Week 7 – East Asia: China

Welcome to East Asia, home to such places as China, The Koreas and Japan, just to name a few.

East Asia is a vast area with different cultures within itself.  There are so many different areas to observe explore. While the area as a whole is known as East Asia, I’m going to be looking specifically at Chine. However, in western culture, people tend to generalize the term Chinese.

“The term Chinese, broadly speaking, can be applied to cultural activity found not only

in the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) but also in the self-governing city of Hong Kong and in other places where “Overseas Chinese” comprise important segments of the population.” (Miller, Shahriari pg 182)

Not only is East Asia generalized as “Chinese” but it also contains a fourth of the worlds population. East Asia’s population break down is as follows:

China = 1.38 billion

Koreas = 71 Million

Taiwan  = 23 Million

Japan = 127 Million

Total = 1.56 Billion

“The majority of the Chinese population lives in eastern China.” (Miller, Shahriari pg 182/189)

Art (in all forms: Music, Painting, Theater ect.) has had the ability throughout humanity to influence people decisions or even manipulate peoples emotions. Sometimes that’s the job of the artist, to make their audience feel a certain way. China is no different, however sometimes this power can be corrupted and used for evil, and has been in the past.

“The arts have long been elements of the political process in China. Seeing the arts as far more than mere entertainment, the government has often harnessed music and theater for their ability to influence the thinking and behavior of the general population. Underlying this is a belief that music can have an influence on a person’s ethical character.” (Miller, Shahriari pg 187)

In general, each location in the world, whether it’s America, Australian Aboriginals or China, there is a distinguishable sound of that area, this is defined by the timbre of the instruments, the scales or processes of the culture and even the character of the instruments and the people of the culture. The beauty of music is that there are specific traits that hold all these different cultures together.

Looking at China

In China, there is so much new music coming out that falls under the category of popular and within this concept the potential for traditional Chinese music making it out into the world could be lost.

“Western recording companies have preferred to release instrumental music, giving a skewed impression of the reality in China.” (Miller, Shahriari pg 190)

“In China most “traditional” music struggles to survive as best it can, while newly arranged and orchestrated music, considered “improved” and “modernized” by many Chinese officials, is commonly used to represent Chinese music to the outside world.” (Miller, Shahriari pg 189)

Much like the Sachs-Hornbostel Instrument Classification System in which different instruments are defined by the way they are played (Chordophone (Strings)), There is a system that the Chinese use to classify their musical instruments, In order to break down different ensembles accurately and efficiently:

“Traditionally, the Chinese classified musical instruments into eight categories, known collectively as the bayin (or “eight materials”)

1. wood

2. bamboo

3. metal

4. stone

5. clay

6. skin

7. silk

8. gourd.

For the Chinese, the number “8” had a philosophical and aesthetic significance, and a philosophically complete ensemble would necessarily include instruments from all eight categories. Many ensemble types have names that refer to these material categories,…”silk and bamboo” ensemble (sizhu).” (Miller, Shahriari pg 190)


Below I have included a few instruments that I thought were very interesting and common in this culture.

The jinghu                                                                                                                           (京胡; pinyin: jīnghú) is a Chinese bowed string instrument in the huqin family, used primarily in Beijing opera. It is the smallest and highest pitched instrument in the huqin family.

The Erhu                                                                                                                                     (èrhú, [êɻxǔ]) is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument, It is used as a solo instrument as well as in small ensembles and large orchestras. It is the most popular of the huqin family of traditional bowed string instruments used by various ethnic groups of China. A very versatile instrument, the erhu is used in both traditional and contemporary music arrangements, such as in pop, rock, jazz

And finally, this is my favorite…

The Chinese sheng                                                                                                          (Chinese: ; Pinyin shēng) is a mouth-blown free reed instrument consisting of vertical pipes.

Why is this my favorite? Well, it looks like classic Mario sound might as well have been made using this instrument. Take a listen!

Overall, this section of the world is so huge that it would be an incredibly long blog if I tried to highlight all of the areas in detail…that’s what books are for. However, if you really want to discover more about China, check out EarthPops blog she is a yearning Ethnomusicologist and has a comprehensive knowledge of different cultures and their instruments.


Works Cited
“Erhu.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.
“Jinghu (instrument).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Feb. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.
Miller, Terry E., and Andrew C. . Shahriari. World Music: A Global Journey. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.
“Sheng (instrument).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Week 6 – Southeast Asia: Thailand

Thailand is one of those cultures that truly interests me. Here’s why, their culture (much like Seattle) is underground. In reality, Thailand’s culture is not actually underground, I mean it in a more metaphorical sense.

There are so many layers to the Thailand culture and each of them pile up on each other as history continues to be formed. Thailand actually reminds me of the U.S. in that way, there is so much rich history in the United States that sometimes it’s hard to remember exactly where we came from, or what are cultural roots are.

Thailand reminds me of this because it is a progressive culture. They have pop music, they have stock markets, they enjoy spending money on entertainment and they like being on the cusp of technology. However, beneath each of these layers of Thailand’s newest additions to their culture lies very little evidence of the original culture. In order to get a glimpse of Thailand’s roots, we have to examine their classical music tradition.

“Though classical music was never popular with the masses, there is a general

tendency to think of classical traditions, such as the piphat, as representing the essence of Thainess through music.” (Miller, Shahriari pg.146)

Classical Piphat Music

“A piphat (Thai: ปี่พาทย์, pronounced [pìːpʰâːt]) is a kind of ensemble in the classical music of Thailand, which features wind and percussion instruments.” (Wikipedia)

The first time I heard this music I was…disoriented. There is a series of pitched drums being struck, a very nasally, bright aerophone being blown, several constant mallets being struck in the high end and to top it all off…it all sounds a little off.  One might be naive to think that this music requires no talent to produce, however, I think it takes an even more talented musician to accurately replicate a performance more than once, it’s not just simply different people in the ensemble hitting things at will and at random. Though it may be hard to understand, there is a form and structure to the music. In this music it seems as if melodies are constantly overlapping and the music (in the book World Music: A Global Journey) could be considered “Organized Chaos”, in which I completely agree.

Typically in these traditional ensembles there are several elements that define this music as Traditional Thai music.

“They may include prominent wooden- or bamboo-keyed instruments played with mallets (higher and lower xylophones), circular frames of tuned metal gongs, bowed and plucked strings, flutes, double reeds, drums, and small rhythmic percussion.” (Miller, Shahriari pg.146)

In this traditional music there are three different types of ensembles that are most widely used.

1. Piphat: This ensemble is typically full of percussion (Melodic and rhythmic) and a double reed instrument (Pi)(Requires three or more melodic instruments and two rhythmic instruments, however instruments are allowed to be added.)

2. Mahori: This ensemble consists of strings & flute and also contains percussion that is melodic and rhythmic.

3. khruang sai: The focus of this ensemble is mainly on strings and flute with a small rhythmic percussion section.

“The Piphat primarily plays theater, dance drama, and ritual music, the other ensembles ordinarily play lighter, more entertaining and tuneful music.” (Miller, Shahriari pg.146)

The following is a list of instruments that are used to be played in the Piphat. As mentioned before, there needs to be  three melodic instruments and two rhythmic instruments. Below are a few instruments I want to highlight that are common in Thailand traditional classic music.


An aerophone that has the timbre of an Oboe (it is an quadruple reed Oboe), very nasally and bright.

The aerophone used in hard-mallet ensembles is a quadruple-reed oboe (aerophone) called pi, and its duty is to play a flexible, seemingly distinct, version of the same main melody. Although it works as a double reed, each half is folded, making it actually quadruple.” (Miller, Shahriari pg.147)

The next instruments I’m going to mention are the Ranat ek and the Ranat Thum. These instruments are very similar, they are both mallet based Idiophones and the pitch is determined by the width of the instrument. (Note: In a way, these instrument remind me of Marimbas because each instrument is taking on a specific frequency range of the scale)

Ranat ek

“(Ranat ek) is a Thai musical instrument in the percussion family that consists of 22 wooden bars suspended by cords over a boat-shaped trough resonator and struck by two mallets. It is used as a leading instrument in the piphat ensemble.” (Wikipedia)

Ranat Thum

is a low pitched xylophone used in the music of Thailand. It has 18 wooden keys, which are stretched over a boat-shaped trough resonator. Its shape looks like a ranat ek, but it is lower and wider. It is usually played in accompaniment of a ranat ek.” (Wikipedia)

Khong Wong Yai (Gong Circles)

I really like the look of this instrument, it’s such a unique perspective of using gongs, I have a feeling even Neil Pert would appreciate this instrument.

“…is a circle with gongs used in the music of Thailand. It has 16 tuned bossed gongs in a rattan frame and is played with two beaters.The player sits in the middle of the circle. It is used in the piphat ensemble to provide the skeletal melody the other instruments of the elaborate ensemble. The gongs are individually tuned with beeswax under the gongs” (Wikipedia)


This drum can be used to signal the opening of the composition and has high and low pitched heads. It’s played similarly like the bongos (or maybe even the tabla)

It (Taphon) is barrel-shaped with two heads, and is played by the hands and fingers of both hands” (Wikipedia)

If you are interested in seeing these instruments in action, take a quick look at a couple of these videos, they are great demonstrations of ensembles.



Overall, Thailand has a rich culture that could easily be lost in the current day and age. It seems that with each passing week, the world becomes bigger and harder to comprehend all of it’s vast cultures, tradionts, sights and sounds that it has to offer. It’s hard to believe that so many events and traditions can shape our world so richly. This classical tradition of music that we looked at only scratched the never-ending surface of what this culture has to offer!



Want to read up on everything talked about in this blog? Check out these sources!

“Khong Wong Yai.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Jan. 2014. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.
Miller, Terry E., and Andrew C. . Shahriari. World Music: A Global Journey. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.
“Piphat.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Oct. 2014. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.
“Ranat Ek.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.
“Ranat Thum.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Nov. 2013. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.
“Taphon.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Feb. 2014. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

Week 5 – South Asia: North India

South Asian is a massive area and one would be naive to try and discuss every aspect of South Asia in one post. I would actually like to focus on North India (Which might also be a little ambitious but I’m gonna go for it anyway.)

In India there are several different states and union territories and I want to highlight some of the culture as seen through music in the north region of India. In order for you to be able to grasp how vast this portion of India has become, I am going to breakdown each major section while showing the population of the location and the different languages they speak to demonstrate the amount of diversity in this area of the world. Next, I would like to explore Hindustani Instrumental Improvisation which is known as Raga and some instruments that make a unique impression.

The Northern Area of India Includes the following:


Districts Map of Delhi



“Delhi is a Union Territory situated in the northern part of India. It is the second-largest city by population and the largest metropolitan by area in India.” (Maps of India)

The Population in this location is nearly 17,000,000

The languages spoken in this area are English, Hindi, Punjab, Urdu


“Haryana is a state situated in North India. It shares its borders with Punjab and Himachal Pradesh in the north, Rajasthan in the west and south and Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh in the east. Haryana is surrounded by Delhi on the northern, western and southern borders.” (Maps of India)

The population in this location is around 25,000,000

The languages spoken in this area are Haryanavi, Punjabi and English

Himachal Pradesh

“Himachal Pradesh is one of the most popular states in Northern India. It spans over an area of 21,495 sq mi (55,673 km2), and it shares its borders with Jammu and Kashmir in the north, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in the south, Punjab in the west and south-west and Uttarakhand in the south-east. Himachal Pradesh literally means Region of snowy mountains.” (Maps of India)

The population in this location is around 7,000,000

The official language of this location is Hindi.

Jammu and Kashmir 

“Jammu and Kashmir is situated in the northernmost part of India. Jammu and Kashmir abounds in natural splendor mostly because of its geographic location. Nestled quietly in the Himalayan Mountains this state in India is filled with mountainous landscapes and numerous shrines.” (Maps of India)

The population in this location is over 12,500,000

Official languages of this area are urdu, Kashmiri and Dogn


“Uttarakhand is a state located in northern India. It was formerly known as Uttaranchal and was carved out of the north-western districts of Uttar Pradesh and the adjoining Himalayan Ranges. It is also called the Land of Gods because of numerous holy Hindu temples found across the different cities in the state.” (Maps of India)

The population in this location is over 10,000,000

Official languages of this area are Hindi and Sanskrit


“Punjab is another significant state situated in the northwest part of the India. It is one of the most naturally blessed states in the country. “ (Maps of India)

The population in this location is nearly 28,000,000

Official languages of this area is Punjabi

Uttar Pradesh

“Uttar Pradesh also popular as U.P, is a state situated in northern India. It is the most populated state in India with a population of almost 199 million people. It is also known as the cultural cradle of India since it is believed to be the birthplace of Hinduism.” (Maps of India)

The population in this location of almost 199,000,000

Official languages of this area is Hindi, Urdu


Hindustani is an Instrumental Improvisation which is known as Raga.

Raga is beautifully described in the following passage from the book World Music:A Global Journey 3rd Edition

Raga is defined as “A mode or system of rules and procedures for composition and improvisation in Indian classical music.” (Miller, Shahriari pg.98)

“The word raga (or rag, meaning “color” or “atmosphere”) denotes a comprehensive system for the simultaneous composition and performance of music in both North and South India…Raga comprises several elements, the first being tonal material (what might be called a “scale”). These “scales” consist of a hierarchy of strong and weak notes, a set of typical melodic figures, and a set of extra-musical associations with such things as moods, times of the day, and magical powers.” (Miller, Shahriari pg.98)

Most children in the U.S. go to a school that has music as an elective. In this music the students get to learn about solfège (Do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do), It’s all coming back to you isn’t it?  Well, Now that I have peeked your interest, in India they have an equivalent solfège which uses sa-re-ga-ma-pa-dha-ni-sa as it’s base. Unlike the west music culture where only 12 pitches are used, in India there are 22 pitches that are able to be utilized!

Now that we understand the basics of Raga, let’s delve into some important instruments that define North India.


First we have the Tambura. The Tambura belongs to the Chordophone family in the Sachs-Hornbostel instrument classification system and is a long necked lute with four strings and a large gourd body. The Tambura provides a buzzed timbre due to threads that vibrate against the bridge of the instrument. “The person who plays this instrument, often a young disciple or a spouse of the lead instrumentalist, simply plucks the four strings successively throughout the raga. The four pitches reinforce the two most important pitches of the raga, usually the fundamental or “home” pitch (sa/pitch I) and another an interval of a fifth above (pa/pitch V)(Miller, Shahriari pg.99).

I’ve included a picture below so you can see exactly what it looks like.



The Sarod is an instrument that typically forms the melodies when featured in an ensemble.  This instrument is also a long-necked lute which has six strings of metal running down a metal-fretless fingerboard to large tuning pegs. There are also 11-15 “sympathetic” metal strings running from within the neck (out through small, ivory-lined holes) to a series of smaller pegs on the side of the neck.”(Miller, Shahriari pg.99) This instrument typically is about 40 inches and is played horizontally, like a guitar.




The Tabla is a combination of two drums put together. These two drums are described as “small cylindrical wooden drum with a single head called tabla and a larger, rounded metal drum with single head known as baya”(Miller, Shahriari pg.100) The fascinating thing about this membranophone is that it is tuned to floor pitch of the Raga, which creates a more melodic timbre to the drums within the music.


Something that is purely incredible about a lot of the instruments of this culture is the ability that the artists have to be creative with the given scales and how much dexterity they have while playing these instruments. Something else that is really interesting is that Raga’s are meant to be performed at a proper time of day. This is something that isn’t emphasized in western culture and it’s hard for me to relate music of my cosmology to the concept of listening to it at a certain time of day.

Overall, North India is full of fascinating instruments and concepts of weaving melodies into their music with using an improvisational style of Raga. There is so much diversity in this area of the world and it’s no wonder that the tradition of this cultures music has created one of the most complex and interesting sounds that audiences everywhere are able to experience.


Miller, Terry E., and Andrew C. . Shahriari. “South Asia.” World Music: A Global Journey. New York: Routledge, 2012. N. pag. Print.
“North India States.” North India States. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

Week 4 – Oceana: The Music of Kiribati (Kiribas)

Located 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii in Micronesia, there is a collection of islands known as Kiribati (Pronounced “Kiribas”).  The islands are made up of thirty-three coral island which are circular islands with a central lagoon. There are three groups of Islands: The Line Islands, The Phoenix Islands and the Gilbert Islands.

“Kiritimati, also known as Christmas Island, is the largest coral atoll in the world and was among the many islands of the Pacific explored by Captain James Cook in 1777.”(Miller, Shahriari pg. 81)

“The British eventually claimed most of the islands of Kiribati as British protectorates; thus, English is widely spoken along with the native tongue, Gilbertese, an Austronesian language.”(Miller, Shahriari pg. 81)



Kiribati folk music is typically represented by different variations of vocalizing and/or chanting. Traditional songs performed by the Kiribati are typically love themed however, song themes are also competitive, religious, patriotic, war and wedding.


These Pacific Islanders are known for their choral traditions which are typically performed while in a seated position, sometimes the tradition calls for a guitar accompanying the group. The audio that I’ve attached is from the Kiribati Pacific Islands which highlights these choral traditions. The music starts with a spoken vocal in rhythm and progresses into a large choral group with a bright timbre and childlike essence. The piece has a joyful tone with fascinating form and melodic hills.

“In the Kiribati islands, vocal performances influenced by the church sometimes start with a freely rhythmic section that is closer to indigenous traditions. These are most typical of sitting dances (te bino), where the majority of performers are seated on the ground. More recent music/dance genres (e.g., te buki, te kaimatoa, te kateitei) do not have an initial freely rhythmic section. These begin with the metered section often marked by the steady pulse of handclaps. During the metered section, the voices follow a call-and-response pattern, though the call is primarily just a shout that establishes pitch and signals the choir’s entrance. The text setting is mostly syllabic. A whistle is sometimes used to signal the choir to close the performance with a brief series of handclaps.” (Miller, Shahriari pg. 83)

Another example of a seated choral group accompanied by guitar from the Pacific Islands of Kiribati.

“Choral traditions in Oceania predate the arrival of European colonialism. In Kiribati, music and dance were important symbols of social identity. All members of a performance ensemble were of the same descent group. Participation in performance was essential to community cohesion, and musical skills were regarded as valuable clan property. Song was considered a vital link to ancestral spirits and supernatural powers associated with natural elements, such as the wind or the ocean. Communities sang in communal meetinghouses called maneaba the night before a battle, in order to help protect warriors or weaken enemies.” (Miller, Shahriari pg. 84)


Miller, Terry E., and Andrew C. . Shahriari. World Music: A Global Journey. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Music of Kiribati