A Chinese musician playing a qin
The first people who came to China, about 50,000 BC, brought their music with them from Africa, by way of India. These people certainly clapped their hands and sang songs. Probably they brought drums and bone pipes with them to China.
Chinese tradition says that a man named Ling Lun, perhaps during the Zhou Dynasty, about 1000 BC, invented the earliest musical instruments in China, bamboo pipes that imitated the sounds of birds. But really people were certainly playing drums and pipes as early as the Shang Dynasty, about 1800 BC.
The Han emperors, starting about 100 BC, told the Imperial Music Bureau to work on court music and military music, and also to keep track of folk music. They were especially interested in keeping track of political protest music, and sent music officers out to listen and collect popular music. They tried to stop revolts by controlling music.
Playing an erhu
With the rise of Silk Road trade, Chinese musicians began to get ideas from Central Asian musicians. Han Dynasty musicians turned the Central Asian pear-shaped lute into the Chinese pipa, plucking the strings with a pick or with their fingernails.
During the T’ang Dynasty, about 700 AD, musicians wrote a lot of new music for the qin. People kept playing the pipa too. Then in the 900s AD, another new idea came from Central Asia: Chinese musicians began to use a bow to play an early stringed instrument – the erhu, with only two strings.
Dear Karen Carr,
Thank you for this great article. I am excited to learn about the Music Bureau, the Music Masters, their roles and the process for music gathering in ancient China. Can you help an old man in his quest for this great KNOWLEDGE? Thank you for any time and wisdom you are able to share.
Hudson River Music Hall
Hudson Falls, NY
Thank you for your enthusiasm! I’m afraid I am not a specialist in Chinese music myself, but you might want to read this: http://amzn.to/2GwiByN which has more detail.