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How to Play a Gourd Flute

The hulusi is ancient and is still played in modern times.
China Photos/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The Chinese gourd flute, called a hulusi, is more like a clarinet than a western flute. The player creates sound by vibrating the reed in the mouthpiece rather than by blowing across a hole, and the instrument is held vertically rather than horizontally. The hulusi has one or more pipes extending from the gourd, one of which has fingering holes to create melody. The others drone. The most common form of hulusi has one melody pipe and two drone pipes.

Tighten your lower lip as if in a smile, and rest the reed of the hulusi gently against it. Close your lips lightly over the reed, and lift the reed slightly so it contacts your upper teeth instead of your lower lip. Blow gently, vibrating the reed to make a sound. Practice this until you are able to consistently produce notes. This may take some time.

Cover the holes on the melody pipe to change the pitch you produce. Covering all the holes will produce the hulusi's lowest tone, while leaving them all uncovered will produce its highest. Slide from one note to another by rolling your fingers slowly across the holes rather than covering or uncovering the entire hole at once.

Open the plug in the back of the drone pipe to play with the drone sounding. Close the plug to play without it, sounding only the melody pipe.


Be patient while you learn to vibrate the reed even if you already play clarinet, bassoon or oboe. The hulusi is a free-reed instrument and requires slightly different technique from western reed instruments.

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