Sheng (Chinese mouth Organ): one of the oldest wind instruments


The Sheng ( 笙 pronounced "sung" and also called "Chinese mouth organ" in western culture)  is one of the oldest Chinese instruments whose manufacture and use were documented in ancient history. It first appears in 551 BC during the Zhou Dynasty (1111 to 222 BC) but there are records of similar ones back to 3000 years ago



The Sheng

The instrument is a mouth blown free reed instrument. In fact, the Sheng is the first musical instrument in the world utilizing a "coupled acoustical system," between an air column and a free reed.The traditional Sheng is made up of 13 or 14 pieces of vertical pipes of different lenghts mounted together on to a base, but the number of reeds of the modern Sheng varies from 21 to 32 being 17 rather popular. As the Sheng can produce chords as well as single notes, it is used as both a solo and accompanying instrument. Its pleasingThe base is traditionally a gourd-shaped, wooden wind-chest. Each bamboo pipe has a free reed made of brass. Music is produced by blowing and sucking the air through a metal tube connected to the base the air then rushes through the other pipes.

 sheng pipe

Above: detail of Sheng pipe 

A player determines the notes to play by allowing the air to rush through selected pipes while pressing on selected keys near the base. By covering two or more holes on various pipes, chords are possible, being a typical technique used in most regional orchestras of China.


Example of live solo in concert. he SHENG is used as both a solo and accompaniment instrument.


How to play and fingering charts

Traditional ones often has 17 pipes tuned like this:

a′ b′ c″ c♯″ d″ e″ (2 pipes), f♯″ g″ a″ b″ c♯″′ d″′ or
A4, B4, C5, C♯5, D5, E5 (2 pipes), F♯5, G5, A5, B5, C♯6, D6

Chromatic keyed ones appeared half XX century.

Fingering charts for Sheng

(charts from Melody of China website)


Some links you may find interesting

Sometimes you can find inexpensive shengs in ebay, but I wonder if they are playable... I'll update this article once I found this and other stores you could find one. It's a pretty popular item in chinese instrument trading :)

sheng ebay

Above: example of inexpensive sheng found in ebay