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MONOCORD
Dan Bau (monocord)

 If one sound had to be chosen to evoke Vietnam, for many it would be the sound of the Dan Bau, as it is one of only two traditional musical instruments of purely Vietnamese origin.

 Having the literary name of monocord, Dan Bau is a plucked chordophone of the Viet majority. Two popular kinds of Dan Bau are bamboo-made Dan Bau and the wooden-sound board Dan Bau.

 The bamboo-made Dan Bau is the instrument of Xam singers (blind singers). The body of bamboo Dan Bau is made from a bamboo tube of 120 cm length and 12 cm diameter. The surface is formed thanks to the splitting of an appropriate outer layer on a certain section of bamboo tube.

 Wooden soundboard Dan Bau is a variant of bamboo Dan Bau and used by professional artists. There are a wide range of wooden Dan Bau in varying shapes and sizes. The most popular Dan Bau has a trapezium shape and is 105-115cm long. The big end is 12cm wide and 10cm high while the small end is 8cm wide and 7cm high. The convex surface is made of softwood like wootung-tree wood (Ngo Dong wood) or coral-tree wood (Vong wood). The soft-wooden bottom of the soundboard is flat and has a sound hole. Sides and frame of the Dan Bau are made of hard wood like rosewood or ebony.

 Though the two kinds of Dan Bau differ from each other by shapes and materials of their soundboards, they are similar in construction.

 Dan Bau in general consists of 4 components including soundboard (resonator), spout (Wammy bar), gourd, string and tuning peg.

 The spout is a piece of bamboo or a buffalo horn that is square-framed at the root, while flat and gradually bent at the top. The spout plays an important role in producing sounds of different pitches beyond the fundamental overtones (Harmonics) of the instrument.

 The string runs along the body of instrument. In the past silk string was used, now a steel string is prefered.

 The gourd is made up from a half of a slender-necked gourd. The gourd covers the spout at the very point where the string is attached. The gourd contributes to increase the loudness of sound for the instrument. Nowadays, the gourd is usually replaced with a turned wooden ďbellĒ and therefore is only an adornment.

 The tuning peg is made from bamboo (if bamboo Dan Bau), or from wood (if wooden Dan Bau). The tuning peg is located at the inside frame towards the bottom of the soundboard. The string goes through a small hole at the end of the instrument's surface and then gets through the tuning peg. In front of such a hole is a bridge to support the string.

 Most Dan Bauís now come with a geared tuning machine.

 Today, the Dan Bau is mostly played with an electric pick up and small amplifier, so that itís faint tone is audible in the orchestral context.

 The Dan Bau is always played with a wooden pick held in the right hand to pluck the string while the lower side of the hand stops the string at the appropriate node (Harmonic). The left hand moves the the spout (wammy bar) to bend the pitch downward by moving in the direction of the instrument, or upward by pushing the the spout away from the instrument. The left hand also produces a variety of vibratos, glissandos and grace notes. The instrument's virtuosity and expressiveness are found in its left hand technique, which should have a subtlety that mimics the sound of the Vietnamese singing voice or traditional poetry read with great expression.

 With soft sounds, Dan Bau is suitably used in serene context. In the past, Dan Bau was the instrument of amature singers of Xam genre. Later though, Dan Bau also became popular in the orchestra of Cheo genre, Tai tu style's orchestra, and in the orchestra serving poetry reading, in smaller ensemble or solo performance. There have been many musical pieces exclusively composed for Dan Bau solo, such as Vu Khuc Tay Nguyen (Dance of the Central Highland) by Duc Nhuan, Dong kenh trong (The clear channel) by Hoang Dam, Vi Mien Nam (for the South) by Huy Thuc, and so on.

 There is a story about the Dan Bau. Long ago, farmers went to their fields with baskets strapped to their backs. After work, they would lie down and tie their baskets to stalks of bamboo. The wind would blow and the strings of the baskets would vibrate and make a sound. So people made stringed instruments with silk threads. First they used hollow bamboo and then later they used long dried gourds. At the start of the 20th century, gourds were replaced with wooden boxes. 

 Among many kinds of monocord of countries all over the world, there are the Tuntina of India, Cung of East Africa and the Tushuenkin (Xian Qin)of China . However, none of them can produce such a popular and highly artistic system of overtones as that of the Vietnamese Dan Bau.

 

Price: Professional Student grade:$200.00 and up, plus shipment fee

Professional Artist grade: $350.00 and up, plus shipment fee

Master grade: $500.00 and up, plus shipment fee

CD: $15.00 each plus shipment fee

Discountís available for larger orders.

 


 

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