Tag Archives: folk instrument


Informant Info

Nationality: Indian

Age: 55

Occupation: Chief Information Officer

Residence: Las Vegas, Nevada

Date of Performance/Collection: 2023

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Tamil

Relationship: Father

Referred to as JS.  JS was born in India and moved to the United States when he was 22. 


The parai is a traditional percussion instrument commonly used in South India, particularly in Tamil Nadu.  Predominantly, this instrument is played at funerals.  It is also played at many events, including weddings and religious festivals.


While growing up, JS heard this from his parents and relatives.  He has witnessed this instrument being played at funerals and some religious festivals.  He also saw this during his father’s funeral.

The music is often played by professional parai players who are skilled in the art of traditional drumming.  The rhythm of the Parai is believed to have a robust and mournful quality, which is supposed to help mourners express their grief and sadness.  The playing of the Parai is often accompanied by singing, and the songs and stories sung during death rituals are believed to help the deceased journey to the afterlife.  In addition, at funerals, the parai is often used to provide musical accompaniment during the procession and to announce the dead’s arrival.


The interpretation of parai music at funerals is tied to its cultural and historical context. In Tamil Nadu, music and dance have long been an essential part of funeral customs, and the parai at funerals is seen as a way to preserve this tradition and pay tribute to the dead.  In traditional rural communities, the parai music at funerals is also seen as a way to respect the deceased and remember their life and legacy.   In addition to its cultural and historical significance, parai music at funerals is also seen as a way to comfort and support those grieving. The powerful sound of the drum is believed to bring a sense of closure and peace to the mourning process.

Overall, the Parai is an essential and profoundly symbolic instrument in Tamil Nadu, and its use during death rituals is a testament to the region’s rich cultural heritage and traditions.

Duduk Armenian Folk Instrument

Context: The duduk is an Armenian instrument originating some 3000 years ago. It is a wind instrument which was at one point made of bone, but now it’s made from wood. The Armenian Genocide took place from 1915 to 1923 and it included the targeted murder of around one million Armenians. Informant GG describes the duduk’s use and cultural significance.

Main Piece: Transcript:

GG: There’s usually two people playing [the duduk]. One plays a steady “dum” while the other plays on top. The interesting thing about it is how somber it sounds… It’s usually associated with sad things like the Armenian Genocide… if you see anything about that you’ll notice in the background that the Duduk is what’s being played.

The duduk is often played at live performances today, and as GG said, it’s somber sound can be associated closely with tragic events, such as the Armenian Genocide, or at funerals and community services. 

Thoughts: Music which accompanies a cultural aspect of society can often set the tone for how that culture is represented to its participants. Because Armenians have historically experienced such terrible events, the use of the duduk as a cultural instrument to display feelings of sadness can help non-Armenians understand the loss that the country and people saw with the Armenian Genocide. 

Xue Shan Chun Xiao (musical performance)

Analysis/Observation: The song is played on a traditional Chinese instrument called a “zither”. It is a Chinese folk instrument that is plucked as a harp. Like most Chinese instruments, it is either played in D or G major, and usually consists of five notes: Do, Re, Mi, So, La. There are 21 strings, and the sounds get lower as strings get thicker. The green strings symbolize the note “So”. It is made of wood, and usually has traditional art carvings along the side of the instrument, and is hollow inside.

The song is called “Xue Shan Chun Xiao”. Translated roughly, it means “Spring on the Mountain.”

The song started out very slow and sweet. The informant performed it with slow, exaggerated motions in her arms. She seemed very peaceful. In the middle, the song suddenly picked up pace and there was a very intense section where her fingers are moving very fast. She has an intense expression on her face, although it also looks like she’s concentrating very hard on plucking the right notes. The song ends with a “bang” like effect.

Informant (translated) : “The song is a minority dance song that is supposed to mimic the flow of water when it is spring. When the snow melts from a mountain, it starts slow, then suddenly goes faster and faster as more ice melts.”

Me: “When is this song normally performed?”

Informant: “It’s a more modern song that comes from the Dai minority. However it’s not a dance song. In traditional fol music, you have dance songs, and then you have solo songs. It’s actually used a lot in music exams because of the technique you need.”

Analysis: The Dai people reside in the province of Yunnan, where there is a mountain called the Jade Dragon Snow mountain. The mountain is approximately half the height of Mount Everest. The piece of music is most likely referring to this mountain and the flow of water into the river come spring. The Dai minority is commonly known for their festive dances that they do at the spring festival, so the song is not commonly played during the festival as it is not a dance piece. It is more often played during concerts or as a prelude to a show.

Annotation: Due to the large file of the original recording, it could not be uploaded. A link to the same piece (played by someone other than the informant) has been attached.

Xue Shan Chun Xiao

A variation of the GuZheng appeared the popular film “Gong Fu” or “Kung Fu Hustle”, which opened in 2004.

Recently, using Chinese traditional folk instruments to play pop music has become a trend. A girl playing Adele’s Rolling in the Deep on the zither went viral in Chinese forums.