My Dad Plays Đàn Bầu After This Guy Rocks Out With A Single String

My dad is a guy that knows music. He’s spent a lot of time practicing his guitar, and playing in various bands around the state, the latest of which is Night Shift, a band that both of my parents are involved in. Nevertheless, there are still various instruments my dad has never heard nor seen before… one of which is this: Đàn Bầu.

Đàn bầu (pronounced similar to saying “done-bow” for you english speakers) is an instrument dating back (on record) to 1770, but there are some that believe the instrument is much older than that. A popular legend of its beginning tells of a blind woman playing it in markets to earn a living for her family while her husband was at war. It’s unknown whether this story is true or not, but it remains true that the this instrument has historically been played by blind musicians. The guy in the video above isn’t blind, but it’s fascinating to think about being able to play if he was. Its construction, tuning, and more is explained on the Wikipedia page:

Originally, the đàn bầu was made of just four parts: a bamboo tube, a wooden rod, a coconut shell half, and a silk string. The string was strung across the bamboo, tied on one end to the rod, which is perpendicularly attached to the bamboo. The coconut shell was attached to the rod, serving as a resonator. In present days, the bamboo has been replaced by a wooden soundboard, with hardwood as the sides and softwood as the middle. An electric guitar string has replaced the traditional silk string. While the gourd is still present, it is now generally made of wood, acting only as a decorative feature. Also, most dan bau now have modern tuning machines, so the base pitch of the string can be adjusted. Usually the instrument is tuned to one octave below middle C, about 130.813 Hz, but it can be tuned to other notes to make it easier to play in keys distant from C.

The this instrument appears relatively simple at first glance, but this 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.

In my previous trip to Vietnam, I got a brief look at people playing this instrument inside Independence Palace. This time, we were in the same place, but outside instead of inside. The instrument was played by a guy who has a band locally in the city, and thanks to his great demonstration, we purchased his CD right there on the spot. I hope you enjoy the demo as much as we did.

Charlie Pryor

Charlie is a media producer, writer, and a traveler. He grew up in Michigan, all of his life and attended Grand Valley State University for a B.S. in Film and Video Production. He's married to a wonderful woman named Hang, and simply hopes to one day turn himself into a man that many will remember long after he's gone.

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