Locket Raunch!

Chinese New Year Music For Kids (of all ages)

by Paul Smith - Feb 12, 2010

locket raunch chinese NY music year of the tigerOn Feb. 14, 2010, the Chinese Year of the Tiger will begin. The Chinese New Year is a celebration of renewal and optimism, and is marked by many charming and colorful customs.

For non-Chinese neighbors, this is also a good opportunity to appreciate their rich cultural heritage. If you're fortunate to live close to a metropolitan area like San Francisco, you can take in the Chinese New Year Parade. Many schools, libraries, and museums also have special events planned around this Spring holiday.

Something that I would like to share, as a music teacher, is a project that allows you and your family to play and write your own music for Chinese New Year. No previous musical experience is necessary but, it is helpful to have a piano or electronic keyboard and some noise makers handy - drums, shakers, pots, pans, etc.

Listen to some Chinese New Year Music by 2nd grade music students!

Click on the Locket Raunch mp3 player to the right to hear a "Chinese New Year Music" song written and recorded by young musicians in San Jose, CA last year.

The notes and rhythms from the class, who followed the musical exercises below, were transcribed and then played into a MIDI keyboard recorder to create the sounds you hear now.

So Easy - Just Play the Black Keys

Even very small children can play with pointer fingers (like "chopsticks") on the piano.

If you use your "chopsticks" fingers to play only the black keys on the piano, then you are also playing a Chinese music scale:

locket raunch piano black keys for chinese new year music pentatonic scale

Instant Duet Fun

locket raunch piano Fsharp Try having one young musician use their two "chopsticks" to play only the black keys up high (the right side of the keyboard) while another plays a steady F# (F sharp) rhythm on the low keys. You should immediately hear the Chinese "wind chime" music scale come to life.

In order to find that "F#" note (which in this case is our primary "bass" key), look at your piano to see the alternating 2-black-key group and 3-black-key group all the way up the keyboard. The first black key in the 3-black-key group is the F#. Pick the first or second F# from the left of the keyboard to get that low tone going.

As long as everybody just hits the black keys, there are no wrong notes.

Try this: for the high note playing (on the right side of the keyboard), you can play each black note once, from the highest note right to left, and back up from the middle. Try playing back and forth from any 3 black notes. Then pick a different set of 3 black notes and play one at a time back and forth.

For the low note playing, stay on that F# note at least for the start, (try 10 seconds) and then try moving to a different black key and stay on it for the same amount of time, then back, or to a different black key, ending on the F# again for the ending.

If you're playing a piano, try holding down the Sustain Pedal (the one on the right); all the notes will blend together. If you are using an electronic keyboard, you may have a sustain pedal that you plug into the back. Also, experiment with different sounds, like violin, orchestra, choral, bells, etc. and echo effects.

About the Pentatonic Scale

These 5 keys that repeat all the way up the keyboard are a musical "scale", in this case, a very common and popular set of 5 notes, also known as the "Pentatonic" scale. The term "Pentatonic" is derived from the greek "penta" (five) and tone (sound). You probably have no trouble recognizing our Western "major" scale of 7 notes, commonly heard as "Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti" (and then another, higher "Do"). The Pentatonic scale is a subset of the Major Scale; Do Re Mi So La. "No Fa No Ti"! If you know how to play a "C" major scale on the piano, try playing, "C, D, E, G, A" (no "F" fa, no "B" ti). These Pentatonic notes are considered the sweetest, most harmonious notes of the Major Scale, and can thus be randomly mixed without noticeable "clashing" or dissonance. Many wind chime sets have their bars set to these 5 notes for this reason. American Indian tribal music and Nashville country music commonly utilize the Pentatonic scale as well.

Make It Better By Adding Chinese Rhythm

Without playing for a moment, count, out loud, a steady, "ONE two three four ONE two three four..." etc. You don't need to count fast, just keep it even; for our Chinese New Year music, try matching the ticking of a clock to get a slow and steady "one second" beat.

Match the notes you play on the keyboard while you count out loud.

Now, let's add a very popular and traditional Chinese rhythm pattern by adding a "double-beat" on the "3" count, saying "THREE-and" twice as fast:

one two THREE-and four one two THREE-and four ... etc

While one player continues the steady "ONE two three four" rhythm pattern, the other should try matching this new "one two THREE-and four" rhythm pattern. Try switching rhythms too.

Scare the Dragon with Chinese Percussion

Get out your drums, shakers, bells, cymbals, triangle, cowbell, pots, and pans. You can hang a group of "cymbals" pots and pans with string to allow easier striking with a wooden spoon or short stick and enable the sounds to continue ringing. Once your "percussion" (non-melody rhythm instruments like drums) set is ready, everyone should take turns adding to the music, striking on the beats of the rhythm pattern counts you've just been practicing.

One good use of percussion is to "accent" one beat over another; for example, hit the ONE harder than the 2 3 4: "ONE two three four"

Also, try using different percussion instruments for different beats. For instance, pick one percussion sound, like a big loud pan, for the ONE beat, and lightly hit one or more other drums or cymbals for the 2 3 4.

For Chinese New Year music, the cymbals, drums, and percussion are added to scare that dragon away who just woke up from her winter sleep hungry ... so if you wake up the neighbors, you can say that you were just helping protect the neighborhood!

About Chinese New Year Origins and Traditions

The Chinese New Year starts from the beginning of Spring (which shifts dates in relation to our Gregorian calendar). In this year of 2010, it begins on Feb. 14. The Year of the Tiger happens once every 12 years. The next 11 years will be ruled by Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat, Ox, and then, once again,Tiger. Each year's animal enhances particular traits, fates, and lucky breaks in our human world.

locket raunch chinese NY music Nian monster ridden by magicianThe Chinese people greet each other with a celebratory "Guo Nian" a reference to surviving a dragon named "Nian". The Chinese legend speaks of this terrible monster Nian who swallowed people and their pets. Fortunately, one day a clever old magician tricked Nian into going after the smaller monsters that humans feared, like lions, tigers, and bears. All of these fled into the woods, where some few now remain. Then the old magician came riding out, on the back of the Nian monster, having tamed it with spells and the fearsome power of noisy firecrackers, red paper, and loud music.

On the eve of Chinese New Year, families gather to feast, and stay up all night with every light in the house on. Outside, throughout the night, fireworks explode. Red paint and paper is everywhere. Loud celebrating with music and laughter will help to keep the monster Nian away for one more year!