A dizi is a Chinese bamboo flute instrument that is notable in traditional Chinese music. This Chinese flute is played horizontally, like the western flute. Most commonly, the Dizi is carved out of a single piece of bamboo with a cork-lined blow-hole. The body of this flute features six finger holes in measured distances. Also, it has an extra hole between the instrument’s finger holes and blows holes. These holes were covered by a membrane of reed, which gives the Dizi a resonant, bright, and humming tone. Meanwhile, while several cultures have carved flutes, only the Chinese flute has these unique features.
For instance, the Chinese flute called Xiao is similar to Dizi when it comes to the materials used and some basic structures. However, Xiao is played vertically. As well as that, the Xiao is also made out of bamboo, but it has no reed membrane that the dizi flute has. Therefore, the Xiao Chinese flute has a much subtler and gentler tone.
Moreover, the dizi flute is known for its expressive range and ethereal quality. When this flute is played at the middle and upper registers along with a quick breath attack, the dizi flute gives the audiences a vibrant feeling, much like you are flying. It can also be played in its low registers with a soft breath attack, giving you the grounded and peaceful reminiscence. In addition, the Dizi is notable for its ability to imitate the sound of nature. It can also replicatethe aural environment of a forest so accurately that the listeners could picture the landscape in their imaginations.
In producing such tone, a dizi flute performer must master several variations of musical articulations, as well as advanced techniques. For example, circular breathing, harmonics, multiphonics, popping, sliding notes, overblowing, and fast tongue action are able to make an unimaginable array of tones. These techniques and other tone colors require control of airflow to perfect playing the instrument.
Recently, several archeologists have found out pieces of evidence suggesting that traverse flutes have been present in China for over 9,000 years. In fact, fragments of bone flutes from this period are still playable up to this day. Also, these flutes are similar to the modern versions when it comes to hole placements. Dating back from 7000 BC to 5,000 BC, the Jiahu Neolithic site in China has yielded flutes that could represent the earliest instrument ever. These flutes that were found have five to eight holes and are capable of producing a variety of sounds in an accurate octave.Most of the dizi performers have a set of seven dizi flutes that has various sizes and keys. Master players, as well as those who seek distinctive sounds, may use very small or very large dizi flutes.
Furthermore, as we know, the dizi flute dates back to the 5th century BC, but transverse flute has known to exist as early as the 9th century. However, there were also dizi bamboo flutes that are found from the 2nd century BC. These flutes share the same characteristics as other simple flutes all around the world. These include the end-blown flute called ‘ney,’ which was depicted in Egyptian stone carvings and paintings. In fact, in Africa, Recent archeological discoveries suggested that the history of flutes may date back a very long time ago in human history.
Traditionally, bamboo flutes like the Dizi are made using a piece of bamboo. However, once the bamboo is cut, it became impossible to change the tuning. Thus, making it a problem when played along with other instruments in a modern Chinese orchestra. To solve this problem, a musician named Zheng Jinwen inserted a copper joint to connect the two pieces of shorter bamboo. This method allows for changing the length of the bamboo and its pitch.
In the 1930s, a chromatic version of the Dizi was created. This version has about eleven holes pitched in the same range as the western flute. Nevertheless, the modified version’s extra tone hole has prevented the effective use of the Dizi’s membrane. Consequently, this instrument now lacks the inherent timbre of the dizi family.