Types of Chinese New Year Music

The Chinese calendar adds a month every few years. This means that Chinese New Year is not the same day every year. The extra month occurs because the calendar uses lunar and solar cycles. Adding a month every few years helps to keep the calendar aligned with these cycles. The date changes and can range from January 21 to February 20 of each year. In 2011, the date for Chinese New Year occurred on February 3. In 2021, Chinese New Year fell on February 12. The Chinese have a deep respect for music and several types of music exist for the celebration of each New Year.

Vocal Music

Chinese New Year celebrations make use of vocal music based on Chinese scales and rhythms. Smaller string instruments such as the erhu, a two-stringed fiddle, often accompany the vocal music. The use of vocal music has a strong tradition in China and places heavy emphasis on glissando and quartertones to slide into notes instead of immediately falling directly on individual pitches.

Instrumental Music

The Chinese will use mostly traditional Chinese instruments to play traditional New Year music. These instruments include lutes, zither, harps, huqin and hammered string instruments. Traditional instruments exist in small groups to play highly melodic music. Lutes are plucked instruments, zithers have several plucked strings, the harp functions like the western harp, the huqin are bowed instruments similar to our violins and the hammered string instrument is a dulcimer that is played with bamboo sticks.

Chinese New Year Music

Several songs classified as Chinese New Year Music deal with legendary topics and percussive elements. These songs often depict stories dealing with dragons, merriment, food and luck. Some of the more popular songs include, “Chinese New Year Music,” “Great New Year,” “Dancing Dragon and Phoenix,” “Chinese Happy New Year” and “Deng Li Jun’s Happy New Year Album.”

Dragon Dance

The Dragon Dance involves a large dragon presented to the public with dancers and music. This is a yearly tradition in China. This type of music is highly percussive with prolonged melodic tones rather than easily definable melodies. Most often, the dancers will use gongs and cymbals in time with their rhythm to create this coordinated dance music. The improvised rhythms use a steady beat kept with a drum.


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