Dan Bau

Name: Dan Bau.
Type: Monochord Zither > Chordophone.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 312.22-6
Country: Vietnam.
Region: South East Asia.
Specimens: 1 in collection.
Acquisition Source: Randy Raine-Reusch, Vietnam.

Description: The đàn bầu (Vietnamese: [ɗâːn ɓə̂w]; “gourd lute”; 彈匏) also đàn độc huyền (or độc huyền cầm 獨絃琴) is a Vietnamese stringed instrument, in the form of a monochord (one-string) zither. Although there are versions played in Guangxi province in southern China. The dan-bau is played almost exclusively in harmonics, which suggests a relationship to the Thai pin pia and Kampuchean khse diev.

History: While the earliest written records of the dan-bau date its origin to 1770, scholars estimate its age to be up to one thousand years older than that. A popular legend of its beginning tells of a blind woman playing it in the market to earn a living for her family while her husband was at war. Historically the dan-bay has been played by blind-musicians. The dan-bau is a quiet instrument when played with out the pickup. However in the middle 20th century an electric-version of the dan-bau is now the norm. Acoustic Dan-Bau are now quite rare.

Playing Technique: The dan-bau technique appears relatively simple at first glance, but actually requires a great deal of precision. The fifth finger of the musician’s right hand rests lightly on the string at one of seven commonly used nodes, while the thumb and index finger pluck the string using a long plectrum. With the left hand, the player pushes the flexible rod toward the instrument with the index finger to lower the pitch of the note, or pushes it away from the instrument with the thumb to raise the pitch. This technique is used to play notes not available at a node, or to add vibrato to any note.

Use: The dan-bau, played solo, is central to Vietnamese folk music, a genre still popular today in the country. Its other traditional application is as an accompaniment to poetry readings.