitched of the three, being a perfect 5th lower than the qudi, and does not have a dimo.