Hmong single pipe

Hmong traa nplai  collection Victoria Vorreiter

The tube is made from dried bamboo in a variety of sizes with from 5 to 7 holes including a thumb hole. A rectangular hole is cut at one end and a small bamboo or brass frame containing a free reed is inserted. The player normally uses the lips to create a seal around the reed or, on smaller instruments, inserts the top of the instrument into the mouth. A section of bamboo, gourd or plastic is placed at the lower end as a resonator. The instrument can be held parallel to the mouth (side-blown) or at right angles to it. The instrument has a range of an octave as overblowing is not possible. The reed is sounded by the player exhaling so ciruclar breathing is necessary to keep the flow of the music. Exceptionally as here, the reed can be covered with a piece of gourd or glass so that it is played indirectly, making a softer more uniform sound.






Hmong player Fang


Traditionally used for courting, it could also conveniently be taken into to the fields to play while relaxing. It is played as a speech surrogate, phrases played by the instrument corresponding to stock phrases of speech. Similar to the northern Thai pi jum but whereas the latter is played in ensembles, the traa nplai is exclusively a solo instrument.


Hmong musician from Luang Prabang, Laos, playing a bass traa nplai.



Photograph by Nicholas Poss


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