Music is one of the spiritual foods in the life of Vietnamese people. Throughout the journey of life and the length of history, today Vietnam still preserves many musical instruments of various kinds, from the simplest forms to the highly developed ones with sophisticated performing techniques.
From the North to the South of Vietnam, there are distinct musical melodies that create an unmistakable identity of each region. This feature leads to the creation of musical instruments with local characteristics.
In addition, there are musical instruments that have been imported but have been nationalized and localized to suit the Vietnamese musical aesthetic.
Here are the popular traditional Vietnamese musical instruments.
Dan Co (flock of storks, two-string instrument)
Dan Co or Dan Nhi has five parts: the neck, the body, the head, the bridge, and the strings. Dan Co has a wide range of 2 octaves, the sound is clear, soft close to the high voice (needle voice).
Dan Co plays a key role in Hat Xam (traditional music in North Vietnam), being a member of the Bat Am, the Nha Nhac Orchestra, the Chau Van Band, the amateur band, and the General Orchestra in Vietnam.
From ancient to the present, the bamboo flute has always been attached to the cultural and spiritual life of Vietnamese people. The bamboo flute can perform solo, chord performances, and can also be combined with traditional orchestra, symphony, light music, chamber.
The material to make this musical instrument is bamboo with a diameter of about 1.5cm and a length of 30cm. The body of the pipe is cut with the main hole and has 6 or 10 musical holes. The bamboo flute can express many nuances of emotions with a wide range of over two octaves.
The Vietnamese zither (Tam Thap Luc) originated from the Persian country called santur, made in the 12th century, and was introduced to Southeast Asia in the 18th century. The zither plays an important role in orchestras for Cheo and Cai Luong stages, which can be used as an accompaniment for singing, solo, and in the general traditional orchestra.
The guitar has a trapezoidal top made of light and spongy wood. The bridge is made of solid wood. The left neck has 36 hooks for stringing, the right neck has 36 shafts for tuning. The strings are made of metal, the rods are made of two thin bamboo sticks. The vocal range of the zither is quite wide, about 4 octaves.
Dan Bau or Doc Huyen Cam (Monochord) is common in traditional Vietnamese orchestras. The monochord is divided into two types: bamboo body and wooden box.
The instrument has only one string running through the body. The string was made of silk, later replaced by iron strings. The necks were made of bamboo in the past and now are often replaced by buffalo horns.
Gourds are made of dried gourd shells or lathe wood. The winding shaft is made of bamboo or wood, placed close to the player’s side. The plectrum with one sharp side is usually sharpened by bamboo, coconut body, or softwood.
Gongs are present in almost all ethnic groups in Vietnam, dating back to the Dong Son brass culture. Gongs are associated with the Central Highlands as an indispensable thing in the spiritual life of every person.
The gong music of Central Highlands Vietnam is an artistic value that has been affirmed in social and cultural life. The gongs are cast in copper alloy mixed with tin and lead. The one with the knob is called Cong, without knob is called Chieng. The bigger the gong is, the deeper the sound is; the smaller the gong, the higher the sound.
T’rung is a popular percussion instrument in Central Highlands Vietnam, made of several bamboo tubes of different sizes.
With the normal one, T’rung has only 5-7 tubes, cut and shortened to different lengths. A professional T’Rung has about 12-16 pipes lined up on the rack. When using an awl to knock on the pipes, it will create a different high and low sound depending on the loudness, small, long, and short of the tube.
Large and long tubes produce bass, while small and short tubes have high tones. The timbre of the T’rung is a bit opaque, the sound is not loud and resonant, but it is quite special.
Khen is both a musical instrument and a tool, as well as a means of connecting the community, sharing feelings and emotions. Khen also helps cultural subjects sublimate with an optimistic spirit of love for life.
Khen belongs to the breath instrument set which has a rather complicated structure, consisting of many tubes arranged side by side. One side goes through the banana-shaped gourd to make a resonance box.
Khen has a thin and crisp timbre, each tube emitting a certain timbre. The inside of the tube has a reed made of thin copper or silver. Khen is a multi-vocal instrument with a wide range of about 1.5 octaves, with a long sound.
Dan Day (Bottom flock)
Dan Day is a traditional instrument of the Vietnamese people. It is not only unique in shape and sound but also combined with other musical instruments such as beat and drum, creating the famous form of Ca Tru Singing.
Dan Day has 3 strings, the handle is very long and the back of the soundbox has a large hole. There are 4 main parts: the body, the neck, the head, the strings. Dan Day has a wide range of more than 2 octaves, a warm and sweet timbre, and can express deep emotions.
Dan Da (Rock Instrument)
Dan Da is the oldest percussion instrument in Vietnam, and one of the oldest musical instruments of mankind.
Dan Da is made of stone bars with different lengths, thicknesses, and thins. The long, big, and thick rock bars have a low-pitched sound while the short, small, and thin rock bars have a soft sound.
The inanimate stone slabs that are made into musical instruments are magical. From these stones, the great voice of the Central Highlands still echoes to this day.
Song Loan, also known as song lang, song lan, is a symbol in the cai luong orchestras. It plays a very important role in keeping the rhythm for other instruments in the orchestra.
All musicians must follow the song lang signal, keep the rhythm track according to the conductor who keeps the song lang, and its signal tells the end of a melody. The sound of Song Loan is crisp with the high pitch and the wide sound resonating far away.
Senh Tien Instrument
Sanh Tien is a unique percussion instrument that has appeared in Vietnam for at least a few hundred years.
Senh Tien has the construction of three wooden pieces. One of them has iron nails which keep few iron coins. When shaking these wooden pieces, the sounds are created by the coins and these wooden.
Senh Tien appears in royal court orchestras, chau van, Hue folk songs, Sac Bua, Hat A Dao… People use it to harmonize, keep rhythm or make dance props.
Study traditional instruments as well as enjoy different types of Vietnamese music is also an exciting activity to do in Vietnam.
You can see these instruments in most regions along the country, from Northwest Vietnam to Mekong Delta.
Typically, Khen and bamboo flute appear a lot in mountainous areas. You can find Senh Tien – Song Loan in Hue City when you see folk songs on the Perfume River at night. And, T’rung and Dan Da (stone instrument) present a lot in Central Highlands Vietnam. The zither and monochord often come with Don Ca Tai Tu in the Mekong Delta.