China has been a musical country since ancient times. It was the first country to make and use musical chimes. One such instrument is the Bianzhong which contained bronze bells that produced a sweet melody. These chime instruments were found over 3000 years ago.
What is the bianzhong used for?
The instruments were used to produce polyphonic sounds when the bells were struck. Chimes in ancient China were reserved for the elite and portrayed power and wealth. In the Song dynasty of 960 to 1279 CE, musicians used this instrument for ritual performances. In modern times, the standardized Bianzhong was used by music and dance ensembles.
Recent performances like the famous Hubei song and dance ensemble featured this sensual instrument in a remarkable display of a rich culture. In Korea, the Confucian religion still uses this instrument for ritual celebrations. The bianzhong takes the lead in an orchestra.
History of Bianzhong
The first bianzhong is traced to the Zhou dynasty of 1046 to 256 BCE. Although there are records of clapper bells before that, the first arrangement of Zhong is seen in the Zhou dynasty. The musical instrument was made with between 13 and 64 bells. The instrument produced varying pitches and would be vertically or obliquely suspended. In this period, bells were as large as 154 centimeters and weighed 203 kilograms.
Small bells weighed 2.4kilos and were 20.4cm in height. During the Qin and the Tang dynasties, the size decreased tremendously to 14, 16, and 24 bell sets which made each bell produce an individual pitch. These bianzhong instruments became 7 notes or 12 semitone instruments. Since the Song dynasty, the bianzhongs have been standardized to 16 bells.
What is the bianzhong made out of?
This instrument is made out of sets of small bronze bells. These sets are then suspended together on a wooden frame. The suspension differs, and the most common method is diagonal. In this case, the bell carries a long handle with a tiny ring at its base. Other zhongs are hanged vertically by a loop. Unlike other circular bells, the Zhong is lens-shaped. The outer surface of larger bells is engraved with studs around the body in a symmetrical form. These studs were rearranged into four groups of nine studs each.
How Bianzhong produces sound?
The sound of this musical instrument is heard by sticking the bell. The one produced is determined by where you hit the bell. The center is the source of the primary tone. The right and left corners give the secondary tone in a major or minor third higher pitch. The sound of the side pitches is equivalent to five piano notes.
The Chinese bianzhong carries a melodious history of Chinese culture. It was used in imperial banquets by the rich and powerful. The chime instruments produced polyphonic music that synched with other instruments to produce beautiful music. The ancient bells contain inscriptions on them that scholars use to make references.
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