Chinese Instruments

Chinese Traditional Musical Instrument

Erhu

Erhu

Erhu is a kind of violin (fiddle) with two strings, which, together with zhonghu, gaohu, sihu, etc, belongs to the "huqin" family. The sound body of the erhu is a drum-like little case usually made of ebony or sandalwood and snakeskin. It usually has a hexagonal shape with the length of approximately 13 cm. The front opening is covered with skin of python (snake) and that of the back is left open. The functions of this case of resonance are to amplify the vibrations of the strings. The neck of the erhu is about 81 cm long and is manufactured with the same materials as the drum. The top of the stem is bent for decoration. The two tuning handles (pegs) are found close to the end of the stem. There is no fret (as contrast to the lute) or touching board (as contrast to violin). The player creates different pitches by touching the strings at various positions along the neck of the instrument. The bow is 76 cm long and is manufactured of reed which one curves during cooking, and arched with horsehair in the same way as the bow of violin. However, in the case of erhu, the horsehair runs between the two strings. In another word, one cannot take off the bow from the instrument unless one of the two strings is taken off or broken.

Erhu is a mid-high-toned instrument whose mid-low tone sound forceful and lavish. Mid tone goes gentle and touching, while high tone turns clear and bright. This changeful character makes it possible for erhu to perform tunes of a variety of moods. It can be soft and flowing, and it can also be strong and staccato; it is highly versatile. It is the main melody-carrying instrument in the Chinese orchestra, capable of solo and the most important accompanying instrument in various folk stages. The two strings of erhu are fixed at the fifth usually d’-a’.

Pipa

Pipa

Pipa is one of the principal Chinese instruments. It resembles the Spanish guitar in some ways, with long fingernails being cultivated to pluck the strings. The most common pipa has a body with a short neck and a wooden belly. There are 19 to 26 bamboo frets called Xiang on the neck. The Xiang are either made of wood, jade, or elephant tusks. A pipa traditionally had 4 silk strings mostly with common tunes of A, D, E, and A. With the pipa held vertically in the lap, the player plays it using imitation fingers. This allows more freedom for the player to perform various techniques on the four strings. The ranges of techniques that can be used are the widest among all of the Chinese plucked-strings, making it the most expressive instrument in the plucked-string section. Some of the techniques include: fretted pitch-bends, tremolos, various double and triple, and a continuous strumming of the strings with four fingers.

Ruan

Ruan

Ruan is a short necked Chinese foiled lute, 4 strings, played by plectrum. Its soundboard is wooden. It is also known as the moon guitar, and comes in a variety of different sizes and pitches. The ruan consists of three parts: resonator, neck and head. On the neck there are 24 frets in half steps. Four strings, tuned to fifths (like a mandolin), provide a wide range of notes. With its neat delicate tone, the ruan is now constructed as a family of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, a development intended to increase its range and effectiveness in the modern Chinese orchestra. The alto and the tenor are commonly used. A plectrum is needed in performance. Mellow in tone quality, ruan is often seen in ensembles or in accompaniments, and as a solo instrument in recent years.

Yangqin

Yangqin

Yangqin comes in a variety of sizes. It is a dulcimer played with bamboo mallets, with the size of a chopstick, and one held in each hand, are used to hit strings in pairs. This produces a high and tinkling timbre in its top registers, a soft and beautiful tone in the middle and a strong rich sound in the lower registers. The metallic tone resembles the harpsichord. It has the widest range of scale amongst the Chinese plucked-strings instruments (about 5 octaves). Yangqin is a rather new instrument by Chinese standards, first appearing in 1368 from the Middle East, during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644).

Liuqin

Liuqin

Liuqin is a high pitch-plucking instrument. The name "Liuqin" comes from the fact that the instrument is made of willow wood and shaped like a willow leaf ("Liu" in Chinese means willow). For all the difference in size, the structure of the liuqin is similar to that of the Pipa, except that it is smaller and uses plastic pick rather than finger nails to play.

The early version of Liuqin had only two strings and can play only one and a half octaves. In Modern China, improvements were made on the instrument, and a two string Liuqin became a three string Liuqin tuned to D, G, D or D, A, D. In the 1970s, the four string and five string medium pitch Liuqin was developed. Crisp and bright, the liuqin is the highest-pitched member of the plucked strings but its volume is small. Its tone is bright and clear and is extremely beautiful in performing solos. Liuqin can cut right through the heaviest sound the orchestra can make. It is also frequently features in cadenzas. Liuqin is capable of producing an exciting and agitating tune when played loudly and a sweet and touching tune when played softly.

Zheng (Gu Zheng)

Zheng (Gu Zheng)

Zheng is an ancient Chinese instrument. It has been developed from a small instrument made from bamboo, originally used by herdsman. Zheng has an arched surface and is elongated-trapezoidal with 13 to 21 strings stretched over individual bridges. Although metal strings are common today, the strings were of silk in ancient times. Zheng rests on two pedestals and is played using 3 to 4 imitation fingernails. On the right side of the bridges, both hands pluck the strings and on the left side, the left fingers bend the strings to change pitch or to provide embellishment. Its range spans three to four octaves.

Dizi

Dizi

Dizi is the traditional Chinese flute. As only three keys can be played accurately on traditional instruments, most players carry a chromatic set. It can have a membrane over an extra hole to give the characteristic rattle effect, although some compositions call for this to be omitted. It is believed to have been brought in from Tibet during the Han Dynasty and since then it has been used over the past 2,000 years in China. The player plays the Dizi by blowing across the mouthpiece and produces different notes by stopping the six holes found in the rod. The player uses several distinct playing techniques: fluttered tonguing, double tonguing, triple tonguing, combinations of tonguing techniques and fingering techniques. A skilled player will also use circular breathing.

Xiao

Xiao

Xiao is used to play classical Chinese music and solo music. It has eight finger holes. Round or the regular straight end does not have tonal differences. It is mainly for aesthetic purpose. Most commonly used keys are F and G. Usually F# is not used very often, and only for specific music or regional opera. An "F" key xiao can play the following diatonic scales: F, C, Eb, Bb, Ab and G.

Bangu

Bangu

Bangu is also commonly called Jing Bangu (bangu for Peking opera) and Danpi (single drumhead). The drum's frame is constructed of thick wedges of hard wood glued together in a circle, wrapped with a metal band. Its body is bell mouthed in shape, open at the bottom. Its top surface (C.25cm), covered with a piece of pig or cow-hide, has a small convex central circular opening (about 5 or 6 cm in diameter), which is called the Guxin (drum heart), the actual sounding position. The player strikes on this central area with a pair of bamboo sticks.