Dizi - Bamboo Flute

The dizi or bamboo flute is one of the most popular instruments in traditional Chinese music. The Chinese flute is played horizontally, much like a western flute, and is commonly carved out of a single piece of bamboo with a cork-lined blow-hole.

The body of the flute has six finger-holes at measured distances. It also features an extra hole between the blow-hole and finger-holes which is covered by a thin membrane of reed and gives the dizi a bright, resonant, and slightly humming tone. While many of the world’s cultures have similarly carved flutes, only the dizi has this unique feature.

For example, another Chinese flute similar to the dizi in material and basic structure is called the xiao, but the xiao is played vertically and, while also made of bamboo, it lacks the reed membrane of the dizi. Therefore, the xiao has a much gentler and subtler tone color.

The dizi is known for its expressive range as well as an inherent ethereal quality. When played in the middle and upper registers with a quick breath attack, the dizi gives the listener a lofty, sprightly feeling, as if floating. Played in its lower registers with a soft breath attack, however, it can bring one to peaceful and grounded retrospection. The dizi is also famous for its ability to imitate sounds of nature. It can reproduce the aural environment of a forest so accurately that natural landscapes often appear vividly in a listener’s imagination. 

To produce such a rich tonal palate, a dizi performer must master a variety of different musical articulations and advanced techniques. For example, sliding and popping notes, overblowing to create harmonics or two tones at once, and extremely fast tonguing action can produce an almost unimaginable array of sounds.  These various techniques, along with the tone colors, require a subtle control of one’s embouchure and airflow in order to perfect, and are the subject of decades of diligent practice before they are mastered.

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