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Title: Suona  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Guan (instrument), Shawm, Sopila, Gyaling, Taepyeongso
Collection: Chinese Musical Instruments, Single Oboes with Conical Bore
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Classification Double reed
Related instruments

The suona (Shanxi province. It is also common in the ritual music of Southeast China. In Taiwan, it forms an essential element of ritual music that accompanies Daoist performances of both auspicious and inauspicious rites, i.e., those for both the living and the dead.


  • Construction 1
  • History 2
  • Use outside China 3
  • Notable performers 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7
    • Audio 7.1


The suona as used in China has a conical wooden body, similar to that of the gyaling horn used by the Tibetan ethnic group, both of which uses a metal, usually a tubular brass or copper bocal to which a small double reed is affixed, and possesses a detachable metal bell at its end. The double-reed gives the instrument a sound similar to that of the modern oboe.[1]

The instrument is made in several sizes. Since the mid-20th century, "modernized" versions of the suona have been developed in China; incorporating mechanical keys similar to those of the European oboe, to allow for the playing of chromatic notes and equal tempered tuning (both of which are difficult to execute on the traditional suona). There is now a family of such instruments, including the zhongyin suona (Alto suona), cizhongyin suona (Tenor suona), and diyin suona (Bass suona). These instruments are used in the woodwind sections of modern large Chinese traditional instrument orchestras in China, Taiwan, and Singapore, though most folk ensembles prefer to use the traditional version of the instrument. It has been used in modern music arrangements as well, including in the works of Chinese rock musician Cui Jian, featuring a modernized suona-play in his song "Nothing To My Name" (一无所有) (played by the saxophonist Liu Yuan).

The nazi (呐子), a related instrument that is most commonly used in northern China, consists of a suona reed (with bocal) that is played melodically, the pitches changed by the mouth and Sometimes the nazi is played into a large metal horn for additional volume.

Ranges of the orchestral "suona":

  • Haidi in G and F (piccolo)
  • Xiaosuona in D and C (sopranino)
  • Dasuona in A and G (soprano)
  • Zhongyinsuona in D (alto)
  • Cizhongyinsuona in G (tenor)
  • Diyinsuona in various keys (bass)

The tenor and bass varieties are normally keyed; the alto and soprano varieties are sometimes keyed. The highest varieties are not normally keyed.


Although the origins of the suona is unclear, with some text attributing the use of the suona dating as far back as the Jin dynasty (265-420), there is a consensus that the suona came from origins outside of the domains of ancient Chinese kingdoms, possibly having been developed from Central Asian instruments such as the sorna, surnay, or zurna, from which its Chinese name may have been derived from.[2] Other sources state the origins of the suona to be Arabia,[3] or India.[4] The European Shawm is also derived from this ancient instrument.[5] A musician playing an instrument very similar to a suona is shown on a drawing on a Silk Road religious monument in western Xinjiang province dated to the 3rd to 5th centuries, and depictions dating to this period found in Shandong and other regions of northern China depict it being played in military processions, sometimes on horseback. It was not mentioned in Chinese literature until the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), but by this time the suona was already established in northern China.

Use outside China

In Korea, a similar instrument is called taepyeongso, and in Vietnam similar oboes are called kèn.

In Japan, a similar instrument is called charumera. This instrument's name is derived from charamela, the Portuguese word for shawm. Its sound is well known throughout Japan, as it is often used by street vendors selling ramen.[2]

A similar instrument, the zurna, is played during ceremonial occasions and folk music in the Balkans, India, Iran and Turkey.

The suona is also used as a traditional instrument in Cuba, having been introduced by Chinese immigrants during the colonial era. It is known there as trompeta china and is used in some forms of son and carnival music.

The American jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman often played the suona in his performances, calling it a "musette."

Bassist and saxophonist, the late Mick Karn used the instrument crediting it as a dida.

Notable performers

Liu Ying (刘英)

  • Liu Yuan (刘元), saxophonist with Cui Jian's band, who trained on the suona at the Beijing Art School, and who used the instrument on Cui's 1994 album Balls Under the Red Flag (Hongqi xia de dan)
  • Song Baocai (宋保才)
  • Zhongzi Wu
  • Zhou Dongchao
  • Jin shiye

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  • Wang, Min (2001). The Musical and Cultural Meanings of Shandong Guchuiyue from the People's Republic of China. Ph.D. dissertation. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University.
  • New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London, 2001).
  • Jones, Stephen (2007). Ritual and Music of North China: Shawm Bands in Shanxi Province. SOAS Musicology Series. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing.

External links

  • Suona website (Chinese)
  • Suona and Bagpipe Duet - Unique Public Performance, Zhongzi Wu & Dave All, Vancouver, B.C., Oct.21, 2010.


  • Click the image of the headphones to play a track.
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