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Classification Double reed
Related instruments
Traditional Chinese嗩吶
Simplified Chinese唢呐

Suona (IPA: /swoʊˈnɑː/, traditional Chinese: 嗩吶; simplified Chinese: 唢呐; pinyin: suǒnà), also called dida (from Cantonese 啲咑/啲打 [dīdá]), laba or haidi, is a traditional Chinese music instrument with double-reed horn. The suona's basic design originated in ancient Iran, then called "Surna". Suona appeared in China around the 3rd century. It had a distinctively loud and high-pitched sound, and was used frequently in Chinese traditional music ensembles, particularly in those that perform outdoors. It was an important instrument in the folk music of northern China, particularly in provinces of Shandong and Henan, where it has long been used for festival and military purposes. It is still being used, in combination with sheng mouth organs, gongs, drums, and sometimes other instruments in weddings and funeral processions. Such wind and percussion ensembles are called chuida (Chinese: 吹打; pinyin: chuīdǎ; Zhuyin Fuhao: ㄔㄨㄟ ㄉㄚˇ) or guchui (Chinese: 鼓吹; pinyin: gǔchuì; Zhuyin Fuhao: ㄍㄨˇ ㄔㄨㄟˋ; this name refers to the suona itself in Taiwanese Hokkien). Stephen Jones has written extensively on its use in ritual music of Shanxi province. It was also common in the ritual music of Southeast China. In Taiwan, it was an essential element of ritual music that accompanied Daoist performances of both auspicious and inauspicious rites, i.e., those for both the living and the dead. One of the most famous piece that uses suona as the leading instrument is called "Bai Niao Chao Feng" (Chinese: 百鸟朝凤). The movie Song of the Phoenix[1] casts the rise and fall of the popularity of suona in modern Chinese musical history.


The suona as used in China had a conical wooden body, similar to that of the gyaling horn used by the Tibetan ethnic group, both of which used a metal, usually a tubular brass or copper bocal to which a small double reed was affixed, and possessed a detachable metal bell at its end. The double-reed gave the instrument a sound similar to that of the modern oboe. The traditional version had seven finger holes. The instrument was made in several sizes.[2] The nazi (Chinese: 呢子; pinyin: Ní zi; lit. 'woolen fabric'), a related instrument that was most commonly used in northern China, consisted of a suona reed (with bocal) that was played melodically. The pitches were changed by the mouth and Sometimes the nazi was played into a large metal horn for additional volume.[citation needed]

Modern Construction[edit]

Since the mid-20th century, "modernized" versions of the suona have been developed in China; incorporating mechanical keys similar to those of the European oboe, to allow for the playing of chromatic notes and equal tempered tuning (both of which were difficult to execute on the traditional suona). There is now a family of such instruments, including the zhongyin suona (Chinese: 重音 嗩吶; pinyin: zhòngyīn suǒnà; lit. 'Alto suona'), cizhongyin suona (Chinese: 次中音唢呐; pinyin: Cì zhōng yīn suǒnà; lit. 'Tenor suona'), and diyin suona (Chinese: 低音 嗩吶; pinyin: dīyīn suǒnà; lit. 'Bass suona'). These instruments are used in the woodwind sections of modern large Chinese traditional instrument orchestras in China, Taiwan, and Singapore, though most folk ensembles prefer to use the traditional version of the instrument. It is used in modern music arrangements as well, including in the works of Chinese rock musician Cui Jian, featuring a modernized suona-play in his song "Nothing To My Name" (一无所有Chinese: 一无所有; pinyin: Yīwúsuǒyǒu; lit. 'nothing') played by the saxophonist Liu Yuan.

Ranges of the orchestral "suona":

  • Piccolo in G and F (海笛; hǎidí)
  • Sopranino suona in D and C (; xiāo)
  • Soprano suona in A and G (高音; gāoyīn)
  • Alto suona in D (中音; zhōngyīn)
  • Tenor suona in G (次中音; cìzhōngyīn)
  • Bass suona in various keys (低音; dīyīn)

The tenor and bass varieties are normally keyed; the alto and soprano varieties are sometimes keyed. The highest varieties are not normally keyed.



Although the origin of the suona in China is unclear, with some texts dating the use of the suona as far back as the Jin dynasty (266–420), there is a consensus that the suona originated outside of the domains of ancient Chinese kingdoms, possibly having been developed from Central Asian instruments such as the sorna, surnay, or zurna, from which its Chinese name may have been derived.[3] Other sources state the origins of the suona were Arabia,[4] or India.[5] A musician playing an instrument very similar to a suona was shown on a drawing on a Silk Road religious monument in the western Xinjiang province. It dates to the 3rd or 5th centuries, and depictions dating to this period found in Shandong and other regions of northern China depicted it being played in military processions, sometimes on horseback. It was not mentioned in Chinese literature until the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), but by this time, the suona was already established in northern China.

Other instruments related to the suona may have also descended from the Asian zurna, such as the European shawm.[6] Other examples include the Korean taepyeongso, the Vietnamese kèn and the Japanese charumera. (Japanese: チャルメラ, lit.'Suona') The latter's name is derived from charamela, the Portuguese word for shawm. Its sound was well known throughout Japan, as it is often used today by street vendors selling ramen.[7]

Use outside China[edit]

The suona was used as a traditional instrument by Cubans in Oriente and Havana, having been introduced by Chinese immigrants during the colonial era. Known locally as corneta china, it has been one of the lead instruments in the conga carnival music of Santiago de Cuba since 1915.[8] In Havana, the term "trompeta china" (Spanish: trompeta china, lit.'Chinese trumpet') was sometimes used.[8]

In America, the jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman often played the suona in his performances, calling it a "musette". English bassist and saxophonist Mick Karn used the instrument crediting it as a dida.

The same instrument, also called a "musette", was used in "Oriental Bands" of the Shriner fraternal organization. Dressed in "Arabic" garb with mallet drums, Oriental Bands marched in parades that featured "little cars" driven by members. They wore the Fez (hat). They arrested bystanders, gave them a whisky and let them go. The instrument was not known to be of Chinese origin, just "Oriental". Dewey Redmond possibly got his soprano suona as a former Shriner import. The Shriners even supplied the reeds (which are a constant issue because every reed is different).

Notable performers[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Song of Phoenix". IMDb. Retrieved 6 February 2022.
  2. ^ "Suonas musettes shawms". Lark in the Morning. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  3. ^ "ตามประสาอย่างคนที่คุ้นเคยว่าทำไมฉันเฉยเมยว่าทำไมดูเปลี่ยนไป". Archived from the original on 22 April 2016. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  4. ^ "Suona - Chinese musical instrument". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  5. ^ "Introduction of Traditional Chinese Wind Instrument - Suona". Archived from the original on 2015-01-11. Retrieved 2015-03-31.
  6. ^ Spohnheimer. "The Medieval Shawm". Archived from the original on 2 October 2017. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  7. ^ Charumera
  8. ^ a b Pérez Fernández, Rolando Antonio (2014). "The Chinese Community and the Corneta China: Two Divergent Paths in Cuba". Yearbook for Traditional Music. 46: 62. doi:10.5921/yeartradmusi.46.2014.0062.
  • Wang, Min (2001). The Musical and Cultural Meanings of Shandong Guchuiyue from the People's Republic of China. Ph.D. dissertation. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University.
  • New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London, 2001).
  • Jones, Stephen (2007). Ritual and Music of North China: Shawm Bands in Shanxi Province. SOAS Musicology Series. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing.

External links[edit]