Instrumental Variation

Like other traditional Chinese folk ensemble traditions, xian shi yue has a heterophonic texture. All the ensemble musicians perform the melody of a given qupai together. Yet each musician elaborates on it and embellishes it according to the idiomatic techniques of the individual instrument.

Ban ("Beat," or Sectional Variation)

The ensemble as a whole performs successive repetitions of the melody, each time varying the beat structure by doubling or halving the meter, and by inserting melodic interpolations in the basic melody. A succession of variations forms a suite-like structure called taoqu ("set of melodies") and follows an ordered sequence.

Modal Variation

Modal variation substitutes untempered non-pentatonic pitches for pentatonic ones at structural points of the melody, thus altering its modality.