Playing with Others

The dizi has undergone quite a few steps of evolution, from an opera accompanying instrument in its earliest years to becoming a soloist's instrument, before finally being co-opted into various orchestras, both made up of traditional ethnic instruments and Western concert instruments.

In this series of articles, we examine some of the important points to take note of when playing with different instrument groups. Before we dive into the specifics though, we will talk about the common points here.

Intonation

Intonation, broadly put, is the accuracy of representing a notated pitch as a frequency emitted by the dizi. Almost all concert grade dizi made after the 1950s have their tone holes set up to match against the 12-tone equal temperament scale (12-TET) (十二平均律 or shi'er pingjun lü), an ``artificial'' scale built upon the irrational interval ratio of 21/12 for a semi-tone.

When a modern electronic tuner is used, all the indications of the pitch detected and accuracy are all based on the 12-tone equal temperament scale. It is in many ways, the least wrong of all the possible ways to construct a scale.

The unfortunate thing is that it is usually wrong for all circumstances. This is particularly obvious when playing against string instruments, be they bowed or plucked.

One of the key skills to learn when playing with others is the ability to use small tweaks to ensure that one is in tune with the rest of the playing instruments. The amount of correction is related to the effective scale, which in turn is controlled by the role of which the dizi is playing.

When the dizi is playing a melody role, the notes played on the dizi should match that of a Pythagorean tuning (五度相生律 or wudu xiangsheng lü), which roughly means playing almost all the notes sharper except for the degree 4, as shown in the table below:

Scale typeDegree 1 /centsDegree 2 /centsDegree 3 /centsDegree 4 /centsDegree 5 /centsDegree 6 /centsDegree 7 /centsDegree 8 /cents
12-TET020040050070090011001200
Pythagorean020440849870290611101200
5-Limit020438649870288410881200
Table of major scale interval widths in musical cents for 12-tone equal temperament tuning (12-TET) (十二平均律 or shi'er pingjun lü), Pythagorean tuning (五度相生律 or wudu xiangsheng lü) and 5-limit tuning (纯律 or chun lü).

In the case where the dizi is playing harmony, then the intervals need to be further adjusted so as to maximise the level of blending due to the sustenance of good harmonic ratios among the frequencies.

With this in mind, the general problem of intonation can be kept in check.

Noise

The dimo of the dizi is simultaneously the unique characteristic of the dizi that makes it an amazing instrument and is also the main cause for why the dizi might seem out of place in an instrument grouping.

The key issue here is that of the amount of tension to be placed on the dimo. Too much of it creates a very ``dead'' timbre with a high chance of having intonation issues. Too little of it and it takes a large mount of power to make it vibrate, and when it does, it sounds more bleating than a tasteful buzzing.

When playing with others, it is important to play close attention to the timbre that one's dizi is making. It is rare that a highly noisy dimo sound is required, so there is always that need to be careful about the tension of the dimo.