Vietnamese music combines local characteristics and foreign influences that have been exerted on the country over the centuries. But there is a musical instrument in this country that its inhabitants consider only their own, not borrowed from other peoples – this is a dan bau.
A long wooden body, at one end of which there is a resonator box, a flexible bamboo rod and only one string – this is the design of the dan bau stringed plucked musical instrument. Despite its apparent simplicity, its sound is mesmerizing. During the period of the appearance of the instrument and the popularization of the Dan Bau in the country, the body consisted of bamboo sections, an empty coconut or a hollowed gourd served as a resonator. The string was made from animal veins or silk thread.
Today, the “body” of the Vietnamese single-string zither is entirely made of wood, but for proper sounding, the soundboard is made of softwood, and the sides are made of hardwood. The silk string was replaced by a metal guitar string. The instrument is about a meter long. Traditionally, craftsmen decorate the case with ornaments, images of flowers, pictures with the heroes of the folk epic.
How to play Dan Bau
The instrument belongs to the group of monochords. Its sound is quiet. To extract sound, the performer touches the string with the little finger of the right hand, and changes the angle of the flexible rod with the left, lowering or raising the tone. For the Play, a long mediator is used, the musician clamps it between the thumb and forefinger.
Traditionally, the string is tuned in C, but today there are instruments that sound in a different key. The range of modern Dan Bau is three octaves, which allows performers to play a wide variety of music on it, including not only Asian, but also Western.
Vietnamese zither is an expression of the state of mind. In the old days, it was used to accompany the reading of poetry, sad songs about love suffering and experiences. It was played mainly by street blind musicians, earning a living. Today, an electronic pickup is added to the design of the monochord, which made the sound of the dan bau louder, allowing it to be used not only solo, but also in an ensemble and in opera.