free reeds

brass free reed from Hmong qeng

South East Asia folk music is particularly noted for free reed instruments and these figure prominently in minority musics.

These instruments use a reed made of brass or bamboo set in a bamboo pipe, flush with the retaining frame. The pitch of the note therefore depends on the size of the resonating pipe, unlike Western free reed instruments such as the harmonica or accordion where the pitch of the note is independent of the resonator. Some instruments are in the form of a single pipe with finger holes which may or may not be set in a gourd; others have a melody pipe as described above with in addition one or more drones set in the gourd; the third and most common type is the free reed organ in which several single pitch pipes are set in a gourd. Normally several pipes are played at once creating complex polyphony.  This type of free reed instrument is unique to Asia and most diverse in South East Asia. They most probably originated in China around 1500BC. In classical Chinese and Japanese music they are known as the sheng and sho respectively. Variations on them are played by numerous ethnic groups in China, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Sabah and Sarawak, the Philippines and Bangladesh (the Murung).

bamboo free reeds used in Lahu instruments

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