The Tinh plays a central role in Tay music. It’s the lead musical instrument and is used like a second vocalist to accompany the singer.
Materials for making a Tinh are simple and easy to find. The sound box is made from half of a dried gourd fruit, the neck is made from mulberry wood, and the strings from twined silk cord. The gourd should be old enough to have a thick shell and be able to produce sharp, clear sounds when tapped. It should be a round gourd with a diameter from 60 to 70 cm.
Dam Xuan Hoa, a Tinh maker in Cao Bang, says: “We choose an old gourd, pick out its seeds, and soak it in water for a week. Then we dry it in the sun. We soak the dried gourd again in lime water to protect it from insects. 6 groups of 9 holes are created around the gourd, 54 holes in total. The size of the holes depends on the size of the gourd.”
The neck of the instrument is smooth without frets. It’s about 80cm to 1 meter long, depending on the length of the player’s arms. The head has a crescent-moon shape. The maker carves images to decorate the musical instrument according to his whim. The gourd, neck, and scroll are joined together, polished, and dried before stretching 3 strings on the instrument.
Mr. Hoa says that making a good Tinh requires experience and musical sense. The maker should understand Then singing and the basic principles of music. Hoa played a Tinh he had just completed while singing a Then song.
The Tinh is a signature item of the Tay culture and an important part of Then performances, festivals, and Tay ceremonies in Cao Bang.