Wind Musical Instruments
The sheng was a wind instrument played in ancient
China. It has played an active role in promoting the development of Western
In 1978, paosheng, the earliest sheng forms, were found in Hubei Province in
a royal tomb of more than 2,400 years ago.
The development of the sheng can be traced back to 3,000 years ago. The
instrument is quite similar in form to another kind of instrument called the
paixiao. The sheng was originally made up of several bamboo pipes bound together
with ropes or wooden frames. To make the sheng distinguishable from the paixiao,
designers added bamboo reeds and a cup-shaped dou to it.
The cup-shaped dou is made of calabash, and the blowtorch is made of wood. A
dozen bamboo pipes are arranged on top of the dou. After the Tang
Dynasty (618-907), performers began to make wooden dou. Later, the dou, as
well as the reed, was made of copper.
There are different types of sheng in different places. Since the founding of
Republic of China in 1949, musicians and designers have attempted to improve
on this instrument. Disadvantages such as a narrow range, inflexible switching
of the tones, and slow performing ability have been enhanced, bringing new life
to the sheng.
A sheng sounds bright and sweet in tone, the alt of which is clear, the
mediant (middle tone) soft, and the bourdon (low note) deep and loud. Among the
traditional piped instruments, the sheng is most capable of performing
harmonies. Sometimes in grand ethnic orchestras, alto, mediant, and bourdon
tones must be played together.