Music of Vietnam

Traditional Vietnamese music encompasses a large umbrella of Vietnamese music from antiquity to present times, and can also encompass multiple groups, such as those from Vietnam's ethnic minority tribes.[1]

Performance of ca trù, an ancient genre of chamber music from northern Vietnam, inscribed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009


Drum from Sông Đà, Vietnam. Dong Son II culture. Mid-1st millennium BCE. Bronze.

Traditional Vietnamese music has been mainly used for religious activities, in daily life, and in traditional festivals. Vietnam's ethnic diversity has also made its music scene diverse. Each of Vietnam's ethnic group owns many unique types of musical instruments. The influence of Chinese culture on Vietnamese music is also quite prevalent, such as maids, harps and erhu. However, traditional Vietnamese music, whilst often compared to traditional Chinese music, is not exactly the same.

Royal court musicEdit

Royal Vietnamese court music first appeared in the 1040s after a successful seaborne raid against Champa led by king Lý Thái Tông in 1044. Cham women were taken as singers, dancers and entertainers for the court. The chronicles recorded that a special palace for Cham women was built in 1046, then in 1060 the king ordered a translation of Cham songs, and incorporated Cham drum known as trống cơm into the royal band.[2] During the 13th century, a new trend of music came from China: songs set to Chinese tunes with Vietnamese lyrics.[3]

Nhã nhạc is the most popular form of royal court music, specifically referring to the court music played from the Trần dynasty to the last Nguyễn dynasty of Vietnam, being synthesized and developed by the Nguyễn emperors. Influenced from Ming Chinese music, it slowly emerged in the royal court in the 1430s.[4] Along with nhã nhạc, the imperial court of Vietnam in the 19th century also had many royal dances which still exist in present times. The theme of most dances is to wish the emperor or empress longevity and the country prosperity.

Traditional orchestra performing at the Temple of Literature, Hanoi

Classical music is also performed in honour of gods and scholars such as to Confucius in temples and shrines. These categories are defined as Nhã Nhạc ("elegant music" or "ritual and ceremonial" music), Đại nhạc ("great music"), and Tiểu nhạc ("small music") are classified as chamber music, often for entertainment for the ruler.[5][6][7][8][9] In Vietnamese traditional dance, court dances were encompassed văn vũ (civil servant dance) and võ vũ (military dance).[10][11][12]

Dilettante musicEdit

Dilettante music is a genre of chamber music in the traditional music of southern Vietnam. Its instrumentation resembles that of the ca Huế style. Sometimes, modified versions of European instruments like the guitar, violin, and the steel guitar are also included. Vọng cổ ( meaning "Longing for the Past") is one of the more popular tài tử melodies, and was composed in 1919 by songwriter Mr Sáu Lầu, of Bạc Liêu, in southern Vietnam.[13]

Folk musicEdit

Vietnamese folk music is extremely diverse and includes dân ca, quan họ, hát tuồng, hát chầu văn, ca trù, , hát xẩm, hát xoan, bài chòi, đờn ca tài tử, ca Huế and trống quân, among other forms.


Chèo orchestra accompanies the performance of water puppetry

Chèo is a form of generally satirical musical theatre, often encompassing dance, traditionally performed by peasants in northern Vietnam. It is usually performed outdoors by semi-amateur touring groups, stereotypically in a village square or the courtyard of a public building, although today it is also increasingly performed indoors and by professional performers.


Blind artists performing xẩm

Xẩm or Hát xẩm (Xẩm singing) is a type of Vietnamese folk music which was popular in the Northern region of Vietnam but is considered nowadays an endangered form of traditional music in Vietnam. In the dynastic time, xẩm was performed by blind artists who wandered from town to town and earned their living by singing in common places.

Quan họEdit

Singing quan họ at Hoàn Kiếm Lake

Quan họ (alternate singing) is popular in Hà Bắc (divided into nowadays Bắc Ninh and Bắc Giang provinces) and across Vietnam; numerous variations exist, especially in the Northern provinces. Sung a cappella, quan họ is improvised and is used in courtship rituals.

Hát chầu vănEdit

Hát chầu văn or hát văn is a spiritual form of music used to invoke spirits during ceremonies. It is highly rhythmic and trance-oriented. Before 1986, the Vietnamese government repressed hát chầu văn and other forms of religious expression. It has since been revived by musicians like Phạm Văn Tỵ.

Nhạc dân tộc cải biênEdit

Nhạc dân tộc cải biên is a modern form of Vietnamese folk music which arose in the 1950s after the founding of the Hanoi Conservatory of Music in 1956. This development involved writing traditional music using Western musical notation, while Western elements of harmony and instrumentation were added. Nhạc dân tộc cải biên is often criticized by purists for its watered-down approach to traditional sounds.

Ca trùEdit

Band performances Ca trù

Ca trù (also hát cô đầu) is a popular folk music which is said to have begun with ca nương, a female singer who charmed the enemy with her voice. Most singers remain female, and the genre has been revived since the Communist government loosened its repression in the 1980s, when it was associated with prostitution.

Ca trù, which has many forms, is thought to have originated in the imperial palace, eventually moving predominantly into performances at communal houses for scholars and other members of the elite (this is the type of ca trù most widely known). It can be referred to as a Korean gisaeng-type of entertainment where women, trained in music and poetry, entertained rich and powerful men.

Cải lươngEdit

Excerpts from reformed salary Tự đức dâng roi

Cải lương originated in Southern Vietnam in the early 20th century and blossomed in the 1930s as a theatre of the middle class during the country's French colonial period. Cải lương is now promoted as a national theatrical form. Unlike the other folk forms, it continued to prove popular with the masses as late as the 1970s and the 1980s, although it is now in decline.

Cải lương can be compared to a sort of play with the added aspect of Vọng cổ. This term literally means "nostalgia for the past", it is a special type of singing with the background music often being the đàn tranh zither or the đàn ghi-ta (Vietnamized guitar). In a typical cải lương play, the actresses and actors would use a combination of regular spoken dialogue and vọng cổ to express their thoughts and emotions.


Costumes as warlords for Tuồng (Hát Bội) in Huế in 1874

Tuồng also known as hát tuồng or hát bội is a form of Vietnamese theatre. Hát tuồng is often referred to as classical Vietnamese opera influenced by Chinese opera.


"Hò" can be thought of as the southern style of Quan họ. It is improvisational and is typically sung as dialogue between a man and woman. Common themes include love, courtship, the countryside, etc. "Hò" is popular in Cần Thơ - Vietnam.

Bài chòiEdit

Ritual musicEdit

Traditional musical instrumentsEdit

Classical musicEdit

Phạm Tuyên was one of the representatives of Classical music

Vietnamese composers also followed Western classical music, such as Cô Sao by Đỗ Nhuận, considered as the first Vietnamese opera. Hoàng Vân signed Thành Đồng Tổ Quốc, in 1960, considered as the first Vietnamese symphonie, and Chị Sứ as the first Vietnamese ballet in 1968, as well as the dozen of Choir with symphonic orchestra among his hundred famous patriotic tunes. Nguyễn Văn Quỳ also wrote 9 sonatas for violin and piano, following his French music studies and Vietnamese traditions.[14] Phạm Duy also wrote classical compositions mixed with Vietnamese folk music.

Red musicEdit

Thanh Lam was one of the representatives of Red music

Red music (Nhạc đỏ) is the common name of the revolutionary music (nhạc cách mạng) genre in Vietnam. This genre of music began soon after the beginning of the 20th century during the French colonial period, advocating for independence, socialism and anti-colonialism. Red Music was later strongly promoted across North Vietnam during the War, to urge Northerners to achieve reunification under the Communist Party of Vietnam and fight against the "American imperialist puppet" in South Vietnam. Other forms of non-traditional, non-Revolutionary music and culture in the North, like Vietnamese popular music and Western music and culture, were banned, being labelled as "counter-revolutionary", "bourgeois", or "capitalist".

Yellow musicEdit

Chế Linh was one of the representatives of Yellow music

Yellow music (Nhạc vàng) in Vietnam has two meanings. The first meaning is the lyrical and romantic music from pre-war, post-development in southern Vietnam in the period 1954s-1975s and later overseas as well as in the country after Đổi Mới, influenced by music of South Vietnam 1975s. The second meaning is the common name of popular music that was formed in the late 1950s in South Vietnam, using many different melodies such as bolero, enka, rumba, tango, ballade, mambo, chachacha,...[15]

Ballad and bolero music still remains one of the most popular genres of slow-tempo Vietnamese music, especially for karaoke sessions or for easy listening.[16]

Overseas musicEdit

Tâm Đoan was one of the representatives of Overseas music

Overseas music also called Vietnamese diaspora music, refers to the Vietnamese music brought overseas, especially to the United States and France by the forced migration of Vietnamese artists after the Fall of Saigon in 1975s.

Thúy Nga Productions was one of the record label biggest of Overseas

Since the Đổi Mới economic reformation began in 1986s, an increasing number of foreign tourists have visited Vietnam, constructing a new dimension to the musical life of the country. Many hotels and restaurants have hired musicians who played traditional Vietnamese music to entertain their new customers. Spectacles of musical performances present tourists with some aspects of the musical culture of Vietnam, though musicians also play westernized folk music to cater to foreigners’ tastes because of economic necessity. The cultural industry in Vietnam shows a positive tendency towards prosperity. Some excellent musical festivals have taken place, namely the Lullaby Festival, modernized Theater Festival, Theater Song contest, the Traditional Theater Festival, etc. A considerable amount of film music has been composed to enrich the film industry in Vietnam. Furthermore, the Institute of Musicology has played an important role in the preservation and academic research of Vietnamese music. The institute is well using modern technology to help restore and preserve Vietnamese music and songs on compact discs for the longer and better conservation of sound documents. Stored in the Sound Archives of the Institute of Musicology are 8,850 pieces of instrumental music and nearly 18,000 folk songs performed by more or less 2,000 performers. Thousands of technology products in the form of an audio CD, video CD, and videotapes featuring performances on folk music have been released.

1940s–1980s, singer-songwritersEdit

Songwriter Phạm Duy (1920–2013)

The Vietnam War, the consequent Fall of Saigon, and the plight of Vietnamese refugees gave rise to a collection of musical pieces that have become "classical" anthems for Vietnamese people both in Vietnam and abroad. Notable writers include Phạm Duy and Trịnh Công Sơn. Singers include Thái Thanh, Khánh Ly and Lệ Thu.[17][18][19][20]

Many of these composers, in the North, also contributed Vietnamese revolutionary songs, known as nhạc đỏ "Red Music": Lưu Hữu Phước, Văn Cao, Hoàng Vân, Nguyễn Xuân Khoát...

Contemporary musicEdit


Sơn Tùng M-TP singer representative of music V-pop

The embrace of modern pop music culture has increased, as each new generation of people in Vietnam has become more exposed to and influenced by westernized music along with the fashion styles of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. Musical production has improved and expanded over the years as visiting performers and organizers from other countries have helped to stimulate the Vietnamese entertainment industry. Such performances include international stages like the Asia Music Festival in South Korea where popular Vietnamese singers such as Mỹ Linh, Mỹ Tâm, Hồ Ngọc Hà, Lam Trường, Sơn Tùng M-TP and others have performed along with other singers from different Asian countries. During the recent years such as 2006 and beyond, Vietnamese pop music has tremendously improved from years past. Vietnamese music has been able to widen its reach to audiences nationally and also overseas. There are many famous underground artists such as Andree Right Hand, Big Daddy, Shadow P (all featured in a popular song called Để anh được yêu) or Lil' Knight and countless others who have risen to fame through the Internet. In addition, there are also other singers that have gone mainstream such as M4U, Hồ Ngọc Hà, Bảo Thy, Wanbi Tuấn Anh, Khổng Tú Quỳnh, Radio Band, etc. There are also amateur singers whose songs have been hits in Vietnam such as Khởi My, Tóc Tiên, Văn Mai Hương,... These singers tend to view singing as a hobby, therefore not being labeled as mainstream artists. Overall, the quality of recording and the style of music videos in Vietnam has improved a lot compared to the past years due to many private productions and also overseas Vietnamese coming back to produce a combination of Western and Vietnamese music.

Rock and heavy metalEdit

Introduced by American soldiers, rock and roll was popular in Saigon during the Vietnam War. This genre has developed strongly in the South and has spread out over the North region after the rise of Bức Tường in the 90s. For the last 10 years, metal has become more mainstream in Vietnam. Ngũ Cung and Microwave are the current top Vietnamese metal bands in the 21st century.[citation needed]

Hip Hop and RapEdit

The early 1990s Hip Hop import into Vietnam. However, due to language limitations, the number of listeners is not much. Until the early 2000s, hip hop begins to grow in Vietnam become a movement of young people. Not long after that, the movement quickly subsided and many turned their backs on Hip Hop and Rap. Although it can be considered as the freezing period of Vietnamese Hip Hop, it also helps Vietnamese Underground Hip Hop become more stable when the true continues the mission of making this culture ever stronger and promises more and more talents are born from this cradle.

Suboi rapper representative of Vietnamese Hip Hop

Until the early 2005s new groups and communities were born Most prominent is Wowy a famous rapper in Vietnam in 2005s, and DSK ("Die Sonnen Kinder" or "Da Sun Kid") is called "King Of Rap". After that, he teamed up with Karik to become a very famous rapper couple in Vietnam in 2005s–2010s. Another famous rapper in Vietnam is named Suboi, she is the first Vietnamese female rapper to become successful in her country and is considered "Vietnam's queen of hip hop".

Currently, hip hop plays an important role in V-pop, hip hop gameshow competitions are currently developing in Vietnam such as Rap Viet, King of Rap,... Contributing to bring Vietnamese hip hop internationally.

Karaoke MusicEdit

Karaoke music mostly consist of songs with a slow tempo, often with sad and/or romantic lyrics. Vietnamese karaoke with sing-along lyrics often come in the genres of ballad, bolero or like cải lương. Vietnamese ballad and bolero music such at those from Paris by Night or from Vietnamese music productions in Vietnam still remain one of the most popular genres of slow-tempo music for Vietnamese people.[21]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Ó Briain, Lonán (2018). Musical minorities : the sounds of Hmong ethnicity in Northern Vietnam. New York, NY. ISBN 9780190626976. OCLC 994287647.Throughout its history, Vietnam has been most heavily influenced by traditional Chinese music, along with Korea, Mongolia and Japan."Southeast Asian arts Vietnam". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. 23 July 2008. p. 36.
  2. ^ Vu 2017, p. 11.
  3. ^ Baldanza 2016, p. 42.
  4. ^ Whitmore 2009, p. 12.
  5. ^ Vietnam - Page 95 Audrey Seah, Charissa M. Nair - 2004 "There were three categories: dai nhac (dai nyahk) or great music, chamber music for the entertainment of the king, and ritual music- accompanying important ceremonies such as the one to ensure a good harvest. The Ly kings, in particular "
  6. ^ International Workshop on Nhã Nhạc of Nguyễn Dynasty: Huế court music - Page 201 Huế Monuments Conservation Center, Ủy ban quốc gia Unesco của Việt Nam, Viện nghiên cứu âm nhạc (Vietnam) - 2004 "... by stricter rules. That was the rule in using "Great music" and "Small music". Great music ..."
  7. ^ Tư liệu âm nhạc cung đình Việt Nam - Page 103 Ngọc Thành Tô,ön (Mounting the Esplanade-simple version), -Dàngdàn kép (Mounting the ..."
  8. ^ Asian Pacific quarterly of cultural and social affairs - Volumes 3-4 - Page 67 Cultural and Social Centre for the Asian and Pacific Region - 1971 "Đại nhạc (literally : great music) or Cd xuy Đại nhạc iW&^k.1^), composed ... Tiểu nhạc (literally :small music) or // true Tiểu nhạc (UYrB%:) : small group of silk or stringed instruments and bamboo flute. Ty khanh: ... Traditional Vietnamese Music 67."
  9. ^ [1] Court Music "He with the profound knowledge about Vietnamese Court Music not only taught the performance skill of such repertoires as Liên hoàn, Bình bán, Tây mai, Kim tiền, Xuân phong, Long hổ, Tẩu mã extracted from Ten bản ngự (Small music); Mã vũ, Man (Great music) but introduced their origin and performance environment."
  10. ^ International Workshop on Nhã Nhạc of Nguyễn Dynasty: Huế court music - Page 152 Huế Monuments Conservation Center, Ủy ban quốc gia Unesco của Việt Nam, Viện nghiên cứu âm nhạc (Vietnam) - 2004 "What is Dai nhac (great music) and what is Tieu nhac (small music)? On basis of terminology and canon-like document, there are some notions for our deep concern: - Nha nhac is a genre of music used by Chinese emperors in sacrifices to ..."
  11. ^ Selected musical terms of non-Western cultures: a notebook-glossary - Page 132 Walter Kaufmann - 1990 "Dai nhac (Vietnam). "Great music." Ceremonial music of Temple and Royal Palace performed by a large instrumental ensemble. The instruments of a dai nhac ensemble were: 4 ken, ..."
  12. ^ Visiting Arts regional profile: Asia Pacific arts directory - Page 578 Tim Doling - 1996 "Court orchestras were also organized into nha nhac ('elegant music') and dai nhac ('great music') ensembles and court dances were defined as either van vu (civil) or vo vu (military). Confucian music and dance was presented at court until ..."
  13. ^ Garland Encyclopedia of World Music South East Asia p.262 Nhạc tài tử
  14. ^ Nguyễn, Trâm (7 July 2011). Nguyen Van Quy - A Biography. Hanoi: Nguyễn Trâm. p. 38. Retrieved 23 October 2016.
  15. ^ Duy, Dinh (12 October 2016). "The Revival of Boléro in Vietnam". The Diplomat. The Diplomat. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  16. ^ "The Revival of Boléro in Vietnam". Retrieved 2021-10-18.
  17. ^ John Shepherd Continuum encyclopedia of popular music of the world: Volumes 3–7 - 2005
  18. ^ Phạm Duy. 1975. Musics of Vietnam
  19. ^ Olsen
  20. ^ Popular Music of Vietnam 5 Sep 2010 – Popular Music of Vietnam: The Politics of Remembering, the Economics of Forgetting by Dale A.Olsen Routledge, New York, London, 2008
  21. ^ "The Revival of Boléro in Vietnam". Retrieved 2021-10-18.

Work citedEdit

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