The country-The Vietnamese monochord

Published:  02:46 Wednesday - November 06, 2013 "“My country…gently dropping monochord soundings..”Whenever I hear this song, my deepen sentiment is vibrated with very tormented, fretty feelings, the obsessive memory of the soul and childhood in my very first school that when my teacher taught me to write two words “ Viet Nam” and called “ Country” reminded my mind. I understood this in vague, it is like something great and very precious. And now when time has passed very fast and it also brings my childhood away and after reading through so many verses as well as witnessing changes of Vietnam, I have been penetrated that the word “ Country” - the vague memory in my childhood has such a holy meaning. And, it is when the melody of the song: “ The Country” by composer Pham Minh Tuan spreads that my sensation seems to overflow, which helps me figure the image of my country that is: simple and bright; gentle and compassionate; poor but formidable.

The word “monochord” means literally “one string”. In the monochord, single string is stretched over a sound box. The string is fixed at both ends while a movable bridge alters pitch. Originally, the Dan Bau was made of just 4 parts: a bamboo tube, a wooden rod, a coconut shell half, and a silk string. The string was strung across bamboo, tied on one end to the rod, a coconut shell half ad 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.

As usually seen, Dan Bau consists of an oblong box-shaped sound board, slightly narrower toward one end, with a slightly warped top made of unvarnished soft light wood, sides made of hard wood, and a bottom of light wood pierced with holes for better sound. At one end of the sound is a flexible bamboo rod that goes through a dried calabash whose bottom end has been cut out before being fixed on the sounding board. At the other end of the sounding board is a peg made of wood or metal used for tuning. The metal string is attached to the rod end to the peg.

The pluck is a pointed stick of bamboo or rattan. Although having only one string, it can emit all the sounds in the pentatonic scale. The eight notes of Vietnamese music give modulations of greater amplitudes than those obtained by any other single-stringed instrument in the world. The Dan Bau is usually tuned to the note C. It uses harmonies (or overtones). When laying, the musician plucks the string while touching it lightly with the side of his hand at a point producing a harmony. However, because the flexible rod causes the tension of the string to vary, the pitch may be made to rise or fall, the note may be lengthened or shortened, and trills may be played. The technique involving the fingers of the left hand includes vibrating, pressing, alternate pressing and releasing. The Dan Bau may be played on a scale consisting of third-tones or even quarter-tones. The notes played by the Dan Bau are smooth, sweet and captivating. 

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