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The Overview of Chinese Old Songs

For people who favor Chinese old song or Chinese classic music, a string of melodies or rhythms may jump up into their mind when it was mentioned. However, for most people, Chinese classic music is elusive, and it is hard to appreciate comparing with pop music. Good music can connect with emotions and elicits abundant feelings about the one’s bottom of heart, which is especially true for Chinese classic music. Besides, Chinese classic music can also improve one’s imagery thinking and refine one’s disposition.

Music is an indispensable part of human language. It is the sublimation of the human spirit. Music firstly extracts from people’s resistance towards the threat of nature and then evolves and becomes rich with colorful music systems in today’s world, which is definitely a miracle of human civilization. And Chinese culture stands for an extremely brilliant part of human civilization and China is one of the earliest civilizations in the world, and its music also has a long history. Based on the discovery of a bone flute made in the Neolithic Age, Chinese classic music can be traced back to 7000 years ago.

Chinese classical music is the traditional art or court music of China. It has its own unique systems of musical notation, as well as musical tuning and pitch, musical instruments and styles or musical genres. By listening to or studying Chinese classical music, one catches a glimpse of the characteristics of Chinese culture, which are aesthetic, implicit and harmonious.

One unique part of Chinese classical music is that it has an abundance of musical instruments. Traditional Chinese musical instruments have developed over thousands of years and a variety of types have evolved. The instruments are generally divided into categories based on their materials, such as a gourd, bamboo, wood, silk, clay, metal and stone.

Such traditional Chinese musical instruments as Dizi, a Chinese transverse flute; Erhu, known in the West as the "Chinese violin"; Guzheng, a musical instrument with strings stretch over a flat sounding box and Pipa, also called the Chinese lute, are still well known to people today, while the instruments like Sheng, a mouth-blown reed instrument with vertical tubes; Matouqin, also known as "horse-head fiddle" in the West; Suona, a Han Chinese oboe; Bianzhong, an ancient Chinese musical instrument made of a set of bronze bells; Xun, a Chinese ocarina made of clay or ceramic and Sanxuanqin, a three-stringed musical instrument, are seldom known and played by people nowadays.

Good musical instrument has its own traits. Chinese instruments have the feature of irreplaceability in sound. So those instruments that were eliminated or haven’t been widely used in history usually are similar in sound with other instruments.

Furthermore, The ancient particularly prefers to create a serious and holy atmosphere when playing musical instruments, so they will take a bath and burn incense and cool their mind before playing, which has some similarity with buddhist culture. That also reflects the profoundness and nobleness of traditional Chinese music instruments. Chinese musical instruments, through the senses, can leave lasting and pleasant impression on one’s heart.

Chinese classic music is unique and charming. It represents the profoundness of Chinese culture. Instead of looking at it from a technical level but a level of Chinese culture, one can regard Chinese classical music as a mirror of traditional Chinese culture. It not only reflects the long history of China and but also reveals the unique feelings and humanistic spirit of the Chinese people. Rich and colorful Chinese classical music is an important carrier of Chinese traditional culture, and it reflects all aspects of traditional Chinese culture.

Chinese culture emphasizes the harmony between nature and humanity, admiring the creator of the world and attaching great importance one’s inner world, and music is exactly generated from the people’s admiration towards god and people’s experience of nature. Though generated from people’s experience of the boundless world, music can also be used to calm one’s feet; dispel unrest and lust and coordinate interpersonal relationship so as to achieve peace among people.

The elegance of Chinese classical music is reflected from its melody, which can be reflected from its rigorous and complete structure; lithe and graceful melody and rich and profound ideological connotation. The most holy emotions, the loftiest ideals and the deepest callings from one’s heart are all embedded in it.

And to appreciate Chinese classical music is to appreciate the composers and players’ emotion and it is a process of achieving resonance with the music. With the development of Chinese classic music, an amount of works appeared, such as White Snow in Sunny Spring, Autumn Moon over the Han Palace, High Mountains and Flowing Water and A Music from Guangling. White Snow in Sunny Spring is one of the most famous songs that played by Guqin. It is said that the song was composed by Shikuang and Liu Juanzi in the spring and autumn period.

With pure and smooth melodies and relaxing and lively rhythms, the song shows the coming of spring, the recovery of the earth and the prosperity of everything. And The Moon over the Han Palace firstly came from Chongming School and was initially played by Pipa, but now it is also played by Erhu, Guzheng, etc. The song expresses the ancient maids’ sorrow and helpless mood and their lonely life. And High Mountains and Flowing Water are a song in praise of the life-long friendship between Yu Boya, a zither master, and Zhong Ziqi, a woodcutter.

The music is slow and quiet, sometimes with rhythms and beats like the flowing water. And when listening to it one can even feel green mountains surrounding you and clear streams quietly passing by. And A Music from Guangling is a song that was very popular in Guangling area in the ancient time. Guangdong represents Yangzhou in ancient times. This song is the only one that describes war and played by Guqin, and it shows the rebellious spirit of the oppressed, so the song contains a high rank of ideological content. 

Confucius regards music as way of self-cultivation and self-refinement. And today, music is an indispensable part of people’s life. When you are in a low spirit, you may be inspired by passionate music such as symphony; when you feel fret, light music is a good choice to help you calm down, and when you are lonely, music can comfort you and make you have the feeling of home. Music can also help expand the width and depth of one’s life. Music can be the spiritual pillar of life and also the home of the soul. So, why not immerse yourself in the music!

Jack Smith
Jack Smith
I am a Chinese music lover, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share my passion for Chinese music with you. Through my love for Chinese music, I hope to connect with fellow enthusiasts and explore the beauty and depth of this incredible art form.


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