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Three-stick drum: traditional folk art of Tujia ethnic group

By Zhou Jingxuan | Updated : Apr 30, 2021
Three-stick drum, a folk tradition from Zhangjiajie, northwestern Hunan province, central China that involves narrative singing, percussion, and juggling. The drum team usually consists of three players, one for singing and playing drum, one for playing the gong, and one for playing sticks (usually daggers). The juggler plays three sticks together, with one stick in each hand and the third one thrown into the air. When a stick falls, the juggler throws up one of the sticks and catch the falling stick with an empty hand. Meanwhile, the other two performers play the gong and the drum. Those who are skilled can play all three by themselves.

Generally, there are five or seven words in a line, and every four lines is a bar. During each bar, the gong and drums are struck four rounds, three strikes at a time for the first three rounds and 10 strikes for the last round. The three-stick drum playing usually has four themes, namely spring plowing, grain threshing, harvest celebration and New Year celebration. The tricks include “carp leaping over the dragon’s gate” and so on.
Playing the three-stick drum requires great skill and concentration, with proper strength of throwing, and agile and accurate actions. A little carelessness will not only fail the performance, but also get the juggler or others cut by the dagger. Therefore, beginners are required to practice throwing and catching so often that they can do it even with their eyes closed. Tujia youths often practice with three pebbles, and over time, they canjuggle with not only the stick but also the dagger.

In addition to the four themes mentioned above, there are also themes such as New Year’s greeting, birthday celebration and wedding celebration. Now three-stick drum is also played to promote the Party’s policy, which has proven to be successful.

Edited by Li Ling 

2019 Zhangjiajie Bureau of Culture, Tourism, Broadcasting and Sports