Staff Notation and dizi

Staff notation for the dizi is a tricky topic to deal with. We will first consider an overview of the practical aspects of staff notation and the dizi, followed by a little chronology that leads to the staff notation.

Overview of Staff Notation and dizi

There are too many different keys of dizi out there to specify only a single type of staff for it. As at now, the entire family of dizi can easily span from G3 to a theoretical E7.

Thankfully, the range of a single dizi is usually around 2 octaves and a fifth, which can usually fit within a suitably chosen staff.

Nevertheless, this series of articles will provide some concert pitch on staff to dizi fingering pattern mapping for some of the more common dizi keys, grouped into the five main groups of xiaodi, bangdi, qudi, dadi and beidadi. These group names are chosen from a commonly understood nomenclature, and is not an exact science.

The split is as follows:

  1. 小笛 or xiaodi: A, B♭, C, & D
  2. 梆笛 or bangdi: E, F, G, & A
  3. 曲笛 or qudi: B♭, C, D, & E
  4. 大笛 or dadi: E, F, G, A, & B♭
  5. 倍大笛 or beidadi: C, D, E♭, & E

The subordinate articles will provide a simple mapping between the concert pitch from the staff notation to a very simplified set of fingering patterns for the relevant dizi that is within range. Please consult the relevant fingering charts for more detailed fingering pattern possibilities if need be.

The composer's decision on the type of dizi to be used may be specified in one of the following ways:

  1. x 笛子 (x dizi)
  2. 筒音作 y (tongyin zuo y)

where x is the base key of the dizi and y is some pitch annotated on an inset staff. The first form specifies the dizi explicitly, while the second one specifies the lowest pitch that the dizi must have (i.e.\ specifying it indirectly).

Examples for specifying D qudi for each method can be seen below:

  1. D 曲笛
  2. 筒音作 B4

Notice that in either case, no mention of the corresponding numeric cipher is ever made.

Music Notation for dizi

When the dizi was still mostly an accompaniment instrument for opera, its scores were annotated with the gongche notation (工尺), a traditional Chinese-character based cipher notation.

The dizi scores eventually made their way towards using a numbered musical notation called jianpu (简谱), which is a system that we have been using consistently throughout the article series, particularly when referring to chromaticity and the dizi and its subordinate articles. jianpu makes sense for dizi repertoire for the following reasons:

  1. There is a direct relationship with gongche notation, making transitions of pioneers to a more compact/expressive form easier.
  2. It specifies pitch relationships from an unspecified tonic, which is suitable for its role in opera/song accompaniment since the music can be easily transposed to fit the range of the singer.
  3. Its ``movable'' tonic nature fits the large variety of dizi keys available.
  4. Many of the classic dizi solo repertoire was composed and notated in jianpu, and their notation for ornamentation has established a de facto standard.

The professionalisation and virtuosity of the dizi has slowly inducted legions of composers to write new pieces for the dizi. For better or worse, these composers are often trained using the Western conservatory model (because it works), and are therefore more comfortable working with staff notation. This leads to the interesting problem today where we see more staff notation used for dizi pieces.

One of the main differences between staff notation with jianpu is the use of the concert pitch instead of relative pitch. This is significant because it alters a fundamental perception of pitch as seen by the dizi player. Instead of easily ``seeing'' the pitches relative to a tonic (and thus allowing ease of transposition to a different key like in the traditional way), the dizi player must now focus on the immovable concert pitch and adjust his/her dizi and fingering to match that. While this allows greater melodic and scale complexity, it slowly strangles the original nature of the dizi.

To what extent that staff notation is an overall positive influence to dizi playing is a question that can only be answered in another twenty years' time.