Plucked Instruments

    These instruments have a punctiform acoustic and the sound is marked by a large amount of tone modulation, which reflects the sonorous characteristics of the Han language.

    琵琶 Pipa

    The pipa is sometimes referred to as the Chinese lute. It has four strings, which are plucked by false nails taped to the musician’s fingers.

    The name ‘pipa’ derives from the playing technique associated with the instrument. ‘Pi’ refers to pushing the right index finger from right to left, and ‘pa’ to pulling the right thumb in the opposite direction, i.e. left to right.

    柳琴 Liuqin

    The liuqin is a four-stringed lute played with a plectrum. The instrument takes its name from its shape – ‘liu ye’ means ‘willow-leaf’ and in the abbreviated form of liuqin. It is somewhat smaller than the pipa, and its sound is correspondingly louder and brighter.

    阮 Ruan

    This is a four-stringed instrument played with a plectrum. The instrument takes its name from 阮咸 (Ruan Xian), one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove at the time of the Jin Dynasty, circa 250 AD. Such was the proficiency of his playing that the instrument came to be named after him, in the abbreviated form of ruan.

    According to the needs of the orchestra, the ruan can take the form of a large-bodied instrument, known as the large ruan, or a small-bodied instrument known as the medium ruan. The large ruan and the medium raun play the low and the middle range tones in the orchestra, producing a rich and lively sound.

    揚琴 Yangqin

    The yangqin is a hammered dulcimer played with beaters made from bamboo. It closely resembles the Hungarian cymbal. It originated in the Middle East and spread from the Cantonese coast to the Central Plain during the Ming Dynasty (from the end of the 14th to the middle of the 15th century AD).

    古箏 Guzheng

    The Guzheng is often referred to as the Chinese zither. It has 21 strings, which are played with false nails taped to the player’s fingers. Its name is onomatopoeic in origin, referring to the ‘zheng’ sound produced when the instrument is plucked.

    It is a very old instrument, referred to in documents of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). The ‘gu’ in the full name of the instrument means ‘old’ in Chinese, hence ‘guzheng’. The guzheng’s pentatonic scale ranges to “do re mi sol and la”, a typical characteristic of Chinese music. The guzheng is the only Chinese instrument which can accurately reproduce the sound of a cascading waterfall, and is used to perfect the sound of the orchestra.