Chinese Music <>Western Music

Chinese music was part of the four elements of the Arts and can be dated to about 7000 years ago. The four arts of the Chinese accomplished scholar, were :  qin (琴, a seven-string instrument), qi (棋, the strategy game of Go), shu (書, Chinese calligraphy) and hua (畫, Chinese painting).

I am not a musician, I do not play an instrument, but I love music, classical, religious, folk, pop, and I love choral music as well. I find there is a difference in the melody and the rhythm between Oriental classical and Western classical music. Not so much in the folk genre, maybe because folk music has more freedom of expression and involves telling a story with song and dance in both Oriental and Western music.

Both Chinese and Western music were created using a mathematical scale.

“Pentatonic Scale” <> “Heptatonic Scale”

Chinese musicians used a 5 notes scale per octave called the “Pentatonic Scale”.  

In the Western World, it was Pythagoras who created a 7 notes scale per octave called the “Heptatonic Scale” which has been the basis for musical composition to this day. Therefore the tones you can create are going to be different.

Musical Notes and Language

As a professional translator/interpreter, it seems to me that the music scale works in the same way language does, let me explain. Both English and Spanish have only five vowels: a -e -i- o -u, and sometimes Y counts as a vowel, too.  This affects not only the way you speak but also the way you listen.
In Spanish there are only 5 short vowel sounds, but, in English there are a total of
20 vowels in total:

7 short vowels: /ɪ/ /ʊ/ /ə/ /e/ /ɒ/ /ʌ/ /æ/
5 long vowels: /iː/ /uː/ /ɑː/ /ɔː/ /ɜː/
8 diphthongs: /eɪ/ /aɪ//ɔɪ/ /əʊ/ /aʊ/ /ɪə/ /eə/ /ʊə/

Another factor might be the kind of instruments they have used such as percussion instruments like bronze bells, gongs, and drums, string instruments that were played with sticks or plucked by hand, lutes, and flutes.  

In Western music percussion instruments have been associated with the orchestra in concerts.

There were fragments of thirty flutes discovered In the archeological site of Jiahu [7000-5700 BC] six of these represent the earliest examples of playable musical instruments ever found. The flutes were carved from the wing bone of the red-crowned crane, with five to eight holes capable of producing varied sounds in a nearly accurate octave.It  is remarkable evidence of a flourishing and complex society as early as the Neolithic period, when Jiahu was first occupied.



A Sample of the Chinese Opera

The earliest music was connected with religious ceremonies. It was rhythmic and loud in contrast with ancient hymns which were solemn and there is the music for the theatre, the Opera which was lively and included singing and dancing, it was popular with rich and poor alike.

In the Chinese Opera, colors play a vivid role in the emotions, i.e. Red means: intelligence, heroism, integrity, and loyalty. Then there is Purple depicting attributes of respect, sophistication, nobleness, and a sense of justice. Now, a black mask is neutral. Blue represents stubbornness and bravery. Yellow portrays treachery, ferociousness.

Children Books about Chinese musical history to read or gift.

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