Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Chinese Music: Traditional and Modern

Photo Credit: Maureen Didde
One of the ways we immerse ourselves into a culture is to listen to its music, traditional and modern. It's interesting to compare our pop music to that of the culture in question, and to hear the different instruments and compositions of both modern and traditional music. Music is such an important creative expression in all cultures, and I find it important to be able to appreciate all types. Admittedly, we prefer instrumental compositions of traditional Chinese music. Throughout the year, we have been listening to Chinese music every time we eat Chinese food and work on a craft or activity. We regularly borrow CDs from our library or listen to songs available online (for free). 

  • You can listen to modern Chinese music (pop, folk, ballad, instrumental) at Sing Chinese Songs. Each song also has the lyrics in pinyin and Mandarin characters karaoke style
  • In order to have continuous music playing, especially when eating dinner, I put together a youtube playlist with one hour's worth of traditional, instrumental music
  • All Music has a great list of traditional Chinese albums
  • A few traditional instruments are highlighted through youtube videos at Last FM, and for ease of finding I categorized them below, with a quick overview of the instruments:

Street musician with ehru - source
Ehru instrument - source

The erhu is a two string bow instrument sometimes known as the Chinese violin. Here is the link for 16 videos that feature the beautiful sounds of the erhu.

Daria at Making Multicultural Music has post about the Ehru with a great coloring page


Pipa instrument - source
Musician playing pipa - source

The pipa is a four string plucked instrument. It is one of the most popular Chinese instruments and has been played for almost 2000 years. Here is a link for 13 videos with music featuring the pipa. 


Guzheng Instrument - source
Guzheng musician - source
The guzheng is a Chinese plucked zither, with 18 or more strings. Early versions of this instrument were played over 2000 years ago. Here is a link for 3 videos featuring the guzheng.

Hope you enjoy some Chinese music!


  1. Hi Marie, great job on your country studies! You've gone into such details that I'm going to have to borrow so many of your ideas when we study China!

    I thought I'd just point out to you that the picture of the "smaller" lute instrument is actually called liuqin. It belongs to the same lute family as pipa but is of a higher pitch and about half the size of the pipa. The liuqin is held diagonally (as shown in the photo) but the pipa is held mostly upright or at a very slight angle. :-)

  2. Thank you! I'll have to correct the image - thanks for the heads up! Do you play classical instruments?

  3. You're welcome, Marie. :-) Yes, I play the pipa and was in a Chinese orchestra for a few years. That's the only reason why I can tell the difference between the instruments. They are so similar, aren't they? :-)

    1. So cool that you play the pipa! - and that you played in an orchestra. I am in awe. You know, once I looked for another picture, it was so obvious that the pipa is so much bigger. Paying a bit more attention would help :) Thanks again!

  4. I can't get into Chinese music. It is very difficult to relax to and a little too staccato for me (although maybe I've been listening to the wrong pieces?)
    It always astounds me how different music is in different cultures. Some doesn't even sound like music to me more wailing! (thinking Indian music) yet other cultures probably listen to our music and wonder at its musicality also. Interesting how different we all are.

    1. Isn't it so interesting? This is what I love - the diversity - yet the commonality, such as music - what "culture" does not consider music a vital expression? Have you heard any of the music with the guzheng? I find it peaceful. Though I find the vocal songs a bit jarring, I do enjoy much of the instrumental music, (but some took getting used to) and it makes me smile when one of the girls rush over to the CD player and put the music in.


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