Confucious Institute

Bone Flute - Chinese Earliest Musical Instrument  (2009-12-24 15:05)

There are various kinds of musical instruments in the world, including Chinese musical instruments, western musical instruments, special instruments, wind instruments, stringed instruments, and so on. Among them, the earliest musical instrument is bone flute.

Legend has it that there was a place with picturesque scenery, where the hardworking Miao people lived. A young man named Zhulang in the village lived on weaving bamboo baskets. Because he contacted with bamboos everyday, he gradually felt that the verdant bamboos had spiritualism. He could produce sweet-sounding songs with his mouth by using any of the bamboo leaves. As time passed, a beautiful girl named Miaomei was moved by his music and sang to the tune every time she heard his song. One day, the naughty girl pointed at a section of bamboo and asked whether he could produce sound with it. After thinking for a while, the clever young man made the bamboo section hollow inside and cut several holes in it. The sound he made through the musical instrument was much more pleasing to the ear than the one produced by the bamboo leaves. The sweet-sounding music touched the bottom of the girls heart and the young man sent the instrument to her as a keepsake. Since the young man was named Zhulang, the instrument was called Zhudi (bamboo flute).

This bamboo flute might have been the earliest musical instrument, but, of course, it is simply a beautiful legend. However, in the 1980s, China did discover bone flute of 8,000 to 9,000 years old.

Excavations in 1986 and 1987 at the early Neolithic site of Jiahu, located in Henan Province, China, have yielded six complete bone flutes. Fragments of approximately 30 other flutes were also discovered. The flutes may be the earliest complete, playable, tightly-dated, multi-note musical instruments.

Tonal analysis of the flutes revealed that the seven holes correspond to a tone scale remarkably similar to the Western eight-note scale that begins "do, re, mi." This carefully-selected tone scale suggested to the researchers that the Neolithic musician of the seventh millennium BC could play not just single notes, but perhaps even music.

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