The suona originally came from the Middle East, and was once known as the surna. The present Chinese orchestra makes use of the traditional suona and a series of adapted keyed suona. They are known for their powerful sound and their distinctive tone quality.
Like the dizi, the suona does not come in a standard key. Being a more traditional instrument, a high-pitched suona is not usually capable of playing pieces with complex key changes. As such, most suona performers bring more than one instrument on stage when they play in an orchestra.
The traditional suona family includes the highest-pitched haidi, as well as other high and mid-pitched instruments. Amongst them, the high and mid-pitched suona are used more often.
The keys of the adapted suona are derived from western symphonic wind instruments such as the clarinet and oboe. Its volume is smaller than that of its traditional counterpart, and it is capable of playing chromatic scales. Most commonly used are the adapted keyed mid-pitched, lower mid-pitched and low-pitched suona also known as gaoyin suona, zhongyin suona and diyin suona.