Where does that stereotypical "oriental" song come from?

Where does that stereotypical “oriental” song come from? You know, the one that goes dee dee dee dee duh duh dee dee duh. Featured heavily in braindead Hollywood flicks made by clueless directors who want to give a scene an “oriental” feel. Also a variation of it can be heard in David Bowie’s “China Girl.”

So where does this tune come from? Is it from the East, and if so what country? Or was it written by Westerners to lampoon or mimick Asian music in their movies?

Do you mean the overture from The Mikado?
You can hear a sample here

None of the “Overture” track that plays on Amazon has the snippet I’m thinking of. I couldn’t even tell you where else you might hear the tune I’m thinking of, but suffice to say that it is famous enough to be engrained in the American consciousness. Again, you can hear a variation of it in David Bowie’s “China Girl.”

Maybe this approximation is easier to understand:

Dee dee dee dee duh duh, duh duh, DUHHHH

The Vapors did a song called “Turning Japanese”, and this song I’m talking about is featured at the beginning. You can hear it here:

Huh. Are you sure it isn’t:

  1. Dee dee dee duh dee duh duh DUHHH (only 3 H’s on las duh)

  2. Dee dee do duh dee duh do dee do do

  3. Hidiho, opal dooo

  4. Scooby doobie dooooo :wink:

“Dee dee dee dee duh duh, duh duh, DUHHHH”
—Yep, I know what you mean. It repeats several times in Kung Fu Fighting :cool:

I think it’s called “Chopsticks” and is related to the two-fingered piano favorite also called Chopsticks. They’re both played with just two notes at a time, as if playing with chopsticks.

Don’t know where it’s from though. Google oriental song and chopsticks and I think you’ll get some hits.

Opening notes of “Turning Japanese” != “Chopsticks”, I don’t believe.

Think it’s something else.

I know exactly what he is talking about - can also be heard in games like Civilzation II, Bruce Lee for the C64, and at the beginging of segments that begin “Meanwhile in Saigon…”

He’s right - it does go dee dee-dee DUM

Usually ends with a symbol crash/gong sound. Does that put it in better perspective?

Actually the formatting came across wrong:

Its dee… DUM (gong/symbol crash.)

Shall I start by pointing out that a “song” has someone “singing” it, and instruments-only pieces are not “songs”, but “tunes” or “melodies”? No, I think I’m the only one left in the world who cares to split that hair, so I’ll leave it unmentioned.

What I assume the OP is referring to is what gives certain East Asian music that characteristic quality. It’s largely the scale. Different musical traditions are based on different scales; most Western music was initially based on the major or minor scale; East Asian music is typically based on a five-tone, or pentatonic scale; our regular major/minor scale is nine toned, including both tonics. I don’t think it’s true that traditional Asian musicians never play the other four tones, but the focus of composition is clearly on the five main ones that they do use. IIRC starting with C the notes would be roughly C/E-flat/G/B-flat/C. Those might only be an approximation, however, some of the notes used might actually occur “between the keys”, as it were. The 12-tone chromatic scale is a Western tradition.

Oh, and by the way, the Bowie song goes, “Uh, oh, oh, ow-ohhhh”. So I didn’t recognize the reference right away. :slight_smile:

I know about the scales… i was wondering about the, er, “tune.” That particular one. Where did it come from?

Can’t offer anything on its origins, but I think this is one voice of it (in the key of G):

| | | | | | | | |
/ / / / / / / / O

Apologies for the crappy notation – it looked better with spaces inserted, but the spaces didn’t show up in the post.

IIRC, it’s also used in some song by Rush (Passage to Bangkok?)

Would it start with five Gs? When I count it off on my fingers, I get nine notes.

I know what you’re talking about now. But I don’t think it’s a named tune and I don’t think it is always used in the same way.

Mainly, “asian effect” type music is the result of playing parallel fifths in a major pentatonic scale. It’s ridiculously easy to do. Go to a piano, whip out two index fingers, and start playing two black keys with exactly 3 black keys between them. Move up, move down, but always in parallel. Presto. You’re now a composer of “oriental-sounding” music.

Warning - don’t let the kids see you doing this, or you’ll be shelling out for piano lessons for years just to get that basic plinking to stop.

Um … ten notes.

The same question was asked (and left unanswered) in CS a few days ago:

That Chinese (???) -sounding riff

Allow me to reccomend the Musipedia website, which helps you identify a song based on a snippet of melody. You can type in the part you know with a simple code, or just whistle it.

Coolest thing since sliced cheese.

Umm. . . I’d wanna see the cite on this distinction, particularly since a “melody” is part of a musical work (though not always - see “counterpoint”), and not considered a musical work in and of itself. At least, not according to my theory profs in college. But since your point is unmentioned, I’ll drop it, unless you wanna start a thread in GD or CS. :smiley: