The xiao (simplified Chinese: 箫; traditional Chinese: 簫; pinyin: xiāo; Wade–Giles: hsiao, pronounced [ɕi̯ɑ́ʊ̯]) is a Chinese vertical end-blown flute. It is generally made of bamboo. It is also sometimes called dòngxiāo (simplified Chinese: 洞箫; traditional Chinese: 洞簫), dòng meaning "hole." An ancient name for the xiāo is shùzhúdí (豎竹笛, lit. "vertical bamboo flute", [ʂûtʂutǐ]) but the name xiāo in ancient times also included the side-blown bamboo flute, dizi.
Xiao are almost always made of bamboo, the best being 'purple bamboo' or 紫竹 (pinyin：“zizhu"). Sometimes, the xiao is made of solid wood that has been carved and hollowed out. They can either be made plain, or have a horn inlay at the end and/or various inscriptions along the shaft. Usually, nylon wire bindings along the shaft are wrapped on which attempts to stabilize the bamboo and prevent cracking. Some players tie a tassel to dangle from one of the lower sound holes, purely for decorative purposes.
Xiao are today most often pitched in the key of G (with the D above middle C being the lowest note, with all fingers covered), although xiao in other less common keys are also available, most commonly in the key of F. More traditional xiao have six finger holes, while most modern ones have eight; the additional holes do not extend the instrument's range but instead make it easier to play notes such as F natural. There are a further four (sometimes two or six) sound holes situated at the bottom third of the length of the xiao. The blowing hole is at the top end, it may be cut into a 'U' shape, a "V" shape, or at an angle (with or without bone/ivory inlay.) Some xiao have the blowing end entirely cut off, so the player must use the space between their chin and lips to cover the hole fully. There may be a metal joint between the blow hole and the top finger hole for tuning purposes and sometimes also between the last finger hole and the end. The length of the xiao ranges from around 45 cm to over 1.25 m but is usually around 75–85 cm. Usually, shorter xiaos are more difficult to play because of the need to control one's breath more accurately. The angle to play the xiao is around 45 degrees from the body.
Varieties of xiao
In addition to the standard dongxiao, there are other types of xiao which includes (but not limited to):
The qinxiao (simplified Chinese: 琴箫; traditional Chinese: 琴簫) is a version of the dongxiao, which is narrower and generally in the key of F with eight smaller finger holes, used to accompany the guqin. The narrowness of the qin xiao makes the tone softer, making it more suitable to play with the qin which is a very quiet instrument and a normal dongxiao will drown out its low volume.
The nanxiao (simplified Chinese: 南箫; traditional Chinese: 南簫), "Southern xiao"), sometimes called chiba (Chinese: 尺八, "foot-eight," an old name still used for the Japanese shakuhachi) is a short xiao with open blowing end used in the Nanyin, the local Fujianese opera from Quanzhou. Typically, the end incorporates a part of the root of the bamboo.
A separate instrument, the paixiao (simplified Chinese: 排箫; traditional Chinese: 排簫; pinyin: páixiāo) is a panpipe which was used in ancient China and which, although it remains unusual, has recently had something of a come-back.
- Xiao page from Paul and Bernice Noll site
- Chinese flutes
- End-blown flute
- Music of China
- Traditional Chinese musical instruments