Catégorie : TIẾNG ANH




The Western world discovered overtones during the 60’s in Tebetan chanting of the Gyuto monks. K.Stockhausen, the first German composer, used overtones in his composition “Stimmung” in 1968. Mongolian throat voice with 6 different styles in the 70’s and Tuvan throat voice with 5 main styles in the 80’s amazed Western singers, composers, and researchers in many fields (acoustics, ethnomusicology, phoniatrics,  contemporary music).


Khomei Styles

huun huur tu.jpg



KHOMEI comprises three major Thorat singing styles called Khomei, Kargyraa and Sygyt, two main sub styles called Borgangnadyr and Ezengileer and other sub styles

Khomei means “throat” or “pharynx” is a general term for throat singing and also a particular style of singing. Khomei is the easiest technique to learn and the most practised in the West. It produces clear and mild harmonics with a fundamental usually within the medium range of the singer’s voice. Technically the stomach remains relaxed and there is a low level tension on larynx and ventricular bands. The tongue remains seated flatly between the lower teeth as in the single cavity technique or raises and moves as in the two cavities technique . The selection of the wanted harmonics is the result of a combination of different lips, tongue and throat movements .


SYGYT means “whistle” and sounds like a flute . This style creates strong harmonics .Sygyt is sung with the tip of the tongue under the middle of the roof of the palate . Either the the tongue moves under the roof and  is fixed while the lips move to change harmonic pitches .To produce a flute like overtones, one must learn how to filter out the fundamental and lower harmonic components. A very strong pressure from the abdomen acting as a bellows to push the air through the throat . Significant tension is required in the throat as well, to bring the arytenoids near the root of the epiglottis. The fundamental and the lower harmonics are consequently attenuated to be softly audible .


huun huur tu

KARGYRAA (means “hoars voice”) style emits a very low fundamental; Overtones are amplified by varying the shape of the mouth cavity and is linked to vowel productions. The supraglottal structures begin to vibrate with the vocal folds, but at a half rate . The arytenoids also can vibrate touching the root of the epiglottis , hiding the vocal folds and formoing a second “glottic” source . The perceived pitch is one octave lower than normal, but also one octave and a 5th lower . In my voice’s case, the fibroendoscopy reveals the vibration and the strong constriction of the arytenoids that hide completely the vocal folds

Tibetan Buddhist prayer of Yang style (Gyuto and Gyume schools of Gelugpa monastery) is produced with the vocal folds relaxed completely, and without any supraglottal vibration .The men’s voices are pitched so low that one wonders if this can really be human beings singing. In terms of the Western scale, the pitches sung by the performers fall within the range of an octave with the lowest note situated at A two octaves and a third below middle C. In the Western bel canto tradition, the lowest pitch in the bass tessitura is generally considered to be the E an octave and a sixth below middle C. However, the lowest pitch sung out so resplendently by these Tibetan monks is a full fifth below this. The technique of singing at such subterranean pitches is not one acquired overnight. The monks undergo rigorous vocal training which involves going down to the banks of surging river and producing extremely loud sounds which can be heard above the roar of the water..The use of vowell O is very important. It enables the monks to produce the harmonic 10 The research of harmonic10 (major third of 3 octaves higher than the fundamental) is intentional. Only the vowell O can get the harmonic.Only the monks of the Gyuto and Gyume monasteries could practise the overtones in their prayers.

Borbangnadyr  and Ezengileer are a combination of  effects applied to one of the three styles mentioned above .


Resent Researches in the West




In the recent years, some researches have been carried out on the analyses of Khomei and more on Overtone Singing. The focus on these researches has been on the effort to discover exactly how overtone melodies are produced. Hypotheses as to the mechanics of Overtone singing range from ideas as to the necessary physical stance and posture used by the singer during a performance, to the actual physical formation of the mouth cavity in producing the overtones .

Acoustically, a vowel is distinctive because of ist formant structure. In Overtone Singing, the diphonic formant is reduced to one or a few harmonics, often with surrounding harmonics attenuated as much as possible (filtered vocal style).

In the Western world, the Overtone singing style has suddenly become very popular starting with new ideas in contemporary compositions and later on with meditation, relaxation, music therapy, voice healing. Karlheinz Stockhausen was the first in the West using simple overtones in his composition “Stimmung” (1968), followed by the EVTE (Extended Vocal Techniques Ensemble) group at the San Diego University in 1972, Laneri and his Prima Materia group in 1973, Tran Quang Hai with his electro-acoustical composition (1975) “Vê Nguôn” (Retrun to the Sources, in collaboration with Nguyen Van Tuong), Michael Vetter in 1976, Demetrio Stratos in 1977, Meredith Monk in 1980, David Hykes and his Harmonic Choir in 1983 with the famous LP “A l’ecoute du vent solaire” (Hearing the Solar Wind) in 1983, Joan La Barbara in 1985, Christian Bollman in 1985, Noah Pikes in 1985, Michael Reimann in 1986, Tamia in 1987, Bodjo Pinek in 1987, Josephine Truman in 1987, Quatuor Nomad in 1989, Iegor Reznikoff in 1989, Velentin Clastrier in 1990, Rollin Rachelle in 1990, Thomas Clements in 1990, Sarah Hopkins in 1990, Bernard Dubreuil in 1990, Steve Sklar in 1995, Mark Van Tongeren in 1995, Leo Tadagawa in 1995, Todoriki Masahiko in 1996, Les Voix Diphoniques in 1997 .The most renowned overtone singer of this type of singing is David Hykes . He experimented with numerous innovations including changing the fundamental (moveable drone) and keepint fixed the diphonic formant , introducing text, glissando effects, in many musical works with his Harmonic Choir .

david hykes.jpg


Western overtone singers often use soft overtones with combination of polyphonic system, and additional musical instruments (tempura, didjeridu, Jew’s harp, Tibetan bowls) with different purposes (relaxation, meditation, healing, contemporary  musical creations) while traditional Siberian singers exploit the filtered overtone voice with strong pressure at abdomen and throat in order to pruduce strong ,crystallized and flute like  harmonics

Personal Experimental Research


My experimental research on overtone/undertone  productions has lead me to create new possibilities

  1. To use one harmonic as a drone and to create a melody with fundamentals
  2. To create a parallel between fundamentals and overtones
  3. To create the opposite direction between overtones and fundamentals
  4. To write words with overtones (such words like MINIMUM,  WIN )
  5. To create UNDERTONES (F-2, F-3, F-4 while singing a melody
  6. To combine OVERTONES and UNDERTONES while singing a melody



The phenomenon « overtones  » has been studied by researchers, acousticians, used by music therapists, composers for contemporary music, at meditation lessons. More and more recordings have been made during the last 10 years all over the world . All musical sounds contain overtones that resonate in fixed relationships above a fundamental frequency. These overtones create tone color, and enable us to understand the sounds of this peculiar vocal style which is KHOMEI or throat sining or overtone singing . This short presentation cannot be considered as an accomplished study, but as a beginning of the new approach of how to develop overtone/undertone research in general. This is what I intend to show you here about my new attempts in research on experimental aspect of throat singing .




Bloothooft G. Bringmann E., van Capellen M.,  van Luipen J.B., Thoamssen K.P.  1992: “Acoustic and Perception of Overtone Singing”, in Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, JASA, vol.92, n°4: 1827-1836.

Grawunder, S. 2003 : “Der südsibirische Kehlgesang als Gegenstand  phonetishcer Untersuchungen“ , in Gegenstandsauffassung und aktuelle phonetische Forschungen der halleschen Sprechwissenschaft :53-91, Eva-Maria Krech/Eberhard Stock (Ed), Peter Lang, Halle, Germany .

Leipp, E. 1971 : “Le probleme acoustique du chant diphonique”, Bulletin du Groupe d’Acoustique Musicale , no 58 : 1-10, Universite de Paris VI

Leothaud, G. 1989 : « Considerations acoustiques et musicales sur le chant diphonique », Le Chant diphonique, dossier n°1 : 17-43, Institut de la Voix, Limoges, France

Sundberg, Johan 1987 : The Science of the Singing Voice , Northern Illinois University Press, USA

Tisato G., Cosi, P. 2003: “On the Magic of Overtone Singing”, in Voce, Canto Parlato : 83-100, Unipress (publisher), Padova, Italy

Tongeren , van M. 2002 : Overtone Singing / Physics and Metaphysics of Harmonics in East and West , 271 pages, Fusica publisher, 1 CD , Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Tran Quang Hai , Guillou D. 1980 : « Original Research and Acoustical Analysis in connection with the Xöömij style of Biphonic Singing “, in Musical Voices of Asia : 163-173, The Japan Foundation (ed), Heibonsha Ltd, Tokyo, Japan

Tran Quang Hai , Zemp H., 1991: “Recherches experimentales sur le chant diphonique”, Cahiers de musiques traditionnelles, 4 (Voix) : 27-68, Ateliers d’Ethnomusicologie, Geneva , Switzerland .

Tran Quang Hai 2002 : « A la decouverte du chant diphonique », in Moyens d’investigation et Pedagogie de la voix chantee : 117-132, Guy Cornut (ed), Symetrie publishers, Lyon, France



1990 Le chant des harmoniques , film 16mm and video cassette , 38 minutes, directed by H.Zemp, co-authors (Tran Quang Hai and Hugo Zemp), CNRS Audio Visuel (prod), France

2003 Le chant diphonique, DVD , 27 minutes, directed by C.Beguinet, co-authors (Tran Quang Hai and Luc Souvet), Centre Regional de Documentation Pedagogique (CRDP), Saint Denis, Isle of the Reunion, contact: Luc Souvet email :

TRAN QUANG HAI performs and gives 2 workshops (vietnamese Jew’s harp and overtone singing) at Ancient Trance Festival in TAUCHA, GERMANY from August 12-14, 2016

TRAN QUANG HAI performs and gives 2 workshops (vietnamese Jew’s harp and overtone singing) at Ancient Trance Festival in TAUCHA, GERMANY from August 12-14, 2016
Tran Quang Hai
Jaw Harp Virtuoso

Saturday 17.30 Castle
Tran Quang Hai is a Maultrommel virtuoso and a legend, ethnomusicologist and expert in Vietnamese music and Siberian overtone. He has created a large catalog of recordings, CD’s, DVD’s and TV productions in more than 40 years, and published hundreds of articles in scientific journals, books and encyclopedias. That an individual Jew’s harp player can manage to bring hundreds of people to sheer enthusiasm is you
Tran Quang Hai Saturday Afternoon on our castle stage!

Tran Quang Hai ist Maultrommelvirtuose und -legende, Ethnomusikwissenschaftler und Experte in Vietnamesischer Musik und Sibirischem Obertonsingen. Er hat in über 40 Jahren einen großen Katalog an Aufnahmen, CD’s, DVD’s und TV-Produktionen geschaffen, sowie hunderte Artikel in Fachzeitschriften, Büchern und Enzyklopädien veröffentlicht. Dass ein Einzelner Maultrommelspieler es schaffen kann, hunderte Menschen zur schieren Begeisterung zu bringen wird Euch Tran Quang Hai Samstag Nachmittag auf unserer Schlossbühne beweisen!




Đàn bầu hay đàn độc huyền thuộc nhạc cụ Việt Nam có từ lâu đời . Những nhà nghiên cứu tiền bối như cụ NGUYỄN XUÂN KHOÁT (bài về đàn bầu đăng ở tập san International Folk Music Council, năm 1949), cố GS Trần Văn Khê (đã miêu tả đàn bầu trong quyển luận án bảo vệ tại Paris năm 1958, và trong quyển VIETNAM /traditions musicales ,do nhà sách Buchet Chastel xuất bản tại Paris năm 1967 Gần đây nhứt nữ nhạc sĩ Quỳnh Hạnh (trong nhóm Hoa Sim được thành lập ở Saigon từ thập niên 60) bảo vệ luận án tiến sĩ về Đàn Bầu thành công tại trường đại học Sorbonne Paris 4 cách đây 10 năm. Tôi có viết bài miêu tả đàn bầu trong quyển MUSIC OF THE WORLD , do nhà xuất bản J.M.FUZEAU phát hành , Courlay, Pháp, vào năm 1994. Những nghệ nhân tài hoa như Mạnh Thắng , Đức Nhuận vào thập niên 50 của thế kỷ 20 đã đoạt huy chương vàng với đàn bấu và thu dĩa ở Nga cách đây 60 năm .Việc Trung Quốc muốn « chiếm đoạt » nhạc cụ đàn bầu là của họ là việc họ thường làm với những truyền thống khác như « hát đồng song thanh Mông cổ khoomi » mà họ đã trình UNESCO cho là di sản văn hóa phi vật thể vào năm 2009, làm cho xứ Mông cổ phản đối kịch liệt vì theo truyền thống Mông cổ , kỹ thuật này chỉ phát nguồn từ vùng Tây Bắc của xứ Mông cổ (Folk Republic of Mongolia) chứ không thể có ở Nội Mông như Trung Quốc tuyên bố. Năm 2010 xứ Mông cổ trình hồ sơ hát đồng song thanh khoomii cho UNESCO và được nhìn nhận là của xứ Mông cổ. Một chuyện khác là bản ARIRANG của Hàn Quốc đã bị Trung quốc dự định trình UNESCO để được tuyên dương là di sản văn hóa phi vật thể của Trung quốc vì họ có người Triều Tiên là sắc tộc sống ở Trung quốc . Nhưng ban nghiên cứu xứ Hàn Quốc đã phản ứng kịp thời và tổ chức hội thảo tại Seoul và tôi được mời tham dự hồ sơ này vào năm 2012. Và bản ARIRANG được UNESCO nhìn nhận là của Hàn Quốc vào năm 2014. Đối với việc muốn lấy đàn bầu là nhạc cụ của Trung quốc với lý do là Trung Quốc có một bộ lạc người Kinh sống ở xứ họ . Nhưng việc chuẩn bị để tước lấy đàn bầu đã được nghĩ đến từ lâu. Họ mới gởi nhạc công sang VN học đàn bầu, mời một số nhà nghiên cứu sưu tầm tài liệu để viết về đàn bầu và đưa lên wikipedia để tuyên bố là đàn bầu là nhạc cụ Trung quốc chứ không phải vietnam .
Nếu các ban nghiên cứu của Việt Nam không phản ứng (viện âm nhạc, và những nhà nghiên cứu việt nam không có phản ứng thì không sớm thì muộn nhạc cụ đàn bầu sẽ thuộc quyền « sở hữu » của Trung Quốc đứng về mặt pháp lý .
GS Trần Quang Hải

(from the book MUSIC OF THE WORLD, published by J.M.FUZEAU, Courlay, France, p.298-299, 1994

The DAN DOC HUYEN – monochord
The dàn dôc huyên (dan = instrument, dôc = single, huyên = string) is a zither with only one string, in other words a monochord. It is a box without a base consisting of three planks of wood fro 0m80 to 1m long and 9 to 12cm wide. The sound table is made of ngô đông wood. A flexible bamboo stave with a gourd or empty coconut to act as resonator is fixed to one end of the sound table. A steel string (often a guitar string) with one end attached to the flexible stave is stretched down the whole length of the sound table. The other end is twisted around a peg fixed to the body of the instrument.
To play the instrument, the musician holds a bamboo stick 15cm long in his right hand, beld between his thumb ad fingers like a pencil .
The instrument, held steady by the player’s right foot, is set on the ground in front of hi as he sits cross legged. He strikes the single string with the bamboo stick at very precise points, the sournces of the vibrations (the places are indicated by the division of the string into 2,3,4,5 and 6 equal parts), while the root of the little finger of the hand touches the string and then immediately frees it again. This produces harmonic sounds. The flexibility of the stave fitted with the resonator allows the musician to vary the pith of his playing by pulling the stave to right or left.
The Vietnamese monochord depends for its effect on the exclusive use of harmonic sounds and the varied tension of the single metal string. Its range ay be up to two octaves.
A favourite instrument of the blind musicians who earned their living telling stories of past history in the market place. The monochord was introduced to the court of the NGUYENS (1802-1945), and admitted to the instrumental ensemble of Huế music around the beginning of the 20th century.
The đàn độc huyền monochord can be played solo, as a duet or in an instrumental ensemble performing either traditional music or contemporary music of the European style .
A Vietnamese fold legend tells the origin of its creation. TRƯƠNG VIÊN set off for war. Having no news of him, his wife and mother left their native village to search for him . On the road, after the wife hat et with numerous isfortunes (her eyes were put out by a deon, and she had to be her bread) , a goddess, moved by the woman’s courage and self sacrifice, gave her a musical instrument with a signle string whose sounds reminded hearers of the human voice. With this instrument she was able to earn enough money to live on until the day when she was reunited with her husband.


Họa sĩ MAI THỨ , 1968

thanh tâm.jpg


xuân hoạch

dan bau


phạm đức thành


hải phương




Trân Quang Hải (National Centre for Scientific Research – CNRS, France)

Since the day when “Then” Singing of Tày was honored (or recognized) as a national intangible cultural heritage, the National Conservatory of Music of Vietnam has started a coordinating effort with all the provinces having rich heritages such as Tuyên Quang, Bắc Kạn, Bắc Giang, Cao Bằng, Điện Biên,Hà Giang, Lai Châu, Lạng Sơn, Lào Cai, Quảng Ninh, Thái Nguyên, Yên Bái, Sơn La, Đắc Nông, Lâm Đồng and Đồng Nai to implement a strategy aiming at building a file on Intangible Cultural Heritage called “Then Tày, Nùng, Thái”.
I will not be talking about the ceremonial aspect of “Then” Singing of Tày Nùng Thái festivals, because there have been several detailed articles in the Journal of Research on Music (Scientific Notice # 42 on May 8, 2014) published by the Hanoi Conservatory of Music.
In her article about “Then in the Life of the Tày People”, Ms. Triệu indicated that from birth to death, the Tày people always need Then. In his article titled “Essential on Then”, Mr. Dương văn Sách has explained the difference between Then Tày and Then Nùng, the method of teaching orally, as well as music playing and music accompaniment. Professor and musician Đặng Hoành Loan described “playing Then on stage, using music to tell stories on beliefs” during his youth when Then was on the list of “superstitions” with all those violent scenes of “tongue piercing and jowl tearing” of the Then people. But since the renewal period at the beginning of the 20th century, Then singing was allowed to be studied and rehabilitated, although it tended to acquire the new way of singing with jazz music with organ playing as accompaniment (the so-called “integration of old age and new age”).
Mr. Sách has listed a number of calligraphies which perform the “then-nization” of folkloric melodies that harmonize with Then music, as follows:
1.    Singing with đệm tính but without chuỗi xóc
2.    Singing with đệm tính and chuỗi xóc
3.     ……
4.    …..
5.    ……
6.    …..
He also mentioned the phenomenon of “đàn tính” becoming the solo playing on stage with professional singers, dancers and musicians. Then dancing, although humble, is a must. Those who attended the show could also participate in the dance.
Ms. Nông Thị Nhung placed more emphasis on “the role of speciality and the diversity of Then music of Tày and Nùng”. She indicated that the lyrics tend to cover stories, legends, with soft and warm melodies, and the stage would have a mat, đàn tính and chuổi xóc. She also added other melodies such as “điệu tàng năm”, “điệu tàng bốc”, “điệu khao sluông”, “điệu tính chầu”, the difference in melody and rythm of Then music among the regions of West Lạng Sơn, East Lạng Sơn, Bắc Cạn, Tuyên Quang and Hà Giang. Then in Cao Bằng even has Lượn Then, Lượng Hai, Lượng Slương and Phong Slư. Then in Bắc Cạn has Lượn Cọi. However, there are similarities in the way various Then’s are performed, as indicated by Mr. Đặng Hoành Loan in the above. Accompaniment music has đàn tính, chuỗi xóc. At some locations, there are also bells, cymbals and drums.

hat then 1.jpg
Professor Nguyễn Thị Yên has mentioned “Then in today’s life” with the cooperation of many Kinh musicians who would compose modern songs based on old Then melodies. This has signaled the birth of several new waves of “New Then”, “Artistic Then”, which are favorites for the young generation. She also informed that Then Singing has been introduced into school curriculum to teach high school students, and at the same time several clubs have been established to rebuild the activities of Then Singing. In addition, she also described the Then Singing of the three Tày, Nùng and Thái ethnic groups. Only the Nùng people still keep the “vũ thuật” tradition (walking on hot charcoal to exorcize and to eliminate bad luck). With the exchange among Then’s as shown in Lạng Sơn, we have seen that people are performing Then Nùng mixed with Then Tày. Then Tày is better known for its popularity and its ability to expand widely among the population thanks to the collections, the studies, the melody composing and  arranging of many musicians.
Ms. Nguyễn Thu Đào has written an article on “preservation and promotion of Then Singing during the current period”, in which she mentioned that the National Statistic Bureau has issued a finding which shows that there are in the intangible cultural heritage 60 old Then songs being performed in various festivals.

hat then 2.jpg
From 1954 to the “renewal” phase covering a period of almost 40 years, “Then” singing was considered as a “supertitious” form of chanting which was forbidden to circulate and expanded. That fact has badly affected a great number of ritual performances because many aging artists had passed away one after another. Through many years of up and down, that cultural characteristic has somehow survived in the intellectual and cultural life of the Tày and the Nùng people until now. Particularly, many folkloric melodies have been preserved, and nicely improved and promoted such as Soong Hao, Sli, Lượn, Then, etc.
It was found that almost all artists have created similar Then themes such as praying for security, praying for good luck, “kỳ yên trấn trạch”, wishing for longevity, worshipping the “Lady Angel”, praying at tombs in graveyeard, healing the diseases, fortune telling. The time to perform Then could be during the day or during the night, depending on the “good day” or the “good hour”.
Accordingly, all the hamlets where the Tày and Nùng are living have been selected to form a folk art group. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has organized classes teaching Then singing, in an effort to ignite the movement of Then singing among the young generation.
Currently the movement of Then singing and đàn tính is being revived and expanded, especially in the new way of writing lyrics for Then songs such as in Tân Sơn (Lục Ngạn), Hữu Sản, Vĩnh Khương (Sơn Động), Hương Sơn (Lạng Giang), Vô Tranh (Lục Nam), Canh Nậu (Yên Thế)…
With the quality of this unique art, Then singing with đàn tính has more and more demonstrated its survivability, its strength and its inspiration, all of which are beautifully contributing to the cultural heritage of our country.
In the province of Bắc Giang, Then singing can be divided into four categories:
Wishing Then: When a wealthy family has a good news, they will invite a Then group to their home to entertain them. In this kind of Then singing, the Then singer could be a Then master or a group of people who know how to perform Then singing.
Fortune-Telling Then: This is the kind of Then performance which could tell the physiognomy and/or the fate of a person. The Then performer must bring along a bowl of rice, some gold pieces to display on the altar. The master would play an instrument while singing, each time he finishes singing a sentence, he would turn his head to talk about a certain subject, which could be about life, career, job, or love… Because this method of fortune-telling with music playing and singing displays some special features of the performer, it is totally different with the fortune-telling methods of other cultures.
Then for Praying for Security and Praying for Good Luck: based on the wish of the Head of the Family, this is the kind of small ceremonies performed to cover several wishes: wish for happiness, wish for longevity, wish for having many children, wish for finding lost children, wish for no troubles, etc. Then for praying for peace normally would take place at the beginning of the year, aiming at bringing peace and chasing away bad lucks for the family for that year. Then for chasing away bad lucks which covers such things as illnesses, irregular diseases, etc. could take place anytime during the year.
Then Assembly (lẩu Then): This is a big Then ceremony organized by several Then performers to bring gifts to their masters…
Then is a cultural display of the population at large with its special characteristics under the form of a aggregate performance which includes singing, music playing, dancing and displaying of colorful dresses.
According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Then Tày Tuyên Quang possesses two different forms, which are “Then Quạt” and “Then Tính”. In “Then Quạt”, the singer only uses a fan (quạt) and there is no music accompaniment. “Then Quạt” is used in such ceremonies as worshipping the lady, eliminating the drought, curing the diseases, … “Then Tính” was born and developed based “Then Quạt”, with music accompaniment using Đàn Tính and Chùm Sóc.
Currently, the art of “Then Singing” is being developed in two categories. The “original Then” is being preserved and taught by Then artists and composers. The second category is the “modern Then” which uses the original Then melodies but incorporates new lyrics.
Artists such as Hà Thuấn in the commune of Tân An (Chiêm Hóa) believes that in order to preserve and promote the Then melodies, we have to teach the young generation first how to sing Then. “Then” songs with new lyrics would ease the learning, the singing and the transmitting of feeling. When new Then singers start to like this art, they will try to learn more about it and will be willing to sing the “original Then”.
Currently, the number of people who know how tho sing “Then” and compose “Then” is quite small at the provincial level. According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, currently in the province of Tuyên Quang, there are 53 people considered to be “Then” artists, 100 Tào teachers, 6 Pụt teachers and more than 750 “Then” singers and Đàn Tính musicians.
In order to preserve and promote the values of “Then” singing, in the past few years, the Ministry has coordinated with various organizations to establish several local “Then singing” clubs. Currently in the province, there are more than 60 such clubs, considered as “common houses”, which provides opportunities to those who love to smoothly sing “Then” or to play “Đàn Tính”.
Mr. Tạ Văn Thư, President of the “Then” Singing Club of the Tân Thịnh (Chiêm Hóa) commune has said that the club carries weekly activities since its inauguration. Especially, each time there is a cultural show where the participants perform to support a political activity or an important local festival, the role of the Club is highlighted as a central cultural event for the commune. It is good to see more and more children coming to the club to learn how to sing “Then”, to play “Đàn Tính” and to learn the traditional culture of their ancestors.
Many schools in the province have established their own “Then Clubs” to gather and to attract new participants. Teacher Bùi Thị Thu Hồng of the local high school has indicated that only after one term involvement in the “Then Club”, many students have gained enough self confidence to perform several difficult “Then” songs. It is noted that before going to school, these students were only exposed to “Then” over the media but had never learned how to play or sing “Then”. After joining the Club where they learned how to sing and to perform “Then”, they started to fall in love with this art of their roots. After graduation, many of them have become “star artists” at many universities and learning centres, where they would continue to introduce the “Then” art to friends all over the country.
“Then” in the Tày language is pronounced as “stiêng” or “thiên”, meaning “tiên”, or God. The Tày-Nùng-Thái peoples consider their songs as songs of God. “Then” singing is a form of folkloric art whose origin is a culture of beliefs.
Artist Mỗ Thị Kịt, 93, of the Ngọc Trí village, Tô Hiệu commune, Bình Gia district (Lạng Sơn) would quietly walk all over the place in her village with her đàn tính to sing for people who celebrate their new homes, their birthdays, their prayers for peace, etc. Her đàn tính playing technique really impresses and attracts all walks of life, young and old, male and female.
When Ms. Lương Thị Nhung, 30, of the Phai Danh village, Hoàng văn Thụ (Bình Gia) commune was accepted as Lục Pựt, “student”, of Mrs. Mỗ Thị Kịt, she could not hide her happiness when saying: everyone around here really admires and feels proud of Artist Mỗ Thị Kịt (one of two people in the province awarded in 2007 the title “People Artist” on Then singing and đàn tính). Not only in her commune and her district, but all over the province, when people talk about Then singing and đàn tính, everyone would mention her name with all the respect, and would consider her as the greatest Then singer.
Especially at the annual Tết New Year celebration, Mrs. Mỗ Thị Kịt would organize Lẫu Then (Then Festival) at her home to celebrate the remembrance of the ancestors and to unite the people in the village. Lẫu Then provides an opportunity for people of all ages to meet each other and to enjoy the spiritual culture, and for the elderly to recall many souvenirs of the years gone by. Especially for the young generation, this is an opportunity for them to meet with each other to talk and to start their loving relationships. During each of such Then Festivals, everyone in the village would come to enjoy all day long the Then singing in many days in a row without feeling bored.
Ms. Mỗ Thị Kịt reveals that the reason people enjoy Then singing and đàn tính so much is that Then combines so many forms of arts including music, lyrics, makeups, and acting. The lyrics of Then which are selected words without elegance about every day life, would include valuable experiences and advices on how to deal with people, encouragements, etc., in words that are easy to understand and to remember. For that reason, when listening to đàn tính and Then singing, people could feel their own life being displayed in this art form.
Self-appointed student of Mrs. Mỗ Thị Kịt, Artist of Excellence Triệu Thủy Tiên (grown up with Then singing) also from the Tân Văn district of Bình Gia, has said that Mrs. Mỗ Thị Kịt is currently one of the most precious living persons of the province of Lạng Sơn, who still retains all the ancient melodies and lyrics of Then. She knows by heart thousands of Then lyrics, and she can sing them in 3 days and 3 nights, during the lẫu then (Then Festival) as well as the Khao Sluông Festival (figuratively translated as Festival to Become Mature).
A complete performance of Then singing would cover 24 chapters, requiring an extraordinary memory from the artist. In addition to performing Then in festivals and celebrations in her village, Mrs. Mỗ Thị Kịt also participates in various Then performances elsewhere in the province as well as in the northern mountainous regions where she has earned many excellent prizes.
Like many other intangible cultural heritages in Vietnam, Then singing is facing a dangerous gradual decline of the number of artists, as well as followers who actively try to preserve the ancient Then melodies. The Office of Intangible Cultural Heritage has indicated that there are 60 such ancient Then melodies. Just to ask ourselves, how many people know how to sing all those ancient Then melodies today? Currently in the province of Tuyên Quang, there are tens of cultural officials who belong to Tày ethnics and whose responsibilities are to preserve and promote Then singing locally. But the young generation of Tày ethnic can no longer speak their own language, and this represents a sizable challenge to the effort of preserving and promoting the Then singing.

Hát then đàn tính là loại hình âm nhạc dân gian phổ biến trong đời sống thường ngày của người dân Bắc Kạn

The young generation would prefer the “New Then” (Then show) performed on stage equipped with modern sound systems and colorful decorations, as we have seen in many parties and festivals in recent years. This phenomenon of “modern staging” is quite worrisome for the future of the ancient Then singing, simply because no one will earnestly learn the old melodies. People would simply prefer the “New Then”.
Ancient Then recites stories, rituals, spiritual life of people, emphasizing love and humanity, life experiences, etc. It is really an excellent and rich  form of art. But nowadays, ancient Then is facing extinction, for currently there exists very few female Then singers who know how to sing ancient Then. For this reason, provincial officials will have to develop plans to preserve this heritage for future generations.
Then singing of the Tày ethnic is more widespread than Then singing of the Nùng and Thái ethnics. This makes it difficult to compare the Then melodies of these three ethnics for lack of adequate documentations.
In order to select and honor those artists and singers who have made many contributions to the effort of preserving and promoting the art of Then singing, Dr. Hoàng văn Páo, Director of the Cultural, Sports and Tourism Office of Lạng Sơn has confirmed: currently the Cultural Branch is urgently completing the procedure recommending that artist Mỗ Thị Kịt be offered the title “Excellent Artist”. This is because over the past several years, she has made many contributions in her effort to collect and reconstruct lots of ancient Then songs when she participated in various festivals. Her dedication has helped ignite the awareness of preserving and developing this excellent form of art.
Mr. Nguyễn Vũ Phan, Director of the Cultural, Sports and Tourism (CST) Office of the Tuyên Quang province, has confidentially revealed that he himself and the CST Office of Tuyên Quang are greatly worried when witnessing the rapid decline of Then singing in his own native land. In order to reverse the trend, each year, his province organizes several seminars reserved for local children of Tày and Nùng ethnics with the participation of several invited artists who would come to teach. But this effort has attracted few students, particularly among the young generation.
In the province of Tuyên Quang, there were 4 artists specialized in ancient Then singing. Two of them have passed away. At the same time, Then singing has been rapidly modernized, with many new lyrics making the old lyrics quickly fade away. More worrysome, many people of Tày ethnic can no longer speak their own language. This reality represents a huge challenge to the effort of preserving and promoting the heritage value of Then singing.
In Lạng Sơn, Mr. Hoàng Thành Khởi, Head of the Culture and Sports Bureau has indicated that several attempts to preserve the art of Then singing have failed for lack of funding, but even with adequate funding it would be difficult to hire qualified teachers. In the commune of Bình Phú, one of the rare locality where a traditional Then singing group is still active, this group only performs 3 or 4 times a year.
In addition to Lạng Sơn and Tuyên Quang, the same situation also takes place at other provinces such as Cao Bằng, Bắc Kạn, Bắc Giang, Quảng Ninh, Đắk Lắk,… where Then singing was once maintained.
Faced with demands regarding the preservation and the promotion of Then singing, Mr. Nguyễn Vũ Phan has indicated that it is important to value the role of Then artists, the core of the Tày culture. Up until now, people only mentally value the contribution of these artists, with little monetary rewards adequately provided, in order for them to carry on the task of teaching Then singing to the young generation and helping in the formation of successors. Nobody can carry this task that only the Then artists themselves can do. At the same time, on an annual basis, all the localities would have to organize conferences to honor those artists who represent the cultural nucleus of folkloric art. These helps would encourage those artists who actively make contribution to the cultural activities of the community.
On the side of the artists themselves, Mrs. Võ Thị Thi (in the locale of Sầm, Bình Phú commune, Văn Quan district, Lạng Sơn province) has voiced her wishes: the government should adequately pay the artists so that they may comfortably teach and foster the future generations.
Musician Lương Nguyên, formerly General Director of Then and Đàn Tính Festivals, has emphasized: In order to preserve Then singing, it is necessary to let it grow within the community. The government would only assume the orientation responsibility but cannot take over the whole task.
The honoring idea is a good move. But it is essential to focus on the monetary assistance to the aging artists, who are considered as “treasures”, so that they may live comfortably in order to have plenty of time to teach the younger generations. In school, teaching Then melodies would require a careful selection of personnel well equipped with knowledge and good repertoires, who would also know how to play accompaniment on đàn tính, simply because Then singing without being accompanied by đàn tính is not Then singing.
It is good to create clubs, but local authorities should provide funding so that these clubs would have the means to develop their educational activities in teaching and developing Then singing in its original and traditional form. The ritual formula of Then singing also depends on the selection of Mister Then and Missus Then, things that young people seldom pay attention to, or never think about.
The main concern for Then singing is that it may not have successors, and in the future what is left on stage with Then singing would be new casts trying to play ancient Then without its sacred features.
A quick look at the research documents on Then singing would reveal that the majority of these papers focus on the description of the sequences in Then singing; or if its music is mentioned, then the melodies would be briefly described as “delicate, warm, lively, etc.”, or slow rythm, fast rythm, without mentioning the scales of music, nor the musical charateristics of đàn tính, how to attune đàn tính, (2 strings, or 3 strings), distances between the strings, rythms with 2 beats or 3 beats or any other beats; and whether dances are methodical or not. As a result it would be difficult to know how abundant the Then melodies are (although there are up to 60 old songs but the melody differences of those 60 songs are unknown).
A quick obervation on the musical scales of ancient  Then would show that these are based on defective pentatonic scale, consisting of the notes Ré, Mi, Sol, La and Si (D, E, G, A and B). New Then music composed by contemporary musicians would expand the ancient melodies from pentatonic scale to 9-note scale covering Ré, Mi, Sol, La, Si, Ré and Mi (D, E, G, A, B, D and E).
Simple rythm would have 2 beats. The sound of chuổi xóc would follow the steps of Mister or Missus Then.
The sound of Đàn Tính would emphasize the drone sound of the second SOL string (if the 2-string instrument is equipped with Ré and Sol strings) when accompanying Mister or Missus Then in their ritual performances.
Almost all new Then songs when performed in choir are homonymously sung with the accompaniment of đàn tính playing the same melodies and chuổi xóc providing the rythm.
All performers on stage are dressed in identical uniforms (black robes, “hopeas”, hair in bandanas). In addition to being good looking, all of them must have studied vocal music with precise sonority in musical schools. Their acting must be seriously rehearsed, in order to minimize the rustic and inelegant tradition.
How the Sli and Lượn melodies have been introduced into Then singing for those impulse singing-response performances is still not clearly described.
The National Conservatory of Vietnam, a specialized agency of the government, has been given the responsibility of establising a file on the scientific content of Then singing. This agency is coordinating with the provinces where there is Then heritage, to build a national file on “Then Tày, Nùng, Thái in Vietnam” in order to make a submission to UNESCO requesting that this special art be put on the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity.
Currently, the provinces of Tuyên Quang, Lai Châu, Lào Cai, Yên Bái, Quảng Ninh and Bắc Giang are working with the National Conservatory of Vietnam in the effort of gathering information, including photographs, phonographs and translated versions of various forms of local Then festivals. This effort would also collect written documents as well as produce new documents on Then heritage, then compile them into a file completed with references on various international conferences on Intangible Cultural Heritage. In addition, an electronic file as well as a sientific file on this subject must also be established.
According to a plan of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, a Thành Tuyên Festival in 2015 including a show on the art of Then singing and Đàn Tính of the Tày, Nùng and Thái ethnics, will be organized on a national scale for the 5th time at Tuyên Quang from September 24 to September 26.
This Festival provides an opportunity for the provinces that have Then heritage to introduce the art of Then singing and Đàn Tính to friends all over the world the excellent features that cannot be missed in the lives of our compatriots.
It is our wish that the file on THEN SINGING OF TÀY NÙNG THÁI IN VIETNAM will be fully equipped with all historical facts on heritage culture and art, in order to win UNESCO recognition as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

TRAN QUANG HAI : An Introduction to Vietnamese Music


Geographically, Vietnam occupies the eastern coast of the Indochines péninsule, extending from China South to the Gulf of Siam, and is a part of Southeast Asia . Culturally, artistically and , above all, musically, Vietnam is a part of the Sino-Japanese family grouping China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia and Vietnam . The music of the Far Eastern world shares many common caracteristiques : script (Chinese characters), musical terminology (the same theory for the determination of twelve basic tones and the names of musical instruments), musical instruments (most of them of Chinese origin), musical genres (court music, music for entrecroisement), village folk music, anhemitonic pentatonic scale for ritual music, theatre music and ceremonial music .

Ten centuries of chinese rule (from 111 B.C. to A.D. 939) have profuondly influenced the life, culture and music of the Vietnamese people . Musical instruments, such as the 16 stringed zither, the 4 stringed pear shaped lute, 3 stringed lute, 2 stringed fiddle, vertical and transverse flutes, the oboe, large and sall drums, cymbal, stone chime, bell chime, undoubtedly orignated from China . Names of musical instruments are written in Chinese characters but their pronunciation differs according to whether they are read by a Chinese or Vietnamese (16 stringed zither ZHENG in Chinese, TRANH in Vietnamese, pear chaped lute PIPA in Chinese, TY BA in Vietnamese, etc….)

During the Lê Dynasty (1428-1788) the first theory of Vietnamese music was copied from the Chinese (the theory of five degrees, of seven tones and twelve LYU or basic tones, and the eight categories of court music : music of the esplanade of heaven, temple music, music of the five sacrifices, musi for helping the sun and the moon in the event of the eclipse, music for formal audiences, music for ordinary audiences, banguet music and palace music . Musical notation (ho, xu, xang , xê, công , liu) was still written in Chinese until the eve of the World War 1 (1914-1918)

Owing to its geographical position, at the crossroads of different peoples and civilizations, Vietnam has also come into contact with the Champa Kingdom of Indian civilization . Indian influences can be found in the use of the improvized prelude RA in the South , or DAO (read ZAO) in the North, prededing the performance of a set musical coposition, in the use the TRONG COM, a long two membrane drum covered with a rice paste in the centre of the drum head, similar to the MRIDANGAM of South India, and in the use of onomatopeia for drum playing (toong, ta-roong, tang, ta-rang, cac, ta-rac, trac, rup, sâm, tich, ru) , as in the BOL end THEKA systems of Indian music .

Chinese and Indiean infulences have not, however, destroyed the creative instincts of the Vietnamese people . In fact, the national entity is reflected in the creation of three purely Vientamese musical instruments :

  1. The DAN DAY or DOI CAM or VO DE CAM, the songstresses’3 stringed lute, which incorporates the peculiarities of the 2 stringed moon shaped lute DAN KIM or DAN NGUYET, of the 4 stringed pear shaped lute DAN TY BA, and of the 3 stringed lute DAN TAM
    2. The SINH TIEN, or coin clappers, bearng all the characteristîcs of clappers, sistrum and scrapers .
    3. The monochord DAN DOC HUYEN or DAN BAU, differing from other Asian monochords (e.g. the Camgodian SADEV, the Indian GOPIYANTRA and EKTARA, the Chinese I HSIEN QIN, and the Japanese ICHIGENKIN), in the exclusive combination of the use of a unique string and the production of harmonics .

Vietnam is a multianational country, together with its population of 68 millions of Vietnamese of Mongoloid race. There are also 15 millions of aborigenes grouping some 53 ethnic minorities . The composition of ethnic minorities is as followed : the Muong , Tho, Chut (of Viet-Muong language), the Tay, Nung, Thai, Cao Lan , San Chi, Lao, Puna (of Tay-Thai language), the Hmong , Dao, Pathen, Tông (of Hmong-Dao language), the Lolo, La Hu, Cong, Phu La, Si La (of Tibeto-Burman language),the Bahnar, Kmer, Sedang, Mnong, Maa, Sre, Katu, Khmu, Hre (of Mon-Khmer language), the Jarai, Ede, Cham, churu, Rhade (of Austronesian language), the Co Lao, La Chi, Pu Peo, La ha (of various languages of the Austroasiatic family), etc….

The history of Vietnamese music can be divided into four periods, from the foundation of the first Vietnamese Dinh Dynasty (968-980)

  1. The first period (10th – 15th centuries) characterized by the conjugated influence of Chinese and Indian music
    2. The second period (15th – 18th centuries) , characterized by the predominance of Chinese influence .
    3. The third period (19th century to the eve of World War 2) characterized by the originality and entity of Vietnamese traditional music, and by the introduction of superficial influence of Western music.
    4. The fourth period (from 1945 – onwards) characterized by the decline of and new attempts to restore traditional music, and by the development of a new European style music .

The Vietnamese musical language is characterized by the use of musical scales such as :
– the ditonic scale (e.g. the HAT DUM, as in the alternating voices song of the Hai Duong province in North Vietnam )
– the tritonic scale (e.g. as in children’s game-songs « TUM NUM TUM NIU », « OANH TU TI », folksongs « THUYEN PHENH », « DO DUA » of the Hai Duong province , « HAT DAM, » « VI DO DUA » of the Nghe Tinh province, « HAT THAI » charade song of Central Vietnam, of the beginning of the classical piece « NAM XUAN »
– the tetratonic scale (e.g. « HAT DANG QUAT » of the Thanh Hoa province in North Vietnam, « HO DO HAY, « LY HOA THOM », « LY LACH » of the Quang Nam province in Central Vietnam, the lullaby « RU EM » and boatwoman’s song « HO MAI DAY » of Central Vietnam .
– the pentatonic scale comprising five types :

  1. C – D – E – G – A – C (folksongs)
    2. C – D – F – G – A – C (Bac modal system music)
    3. C – Eb- F – G – Bb- C (Nam modal system music)
    4. C – D – F – G – Bb- C (Ngu Cung Dao piece)
    5. C – E – F – G – A – C (Vong Co piece)

Vietnamese music is composed of many musical genres : court music, ceremonial music, religious music, village music, new Western style music , and music of the proto-Indochinese music .


During the first years of the Le Dynasty (1428-1788), Luong Dang , a high Court dignitary , was asked to establish a new theory of Court music which took its form from Ming Chinese music . Eight categories were presented to King Le Thai Ton .

1.GIAO NHAC : music of the « esplanade of Heaven », performed during the sacrifice for Heaven and Earth , and during the triennial ceremony celebrated by the Vietnamese emperors .
2. MIEU NHAC : Confucius temple music performed at the Confucius temple and during the anniversary commemoration of the death of Vietnamese sovereigns .
3 .NGU TU NHAC : music of the Five Sacrifices
4 .CUU NHUT NGUYET GIAO TRUNG NHAC : music for helping the sun and the moon in the event of the eclipse .
5 .DAI TRIEU NHAC : music for formal audiences
6 .THUONG TRIEU NHAC : music for ordinary audiences
7 .DAI YEN CUU TAU NHAC : music for large banquets .
8 .CUNG TRUNG CHI NHAC : palace music

Apart from music performed for the Emperor, there are two large instrumental ensembles (DUONG THUONG CHI NHAC – music of the upper hall ; DUONG HA CHI NHAC – music of the lower hall). Court dances consist of military dance (VO VU), civilian dance (VAN VU), flower branches dance (HOA DANG VU), phoenix dance (PHUNG VU), horse dance (MA VU), four fabulous animals dance (TU LINH VU), and the dance of the 8 barbarians presenting their gifts (BAT MAN TAN CONG VU) .


Ceremonial music and religious music are to-day heard less and less . Funerals are held according to the Confucian, buddhist, Caodaist or Christian rituals . In some parts of the country on can still witness the celebration of the worship of ancestors or local deities . The Buddhist or Caodaist prayers, te medium or medicine men or women incantations (CHAU VAN, HAU VAN, ROI BONG) are still to be heard in numberless pagodas and temples in Vietnam . Christian music is inspired from the Western Catholic liturgy, while new Buddhist music in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) is written by young composers who take their inspiration from Christian hymns .


Music for entertainment purporses is performed by a small instrumental ensemble for a small audience :
1. In the North, the HAT A DAO (songstress’ song) mostly vocal but accompanied by three musical instruments : a 3 stringed lute DAN DAY, wooden clappers PHACH, and a small drum TRONG CHAU reserved for the listener-connoisseur
2. In Central Vietnam, the CA HUE (Hue Music) of aristocratic origins . this music is often only instrumental (the orchestra being composed of stringed instruments, including zither, lutes, fiddle and transverse flute). As for the songs, the voice is always accompanied by an instrumental ensemble .
3. In the South, it is the DAN TAI TU (the so called « music of the amateurs ») coming from the Hue and Quang traditions. This music is the origin of the music of the renovated theater HAT CAI LUONG .


Theater in Vietnam comprises the traditional theater of Chinese origin (HAT TUONG, HAT BOI) , folk theater (HAT CHEO in the North), and renovated theater (HAT CAI LUONG) . A new westernized theater (KICH NOI) was born during the 30’s . The water puppet theater (MUA ROI NUOC) is created by the Vietnamese people .


Folk music is composed by the people for the people without any artistic goals, illustrating the life of an individual from the cradle to the grave . It is essentially vocal music (DAN CA, literally DAN : people ; CA : songs).
Lullabies (HAT RU in the North, RU CON in the Center, and HAT DUA EM in the South), children’s game songs (THIEN DANG DIA NGUC, tag games OANH TU TI – one two three, etc…) work songs associated with work in the field (irrigation HO DAP NUOC, HO TAT NUOC, rice grinding HO XAY LUA, lime crushing HO GIA VOI . Boatman songs can be heard on the rivers (HO CHEO GHE, HO CHEO THUYEN, HO MAI NHI, HO MAI DAY, HO MAI XAP, HO KHOAN, HO SONG MA) .

Love songs are countless in Vietnam. In the North, the birthplace of festival songs (TRONG QUAN, QUAN HO, CO LA, HAT DUM, HAT PHUONG VAI, HAT GIAM, HAT GHEO, HAT XOAN) . Songs are used for singing contests between girls and boys. In Central Vietnam, the HO or calls, are associated with many village activities and the LY , very numerous, include mostly love songs (LY THUONG NHAU, LY HOAI NAM, LY MONG CHONG, LY NAM CANH, LY CHIA TAY, LY HANH VAN , etc…). In the South, the most famous HO are the A LI HO LO, HO DONG THAP, HO BA LY, HO LO TO, HO CAY . The LY are : LY GIAO DUYEN, LY VONG PHU , LY CHIM QUYEN, LY CHUON CHUON, LY CAY CHANH, LY BO BIA, LY CON KHI DOT, LY CON SAO, LY NGUA O, LY DIA BANH BOQ, etc… HAT GIAM VE (stories told in flowery terms) , HAT VE, NOI VE, HAT XAM (peddler’s songs) are other types of Vietnamese folk songs .


Modern music based on Western musical styles was introduced to Vietnam around the 1930s . On the eve of World War 2, the Youth movement gave origin to a new music corresponding to youth’s aspirations for struggle (songs of struggle NHAC CHIEN DAU) for love (love songs NHAC TINH CAM) . During the last 60 years pop music has rapidly developed and now represents nearly 80% of the music heard in Vietnam . Songs associated with love, struggle, war, revolution, natural beauty, etc… are a convincing means of expression for awakening or subdueing the political conscience of the people .
The most famous composers in Vietnam are Luu Huu Phuoc (died in 1989), Pham Duy (moved to the United States after the fall of Saigon in 1975), Trinh Cong Son (died in 2001) Le Thuong (died in 1999) . Classical music in the Western idiom was late in developing in Vietnam : works for piano have been composed by Mrs. Louise Nguyen Van Ty and the late Vo Duc Thu . Symphonic works have been and are always written in Vietnam by Do Nhuan (deceased) Nguyen Xuan Khoat (deceased), Nghiem Phu Phi (in the United States). In France, some composers like Nguyen Van Tuong (deceased in 1998), Truong Tang (deceased in 1989), Ton That Tiet , Nguyen Thien Dao and Tran Quang Hai have written many compositions in electro-acoustical, contemporary or avant gardist style . Some renowned young composers such as Phan Quang Phuc (USA), Vu Nhat Tan (Vietnam), Hoang Ngoc Tuan (Australia), Lë Tuân Hung (Australia) have had their works performed in Western countries .
A great number of harmonized folksongs por part singing have attracted a certain category of the Vietnamese population . This Westernized music, now in expansion, cannot, however, be judged at this time .


Tribal or Ethnic Minorities, living in the mountainous sections of the country, in an area equal to two thirds of the entire territory of vietnam, and esecially in the autonomous zone of Viet Bac, the Northwest mountains or Vietnamese Cordillere and the High Plateaus of Central Vietnam, have a music which is completely different from thatof the Vietnamese of Mongolian origin . this music has a wealth of dances, songs and musical instruments (Jew’s harps in metal and bamboo – RODING, TOUNG, GOC ; mouth organ with divergent tubes – MBOAT, KOMBOAT, ROKEL ; xylophone – TRUNG, KLENG KLANG ; monochord fiddle – KONI ; gongs – CING ; gong ensemble ; hydraulic chime – TANG KOA ; lithophone of the Mnong Gar from the village of Ndut Lieng Krak, etc…) This music has many common characteristics with the music of other tribal peoples in Southeast Asia .

Several thousand years of existence explains the great diversity of musical genres and extreme variety of musical instruments to be found in Vietnamese music .


Program of the concert

  1. Folksong from North Vietnam : CO LA (The Egret is Hovering) by Bach Yên and Trân Quang Hai (with 2 stringed fiddle dàn co)
  2. Solo of 2 stringed fiddle dàn co by Trân Quang Hai
  3. Presentation of different types of Jew’s harp dàn môi in Asia by Trân Quang Hai
  4. Lullaby from North Vietnam Hat Ru by Bach Yên
  5. Lullaby from South Vietnam Au O by Bach Yên
  6. Lullaby from Central Vietnam Ru Em by Bach Yên
  7. Solo of spoons by Trân Quang Hai
  8. Solo of 16 stringed zither dàn tranh by Trân Quang Hai
  9. Folksong from Central Vietnam : LY CON SAO (The Straling Song) by Bach Yên and Trân Quang Hai (16 stringed zither dàn tranh)
  10. Demonstration of different styles of sung poetry (ngâm tho) by Bach Yên
  11. Demonstration of different vocal styles in Asia (Mongolia, Japan, China, Vietnam) by Trân Quang Hai
  12. Worksong from Central Vietnam : HO HUI (Song for breaking stones) by Bach Yên and Trân Quang Hai
  13. Solo of coin clappers sinh tiên by Trân Quang Hai
  14. Folksong from North Vietnam : HAI HOA (Picking flowers) by Bach Yên and Trân Quang Hai


The DAN TRANH (dan : instrument ; tranh : to dispute) is a 16 stringed zither with movable bridges (a zither employed in its generic meaning) . According to ancient legend, the Vietnamese zither originally had 32 strings . A zither master taught the art of playing this instrument to his two young daughters . One day, these two young women argued about who was to play the only musical instrument in the house . The master , very angry, broke the instrument in two and made two identical zithers to please each of his daughters . This is why the instrument is called TRANH, which means « to dispute » .

The Vietnamese zither, the smallest of the Far Eastern zithers (the Japanese KOTO, 180cm ; the Korean KAYAKEUM, 160cm ; the Chinese ZHENG, 145cm ; the Mongolian JETAKH , 145cm) measures 90 cm to 110 cm in length and is usually 20 cm wide on the larger side and 13cm on the smaller side . The sound box (DAN TRANH) has the form of a half cone. The base of the instrument has three holes pierced in it : the first hole, sem-circular, enables the musician to attach the strings with small pieces of paper ; the second hole, rectangular, is also the sound hole, and it also enables the musician to hold the instrument with one of his hands while walking ; the third one, which is small and round, permits the musician to hang the instrument on the wall when he has finished playing . The 16 strings are of steel ( in twisted silk until the end of the 17th century, and in brass until the beginning of the 20th century), and are divided into two sections by a serires of 16 NHAN (wild geese) or movable bridges of wood or plastic . These are stretched along a wooden soundboard (NGO DONG) , once made of oleococca wood, which is now very rare . One end of the strings is wound around the 16 TRUC, wooden or plastic pegs, while theother end of the strings passes through the 16 small holes near the tail board, where they are attached with small pieces of paper .

Considerable musical research is still pursued in Vietnam. In the North many instruments of the zither family, probably inspired by Chinese zithers of larger size, of almmost two meters in length and with an impressive number of striings, are being constructes and used experimentally in neo-tradiional orchestras . Young zither players electrify their DAN TRANH during concerts in large halls or in the open air . In South Vietnam , especially in Hô Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Professor Nguyen Vinh Bao, one of the finest if not the best DAN TRANH player in Vietnam, has spent many years of research (in instrument making and acoustics) to improve the shape and sonority of the instrument. Prof. Nguyen Vinh Bao has made 17, 19 and 21 stringed zithers with a sound board of Japanese wood (kiri paulownia) instead of Vietnamese wood (NGO DONG) . This research has been conducted with excellent results ; as far as playing techniques are concerned, the musician uses plectrums of tortois shell, metal or plastic on the thumb and forefinger of his right hand and forefinger of his right hand, according to South Vietnamese tradition . He might also use his own nails to luck the strings near the tailboard . Right hand technique consists of single notes, arpeggios, double stops, harmonics. Left hand technique comprises NHAN VUOT (pressins and sliding ), NHAN RUNG (pressing and vibrating) , NHAN NHAY (holding and releasing), and NHAN MO (pressing and plucking) . The left hand , with only the forefinger, middle finger and ring finger, is used to press more or less heavily on the section of the strings between the pegs and the bridges to alter the tension and consequently, the pitch of the played notes. The left hand also executes an extremely delicate and elaborate form of embellishments which is a unique characteristic of Vietnamese traditional music .
There exist many ways of tuning the Vietnamese zither according to the various modal systems.
The DAN TRANH, a favorite instrument of young Vietnamese girls in both ancient and modern societies, can be played as a solo instrument, in duet, trio, or instrumental ensembles of the renovated theater HAT CAI LUONG , and folkloric groups, are more recently, in pop songs, sung poetry, and in several compositions written in the contemporary European idiom .

The 2 stringed fiddle is called DAN CO (DAN : instrument ; CO : to bow) in South Vietnam and DAN NHI (DAN : instrument ; NHI : two) in Central and North Vietnam . Generally, constructed of a cylindrical or hexagonal sound box, one side is covered with snake skin . It has two strings made of twisted silk, metal or nylon which are stretched along the entire length of the neck and wound around two pegs. A piece of string called KHUYET DON is used as a capodastro and divides the two strings in the middle section . This cord can be adjusted to tune the fiddle to the pitch of the singer’s voice . The little bamboo bridge also serves as a mute when the player puts his or her knee against it to slightly muffle the strings. The horsehair of the bamboo bow is caught between the two strings . A piece of resin called TONG CHI or THONG DON is fixed to the side of the sound box, so that the horsehair is continually coasted as the bow moves forward and backward .

The two strings are tuned in fifths . The tuning bears different names according to whether the little string corresponds to such and such degree of the scale . The 2 stringed fiddle has four tunings :
1. DAY THUAN (DAY : string ; THUAN : in good terms) is tuned at F3 – C4 if the fiddle has a coconut sound box (DAN GAO)
2. DAY NGHICH (DAY : string ; NGHICH : contrary) is tuned at G3 – D4 if it has a cylindrical sound box (DAN CO)
3. DAY NGUYET DIEU (DAY : string ; NGUYET : moon ; DIEU : red) is tuned at C3 – G3 if it has a bamboo sound box (DAN GAO TRE)
4. DAY CHAN (DAY : string ; CHAN : to help) is tuned at D3-A3 if it has a small cylindrical sound box (DAN CO CHI)

To play this instrument, the musician holds the neck in the left hand, with the left thumb against the cord KHUYET DON, while the other fingers play on the two strings . The right hand holds the bow, palm upwards. Double string technique is unknown in Vietnam. Other techniques, like glissandi (VUOT), trills (DO HOT) and tremolos (RUNG CUNG) are employed , however .

The musician can sit on the floor or on a sofa, to hold the instrument with his bare feet. It can also be placed on the musician’s thigh or pressed against the left hip during a funeral procession .

The fiddle is the favorite instrument of strolling players, and is also played in court orchestras and traditional classical or folk ensembles . In more recent times, your fiddlers have used a new fingering technique learned in China. Here the strings are no longer pressed with the finger joints but with the ends of the fingers in the manner of European violin playing. With this new technique, several octaves can be obtained on the two strings .
The SINH TIEN (the common name for the QUAN TIEN PHACH, coin clappers) is a very original percussion instrument, composed of three wooden pieces of equal length . The first wooden piece has two bamboo sticks inside of them has sapeks or coins. The second one has one bamboo stick with some coins and the inner surface serrated. The third piece also has a serrated edge . These coin clappers, as a result of a special playing technique, produce the sonority of clappers, scrapers and sistrum . To play this instrument , the musician hold two wooden pieces with bamboo sticks in the palm of one hand, one over the other, as in the lever system. The other hand holds the third wooden piece in the manner of holding a violin bow in order to scrape the two other pieces, which in the meantime are being shaken or clapped to make the coins jump inside of the sticks .

A musical instrument of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) is longer used for court music. It formed a part of the folk orchestra which accompanied the New Year celebration (HAT SAC BUA of the Nghe Tinh province of North Vietnam). The SINH TIEN coin clappers are nowadays played to accompany folk dances, folk songs and rhythmic improvizations recreated by Tran Quang Hai .

The MUONG (sponns) has been a very popular instrument in South Vietnam for the last 60 years . The « spoonist » holds the handles of two stainless steel bent unequally spoons in the palm of one hand with the forefinger squeezed between the two handles which act as a lever and enable the two concave surfaces of the spoons to be separated by a distance of about 2 millimeters. Several spoon techniques exist : hitting the knee, scraping 2, 3, 4, 5 fingers of the left hand, running the spoons along the left arm, along the bony parts of the hand, the two knees, against the chin and on the mouth, in the latter case, the mouth serving as a resonator to multiply the melodic lines obtainted by the variation of the mouth cavity .

In Vietnam, children create rhythms with kitchen spoons . During the war, soldiers accompanied revolutionary songs with two spoons. Tran Quang Hai has also contributed considerably to the improvement of spoon playing . In the past 40 years, he has invented new playing techniques to this instrument by introducing the spoons to traditional Vietnamese music, folk music, pop music, electro-acoustical music . Thanks to him, spoons can now be performed as a solo instrument .

Nonetheless, spoons are not exclusive to Vietnam. Spoon playing can be found throughout the world : in Ireland, Great Britain, in Western Europe (as a result of folk revival), in the United States, in Canada, in Russia, Turkey, Madagascar, Indonesia and the Philippines .

The DAN MOI (DAN : instrument ; MOI : lips) is a Jew’s harp (or jaw’s harp) which is very common among Vietnamese tribal minorities. There exist two versions of this instrument in Vietnam : one of bronze, the other of bamboo. In spite of the numerous models of Jew’s harps, of different shapes and materials, it could be said that its basic principle is common to all : a free lamella, with a direct or indirect attack, vibrating between the half-opened mouth, using the mouth cavity as a variable resonator. The instrument is often linked with super natural powers (Mongolia, Tuva, Yakutia), collective entertainment (the Genggong ensemble in Bali, Indonesia), and personal enjoyment (in many countries where the Jew’s harp exists). It is a courting instrument (among the Hmong in Vietnam), as well as a pastoral instrument (Sicily in Italy). It is used in electro-acoustical musical research (the late Dr. Emile Leipp, John Wright and Tran Quang Hai) . The Jew’s harp, in fact, has existed throughout the world for many centuries, and is known by the following names : guimbarde, trompe de Bearn (France), Jew’s harp, Jaw’s harp (Great Britain), maultrommel (Germany, Austria), scacciapensieri, marranzanu (Italy), munnharp (Norway), mundgige (Sweden), vargan (Russia), berimbao (Spain), chang (Afghanistan) morchang (Rajasthan, India), khomus (Yakutia, Tuva, Mongolia), angkuoch (Cambodia), karinding (West Java), gengong (Bali), karombi (Sulawesi), verimbau (Portugal), mukkuri (Japan), etc… In Vietnam, the name changes according to many tribal minorities : roding (Jarai tribe) toung (Koho and Maa tribes), then (Bahnar tribe), guat (Roglai tribe), hoen toong (Thai tribe),pang teu ing (Muong tribe), rab ncas (Hmong tribe), and dan moi (Vietnamese). In Asia alone one can find a great diversity of Jew’s harps made of wood, bamboo, bone, ivory, metal with one, two, three, four and even five lamellas (in Taiwan only) . There are also Jew’s harps in Europe, in several Asian countries, in New Guinea, in Africa ( Hausa population in Niger, in Cameroon, and Xhosa in South Africa), in America (the Indians in Argentina). In Vietnam , the Jew’s harp is an instrument for self entertainment (Jarai and some tribes of High Plateaus in Central Vietnam) and reserved for lovers (Hmong tribe in North Vietnam).
BACH YÊN (or « White Swallow ») was born in the Mekong Delta, in South
Vietnam. She began performing variety music in Saigon while still very
young, learning to sing with ease in Vietnamese, French, English, Spanish,Italian,and Hebrew.
When she had made her name there she went to Paris, in
1961, with the idea of singing « à la Piaf », but Polydor, who had her under
contract, wanted her to sing the then popular « sentimental twist », very
sixties in style. Three albums and several videos came out of this first
period in Europe, when she also toured in Belgium, Germany and Austria.
She crossed the Atlantic in 1965 at Ed Sullivan’s invitation, to appear in
the renowned show, far and away the most widely watched in all the USA. America kept her a very long time, because the two weeks at first proposed became an engagement lasting twelve years ! Her growing popularity led to other television appearances – with stars like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Joey Bishop, Mike Douglas, Pat Boone and others – and she appeared in 46
different US states and in Canada, Mexico, Caracas, Panama, Bogota and Curaçao, alongside great names like Jimmy Durante, Liberace and Frankie Avalon. Hollywood asked her to sing for the film « The Green Berets », starring John Wayne.
Coming back to Paris marked a decisive change in Bach Yên’s career. She met up with Trân Quang Hai, a brilliant musician and ethnomusicologist, who persuaded her to sing traditional Vietnamese music. This was the dawning of yet another of Bach Yên’s varied talents.
In company with Trân Quang Hai, she has since given over 2,000 recitals and concerts on the five continents. Together they have made 6 albums, one of which gained the Grand Prix du Disque from the Académie Charles Cros in 1983 – and now there is, of course, a CD.
As an ardent and talented ambassador for Vietnamese music, Bach Yên is considered among the great artists of song, both modern and traditional.

Tran Quang Hai was born on May 13, 1944 in the country of Vietnam. He is a talented and renowned musician who comes from a family of five generations of musicians. He studied at the Natoinal Conservatory of Music in Saigon before moving in 1961 to France, where he studied the theory and practice of Oriental music with his father Professor Dr. Tran Van Khe, at the Center of Studies for Oriental Music in Paris. For several years, Tran Quang Hai also attended seminars on ethnomusicology at the Sorbonne University, the School of High Studies for Social Sciences. Since 1966, he has given nearly 3,000 concerts in 60 countries, several hundreds school concerts in Norway (Rikskonsertene), in France (JMF – Jeunesses Musicales de France) in Belgium (JMB – Jeunesses Musicales de Belgique), and has taken part in mre than one hundred international traditional music festivals, as well as in radio and television broadcasts in Europe, America, Asia, Africa and Australia. He has been working for the National Center for Scientific Research in France since 1968, and is now attached to the Department of Ethnomusicology of the Musee de l’Homme. Also, from 1988 to 1995 he was a Lecturer on Southeast Asian music at the University of Paris X-Nanterre. He has been a guest lecturer of over one hundred Universities in the world.
Apart from his artistic activities, he is also interested in musical research. He has improved the technique of spoon playing and of the Jew’s harp. In 1970, he found by himself the key to the technique of overtone singing and has become the world famous expert of this peculiar split-tone singing khoomei well known in Tuva and Mongolia. During 1990 and 1991, he won four awards at the International Scientific Film Festivals in Estonia, France and Canada for his film « Le Chant des Harmoniques » (The Song of Harmonics) directed by Hugo Zemp. He is the co-author, actor and music composer of this film. He has written numerous articles on Vietnamese ans Asian music (New Grove Dictionary, Encyclopedia Universalis), and has also recorded 15 LPs 8 CDs and 4 video films. He composed more than four hundred pop songs, and musical pieces for 16 stringed zither dan tranh, monochord dan dôc huyên, Jew’s harp and overtone singing.
As a distinguished figure in his musical field, Tran Quang Hai has received more than 20 prizes and international awards. He has received a Gold Medal for music from the Asian Cultural Academy, and honrary doctorates from the International University Foundation and the Albert Einstein International Academy. He works with his wife, Bach Yen, who is a great Vietnamese pop and folk singer. Additionally, he was nominated President of the Jury of the Khoomei Throat Singing Festival in Kyzyl (Tuva) in 1995. He obtained the Cristal Medal of the National Center for Scientific Research in France in 1996, the Medal of Honor of the Limeil Brevannes city in France in 1998, and the Special Prize of the Jew’s Harp World Festival in Molln (Austria) in 1998.. In addition, he was the Honorary President of the Festival d’Auch « Eclats des Voix » in France in 1999, and of the Voice Music Festival of Perouges « Au Fil de la Voix » in France in 2000. His biography has been published in 30 Who’s Who reference books since 1979.
To date, Dr. Tran Quang Hai is the only Vietnamese to have taken part as a performer or composer in such great historical events as Australia’s Bicentenary celebration in 1988, the Bicenterary of the French Revolution in Paris in 1989, the 700th Anniversary of the Discovery of America in 1992, 600 Years of Seoul-Korea in 1994, the Julilee of the King of Thailand in 1996, and the 100th Anniversary of the Phonogramm Archiv of Berlin in Germany in 2000 .In 2002, the French President Jacques Chirac decorated him as the Knight of the Legion of Honour, the highest distinction of France .



TRAN QUANG HAI will participate in the 12th International Voice Symposium celebrating the 20 Year Anniversary of the Austrian Voice Institute, in Salzburg, AUSTRIA, August 26-28th 2016

TRAN QUANG HAI will participate in the 12th International Voice Symposium celebrating the 20 Year Anniversary of the Austrian Voice Institute, in Salzburg, AUSTRIA, August 26-28th 2016

TRẦN QUANG HẢI tham dự hội nghị quốc tế « Óc và Giọng » , kỷ niệm 20 năm của Viện áo quốc về Giọng tại thành phố Salzburg, Áo quốc, từ 26 tới 28 tháng 8, 2016

20 year Anniversary
Second Announcement
12th International Voice Symposium
Salzburg 2016

Keynotes – Panels – Workshops – Free Papers

26 – 28th August 2016

Konferenzzentrum Heffterhof Salzburg

Maria-Cebotari Strasse 1-7

5020 Salzburg , AUSTRIA

Congress language : English

Info/Registration/Call for papers:

Photo de Tran Quang Hai.
Photo de Tran Quang Hai.
Photo de Tran Quang Hai.

TRAN Quang Hai (France): Westernization and Modernization of the Gongs of the Highlanders of Central Vietnam: Are They Good for the Development of Their Music in the Globalization of World Music

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Gong ensemble of the Highlands in Vietnam

Gong culture developed from cultures of ethnic brass (which represents a bronze drum was born 3000 years ago) is the art form associated with the cultural history of ethnic minorities living along the Truong Son in the Highlands. Previously, there were some books written by Western scholars about the gongs of Vietnam, but mainly on the aspect of cultural anthropology , rarely mentioning the musical aspect , except one important article written by Jacques Dournes among the Jarai music. In Vietnam, Prof. To Ngoc Thanh has written many important articles about the gongs of the Highlands. However, so far in the country is a synthesis of all the orchestra of gongs minorities. From there to get a comprehensive view about the gongs, we have noticed that the  Central Highlands gongs have a special value of the richness of a great variety of gongs and a bigger number of gongs than any other countries in South East Asia .But there are not a single Ph.D. dissertation on Gongs in Vietnam , while in Indonesia and the Philippines, we can find many researchers who have written theses, and important articles on gongs. After a long time almost sunk into oblivion, thanks to the recent attention of central government and localities, the contributions of older artists, younger artists have preserved a sense of capital equity, as well as researchers, a full profile in English of gongs of Vietnam have been published. In comparison with records of previous royal court music, the gong documents are not inferior in terms of material filled with images, sounds, new records …

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Bùi Trọng Hiền, a Vietnamese researcher

The important work elaborated in the Western scientific method by Bui Trong Hiên on Gongs of the Highlands has revealed the characteristics of gongs that we cannot find in other countries. His written document contributed largely to the report to obtain the nomination of the UNESCO world intangible cultural heritage in 2005.

Ethnic Highlands has two primary types of gong : công – gong made of bronze with a knob in the middle, and chiêng – flat with no knob
Gong instrument makes not only music for entertainment, but also for festivities or an important event.  Gong is considered as a sacred object, a means for people to interact with the deities. The music here is not merely a function of art but it aso  serves a special event in the society in everyday life.  Music is heard from the cradle to the grave. New child birth at the villagethe old man struck the oldest gong to the ears of the child to let him hear the first sound of the gong which was considered as part of the tribal community. When children grow up, each stage of life was associated follow gongs, from sowing to farming , from wedding to funeral, etc…

While other gong countries almost fixed in a system (such as Indonesia, including five kinds of musical instruments) ,the Central Highlands gongs are diverse. Gong orchestra can simply include 2 gongs or up to 9,12,and 15, depending the formation of the ensemble for specific events. During the festivities,  there are more important  gong ensembles with drums and cymbals.


Javanese Gamelan (Indonesia)
If the gong orchestra in other countries, such as in Gamelan(Java), Gong Kebyar (Bali) or Kulingtan, (Mindanao, the Philippines), musicians always sit down in front of gongs. The Vietnamese Highanders hit gongs when moving around and the movement backward and forward of the body .
There are sophisticated techniques that a normal person hardly know how to perform.
The name of the gongs was also very rich, based upon the instrument emits sound. Most of the low gong sound emitted – which is basically sound – called « mother. » In the orchestra are from 9 gongs or higher,  there is  « father »gong next to  « Mother »gong, followed by a “child”gong, “grand child” gong .The order of gongs gives the first place to “mother”gong followed by the “father” gong . This justifies the matriarchy in the system of family of the Highlands.

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Gong master retuned a gong
Every tribe in the Central Highlands has a very specific sound adjustment, not the difference in pitch, but also in sound color. To create a delicate beauty of the sound color a gong musician must have a refined ear to adjust the pitch accurately .Unfortunately , the number of such musicians is very few left.

In short, not a country or region in South East Asia has the big number of gongs like in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Only four provinces in Dac Lac, Pleiku, Kontum and Lam Dong provinces, with nearly 20 ethnic minorities, possessed more than 6,000 gong ensembles at the beginning of the 20th century. With the time, many gong ensembles were lost.

gongs 4.jpg

Gong ensemble modified by the youngsters

Other gong ensembles used by the youngsters  are re-tuned according to the Western scale in order to perform Western melodies.In addition, the old and precious gong ensembles with  high commercial value were sold to foreign tourists by the poor tribal families .


Nowadays, most new gongs are purchased in Cambodia and Thailand and are brought back to Vietnam and are adjusted according to the musical scale of each tribe. Presently, we can count 2,000 new and old gong ensembles in the Highlands, in a word only one third left in comparison with the 6,000 gong ensemble 100 years ago . It is a very alarming loss.

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Gong performance on the stage

The presence of new imported gongs, the show performances on stage, in different festivities for tourism, the shows abroad at different music festivals, the transformation of new style of costumes that makes the recognition of each tribe impossible, the new music and dances, the gathering of many gongs in one set for new music, all these  are gradually destroying the authenticity of traditional gong music of the Highlands .


The UNESCO recognized the Central Highlander Gong Ensemble as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of the Humanity in November 15, 2005.

According to the UNESCO, a “masterpiece” must not be allowed to change. Therefore, for the Westernized development and the modernization of the Gong Ensembles of the Central Highlands, it is very careful not to let the “innovation” as a metamorphic traditional art of the nation, but this Gong tradition should be preserved carefully in order to remain the authentic treasure of the humanity.

TRAN QUANG HAI : A Wide Range of Possibilities of the Human Voice


 TQH portrait  528K

Tran Quang Hai (France/ Vietnam)


To establish a typology of the voice is not something easy to be done .  Based on the phonation and its production, is proposed a first attempt of provisory voice classification :


  1. Calls, cries and clamours

The voice is used with intensity in order to project towards a big audience . The cries remain an individual expression of pain (funerals), joy (ululations of the Arabo-Berber world), and astonishment (“ole” of flamenco)

Sound example : KECAK chorus in Bali, Indonesia

Kecak chorus appeared at the beginning of 20th century. This genre drew from older models, such as the trance dances as practised in temples . A chorus men, some one hundred singers, seated in concentric circles facing towards the centre, where a scene from the Ramayana is played. The chorus itself performs a polyphony of diverse cries and onomatopoeias, wherein the syllables KE and CAK are stylised monkey calls. The result is a varied rhythmic counterpoint, mainly using techniques of hocket, ostinato and off beat . Synchronisation between the different parts is rigorously directed by one of the members in the chorus. There is no place for improvisation .


  1. Voice and breath

The sound of the breath itself may be exploited for aesthetic ends, as when seeking a special timbre (as in the whispered voice of the Burundi zither player . Inuit throat games combine both rhythmical component of the breath and musical line of the voice .

Sound example : Whispered song with Inanga trough zither , Burundi

The pronunciation of the words by a man’s voice with the breath very obvious is perfectly synchronised with the plucking of the zither


Sound example : Throat game by Inuits, Canada

Three short throat game pieces KATAJJAQ a) by Elijah Pudloo Mageeta and Napache Samaejuk Pootoogook, b) by Temgeak Pitaulassie with Alla Braun, c) by Soria Eyituk with Lusi Kuni

The KATAJJAQ is a singular vocal technique characterized by the alternation of audible inhalation and exhalation, by a nasal and guttural vocal emission, and of bursts of sounds without fixed pitch. It is built upon repetitive motifs . Women’s vocal jousting. The two singers get face to face, almost mouth to mouth. The idea is to fatigue the adversary, and rhythmicalle destabilize her . A piece ends when one of the women runs out of breath and laughs .

  1. Spoken, declaimed, sung

Cantillation of the Koran, Buddhist psalmody, recitation of the Rig Veda in India, ritual speech in New Caledonia, and shaman’s song in Terra del Fuego (Argentina) are different aspects of this category .


Sound example : Buddhist psalmody by Tibetan Monks, Tibet

This is an extract of an invocation to the goddess Aphyi, protector of the monastery .

The passage shows the style of chanting dbyangs (literally “vowels”) and is characterized by a solemnisation of the enunciated text, obtained by the interpolation of syllables without meaning between the words with the accompaniment of a big frame drum .

  1. Compass and register

The term “register” is used in widely different ways. Acousticians and physiologists recognize 4 registers or mecanisms: mecanism 0: strobass or fry voice, mecanism 1: chest voice, mecanism 2: head voice, mecanism 3: whistle or flute voice .

The alternation of the 2 principal registers can sometimes constitute the very essence of the musical material, as is the case of the yodel, defined as such by the rapid passing from one mechanism to the other .


Sound example : Totemic emblem song, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea , tribe: Abelam

This men’s song is sung with a “strobass “ voice in the deep bass . This song has no words .


Sound example: Song for the carnaval, Bolivia, Indians Llamero

By 2 women, this vocal duo with an ensemble of 4 vertival flutes rnkillo played in parallel octave by men . The women sing in the highest register, it is said that their voices “become visible” .


Sound example: Yodel during the alpine pasturage, Switzerland

A three part polyphonic song without words consists of yodel syllables selected for the register, mostly with the vowels (a) and (o) in chest voice and (u) in falsetto, but also with (i) in both registers .


  1. Colours and timbres

If the “flamenco voice” is often thought of as “guttural”, what does this word mean, and what kind of physiological reality is involved ? Is not the Xhosa voice while quite different from the Andalusian, not also “guttural” ? As for “nasal voice”, how can we determine the difference between the voice used in American country music and the one of Japanese shomyo chanting ?


Sound example : Flamenco song seguiriya , Spain

This example of the flamenco voice, whose pungency and dark character are summed up the adjective negra “black” . A negra voice contains a number of intentional impurities


Sound example : Shomyo buddhist chanting , Japan

The psalmodic chant Hyôbyaku is a prayer offered to Dainichi recited by an old monk with a nasal voice


  1. Disguised voices

There are several techniques of disguise that a singer can employ . In the Peking opera, a male actor sings in falsetto to imersonate a female . The masked voice in Africa evokes the supernatural spirit. The didjeridu of the Australian aborigines,the kazoo of European children, the bamboo tubes of the Iatmul of the Sepik area, Papua New Guinea, or clay pots in Rajasthan, India distort the voice during performances .


Sound example: Peking opera Jingxi/ Pingju, China

The principal feminine role is traditionnally performed by a man


Sound example : Song with mirliton , Honduras

Alternance of sung words with cries, of a relatively weak intensity . The voice is masked by means of a mirliton .A small tube is closed at its lower end while to the other end is fixed a vibrating membrane (skin from a bat’s wing, intestine or paper).


  1. Ornementation

Vibrato can be considered as ornementation . In Western lyrical singing, it is a minimal form of ornamentation . The Mongolians alternate vibrato with trills (upon 2 degrees)


Sound example : Epic song , Kurdistan, Iran

Ne discovers here the same very confined melodic structure, and the ornamentation technique tahrir, though less applied .


         8 .Singing in the instrument

By lip vibration, the Australian aborigines  use the didjeridu as a horn, and with the technique of circular breathing permitting a continuous sonorous spectrum, rich in harmonics. At the same time, the musician emits sounds of different animals


Sound example :solo of didjeridu, Australie


9 .Imitation of instruments

The flute (in Mongolia) is not , however the only instrument that the voice can take for model – the fiddle (the Tibesti region of Chad) , the whistle (Central Africa) or the drum (North and South India)


Sound example : imitation of flute limbe , Mongolia

The singer uses an acrobactic vocal technique called “playing the flute through the nose”


  1. Employ of harmonics

A periodic sound is made of a fundamental and a series of upper harmonics which are selected to create an independent melody .







Tri Nguyen with Qaïs Saadi « A Journey Between Worlds » EPK (Official/New EP 2016)

Tri Nguyen with Qaïs Saadi « A Journey Between Worlds » EPK (Official/New EP 2016)

Ajoutée le 28 janv. 2016

Join Tri Nguyen and Qaïs Saadi on a musical odyssey, from the Mekong to the Mediterranean. Experience a musical encounter like no other you have heard. Come with us on « A Journey Between World. »
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