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The Dūxiánqín: Tracing the Single-Stringed Wonder of East Asia

Last Updated on 2023/11/23

The Đàn bầu Story: A Vietnamese Interpretation of the Dūxiánqín.

Dūxiánqín (獨弦琴), also known as a monochord or single-stringed instrument, is a traditional East Asian musical instrument primarily seen in China, Vietnam, and, historically, Japan. This instrument is notable for its use of pure temperament tuning.

Historical Development and Cultural Significance

In ancient times, Dūxiánqín appeared under various names and forms across East Asia. Its historical presence in Japan dates back to the early Heian period, specifically during the Enryaku era. According to the “Nihon Kōki” (日本後紀), a text from this period, a person proficient in Chinese language, believed to be from India, introduced the Dūxiánqín to Japan. This account details the arrival of a mysterious traveler, who was later assimilated and contributed to the cultural tapestry of Japan by sharing this unique instrument. The instrument saw a resurgence in Japan during the Edo period, influenced again by Chinese traditions.

The Vietnamese Đàn bầu

In contemporary times, the most widely recognized and used variant of the Dūxiánqín is the Vietnamese Đàn bầu. Initially part of ensemble music, it has evolved into a vital solo instrument, often amplified electronically to enhance its distinctive sound. The Đàn bầu consists of a single string stretched over a narrow, elongated resonating box. One end of the string is anchored to the base, while the other end is attached to a flexible metal lever. The player produces sound by plucking the string with the pinky finger of the right hand, using the remaining fingers to manipulate a plectrum for harmonics. The left hand adjusts the metal lever to vary the tension and pitch of the string, creating a unique tonal effect.

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