This small flute, known in Vietnam as the Sao, has been part of Vietnamese life for many years. The Sao is played with the stem at 90 degrees to the face and is found in many Vietnamese orchestras and ensembles. It can be played as a solo instrument as well. It is a fairly simple construction although the sound that it can make is often fairly delicate. The flutist can change the sound by different techniques of breathing and blowing.
It varies in length between 40 and 55 centimetres with a diameter of between 1.5 and 2 centimetres. There is a tuning slide, a soft wooden piece to adjust the pitch and anything between 6 and 10 finger holes. The first finger hole is 12 centimetres from the blowing hole and subsequent ones a further centimetre each down in a line.
It makes a great present if you are on holiday in Vietnam and want to take something back for friends or family. During your Vietnam travel package, you may go to a Cheo evening, one of Vietnam’s popular opera nights and you will certainly hear the Sao if you do.
The Sao has been part of rural life for generations. Villages may play at during a break from working in the fields or before they go to sleep at night. It was popularised in the 1970s by two artists, Dinh Thin and Ngo Nam who took the 6-hole flute and extended its range by making a 10-hole flute. There is quite a difference and if you have an ear for music, you can hear this in two famous pieces, Đinh Thìn's "Tiếng gọi mùa xuân" and Mão Mèo's performance of "tình xưa nghĩa cũ. It may take you a while to master playing the Sao but it is fun learning.
Read more: Vietnamese Music and Instruments