A Guide to Chinese Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

Discover the enchanting sounds of Chinese Folk music, and learn about the instruments, history, and culture that surrounds it.

Introduction to Chinese Folk Music

Chinese Folk music is the music of the Han Chinese people. It is often characterized by simple melodies and rhythms. In this article, we will give you a brief introduction to Chinese Folk music and its history.

What is Chinese Folk Music?

Chinese folk music is a genre of traditional music that is typically sung by ethnic Chinese people. It is often characterized by its use of pentatonic scales, as well as by its distinctive melodies and rhythms. Chinese folk music has a long history and has been influenced by a variety of musical traditions, both within China and from other countries.

The History of Chinese Folk Music

Chinese folk music has a long and rich history, dating back to the earliest days of Chinese civilization. Folk music was originally created and performed by the common people, and was passed down from generation to generation orally. Over time, folk music began to be codified and formalized, and became an important part of Chinese culture.

Folk music was traditionally divided into two main categories: work song and yuefu. Work songs were sung by workers whileperforming their tasks, and served as a way to motivate and energize them. Yuefu are a type of folk song that originated in the imperial court, and were first performed by professional musicians. These songs eventually spread to the general population, and became very popular.

During the Republican era (1912-1949), many Western musical elements were introduced into China, resulting in a new hybrid style of folk music known as xiaohe (小河). This style combined traditional Chinese instruments with Western melodies and harmonies. Xiaohe became very popular in the 1930s and 1940s, and many famous Chinese singers began their careers performing this type of music.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in traditional Chinese folk music. Many contemporary musicians are rediscovering the beauty and power of this musical tradition, and are bringing it to new audiences around the world.

The Different Types of Chinese Folk Music


Daoqing is a type of Chinese folk music that originated in the Qing Dynasty. It is characterized by its slow and relaxing tempo, as well as its use of traditional instruments such as the erhu and pipa.

Daoqing is typically performed in a slow and peaceful manner, which makes it perfect for relaxing or meditating. It is often used in Chinese operas, and its soothing nature makes it perfect for lullabies.

While daoqing is not as popular as some other genres of Chinese music, it remains an important part of Chinese culture and history.


Erhuang is a type of Chinese folk music that originates from the province of Henan. It is usually played by two performers, one on the erhu and the other on the zhonghu. The music is often fast-paced and lively, with a strong emphasis on percussion.


Nanguan is a genre of Chinese folk music originating from the southern Chinese province of Fujian. It is traditionally performed with a lute-like instrument called the pipa, as well as the erhu, a two-stringed fiddle. Nanguan music is known for its slow, graceful melodies and has been popular in China for over 700 years.


Suzhou is a city located in the eastern part of China. It is known for its beautiful gardens and canals, and is also famous for its music. The music of Suzhou is rooted in the city’s folk traditions, and is typically characterized by its soft, mellow sound. Instruments used in Suzhou music include the erhu (a two-stringed Chinese fiddle), pipa (a four-stringed Chinese lute), sheng (a Chinese mouth organ), and dizi (a flute).

The Instruments Used in Chinese Folk Music

Chinese folk music is a genre of traditional Chinese music. The instruments used in this genre include the erhu, pipa, guzheng, and dizi. These instruments are often used in bands or orchestras to create a traditional Chinese sound.


The dizi, is a Chinese transverse flute. It is also sometimes known as the di or hochet. The dizi is used in many traditional Chinese musical ensembles and solo performances. It has a distinctive bell-like sound, and is one of the most popular Chinese instruments.

The dizi is made of bamboo, with a length of around 60 cm (24 inches). It has a blowing hole in the center of the tube, and six finger holes on the front. There are also two more holes on the back, which are stopped with plugs made of wax or wood.

The dizi is usually tuned to the key of C. Other keys such as G, F, and D are also sometimes used. To change the pitch of the instrument, the player can partially cover or uncover the finger holes.

The dizi is an essential part of many Chinese musical ensembles, such as the orchestra (yueqi), wind and percussion band (yueya), and string band (sizhu). It is also often used in theatrical performances, such as Beijing opera (jingju).

The dizi has a long history in China, and was first mentioned in texts dating back to around 400 BCE. It is thought to have originated in the state of Chu, in central China. Today, it is widely used all over China, as well as in other Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.


The erhu is a two-stringed Chinese musical instrument, more specifically a spike fiddle, which may be the most important instrument in the Chinese orchestra. It has a history of over 4,000 years and is sometimes known as the “Chinese violin” or a “two-stringed fiddle”. Unlike a Western violin, which is held under the chin, the erhu is held upright, with the bow passing between the strings above the player’s right hand. The tuning of an erhu is in fifths, similar to that of a viola.


The guzheng, or Chinese zither, is one of the most popular and representative instruments of traditional Chinese music. It has a history of over 2,500 years, and it is believed to be the ancestor of several East Asian zithers such as the Japanese koto and the Korean gayageum. The guzheng typically has 21-25 strings and is plucked with the right hand while the left hand presses the strings down on the fingerboard to produce different pitches. Guzheng music often features a solo instrument accompanied by percussion instruments such as drums or gongs.

How to Listen to Chinese Folk Music

Chinese Folk music is a genre of traditional music originating from the rural areas of China. It typically features simple melodies and lyrics, and has a strong emotional appeal. Folk music is usually performed by solo singers or small groups of musicians, and is often accompanied by traditional instruments such as the zheng and pipa. In this guide, we’ll give you some tips on how to listen to Chinese Folk music.

Where to Find Chinese Folk Music

There are a few different places where you can find Chinese folk music. One option is to find traditional Chinese music concerts in your city. These concerts usually take place at cultural centers or community events. You can also check your local library or bookstore for CDs of Chinese folk music. Finally, there are many online resources where you can listen to or download Chinese folk music.

When to Listen to Chinese Folk Music

Folk music is generally upbeat and often associated with rural life or the life of laborers. It’s the music of the people, and in China, it’s deeply intertwined with the daily lives of residents in villages and small towns.

If you want to listen to Chinese folk music, the best time to do so is during festivals or other traditional holidays. At these times, people are more likely to be in a festive mood and willing to sing or play folk songs. You might also be able to hear folk music at community events, such as temple fairs or weddings.


What Have You Learned?

In this guide, you have learned about the different types of Chinese folk music, as well as the instruments and regions associated with each type. You have also learned about the history of Chinese folk music and how it has evolved over time.

Now that you have a better understanding of this genre of music, you should be able to appreciate it more fully when you hear it. Remember to keep an open mind when listening to new music, and who knows? You may just find your new favorite song!

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