Xiao (simplified Chinese: 箫) is a vertical end-blown flute in China. Generally speaking, it is made of a kind of dark brown bamboo and is sometimes referred to as dongxiao with "dong" literally meaning "hole". This instrument dates back to ancient China and it is believed that the xiao developed from another more simple end-blown flute that was widely used among Qiang People during a period in history.
The xiao in Ancient China
In Chinese history, the xiao was used in the Palace's musical performances for a long time. There are eight classifications of instruments in ancient China according to the materials they are made of. The xiao belongs to the "Bamboo" family. Interestingly enough, in many Chinese novels, the hero or protagonist uses the xiao but not for musical purposes, rather for combat. The sound of it is quiet, long and intangible and is often used in performance to express one's emotion when he is missing their lovers or hometown. Parts of the Xiao are made of jade often leading it to be dubbed an "elegant weapon".
The length of the xiao varies from around 45 cm to over 1.25m. Generally speaking, the shorter xiaos are harder to play as it requires players to control one's breath more accurately. Nowadays Xiao are usually pitched in the key of G (with the D above middle C being the lowest note). Traditionally, there are six finger holes on a xiao, but the most modern productions have eight holes; the additional holes cannot increase the instrument's range but make it easier to play notes such as F. The xiao also has a further four sound holes situated at the bottom third length. The blowing hole is at the top end. It is usually cut into a 'U' shape or "V" shape. The most comfortable angle to play the xiao is around 45 degrees from the body.
Types of Xiao
Dongxiao: It is the most common kind of Xiao among people with a diameter of 2.2 centimetres. There are usually 5 holes at the front and 1 at the back. It is usually used in solo performance.
Qinxiao: Qinxiao is smaller and there are 7 holes at the front and on at the back. The volume of it is also smaller than Dongxiao. It is often used in instrumental ensemble with the guqin, another famous ancient Chinese instrument.