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Chinese Musical Instruments

Instruments Traditional Chinese instruments are played on solo instruments or in small groups of plucked and bowed stringed instruments, flutes, and some cymbals, gongs, and drums. The musical scale has five notes. The oldest Chinese instruments are the bamboo pipes and qin.

Today there are more than one hundred original instruments recorded. They are divided into four categories: stringed instruments, percussion instruments, plucked instruments, and wind instruments. Another way of division is based on the material of their composition: skin, gourd, bamboo, wood, silk, earth/clay, metal and stone.

Following, a short description of some instruments:

Instrument Description
Erhu
(two string fiddle)
Type: silk - bowed. The "Chinese violin" is an classical solo instrument for the recital hall for deep tragedy and for the momentum of an avalanche. It takes a central position in the modern Chinese orchestra, as well as in the accompaniment of singing, dancing, and traditional operas.
Banhu
(two string fiddle)
Type: silk - bowed. It has two strings, is held vertically, and the bow hair passes in between the two strings. Strident and bight in tone quality, the banhu is used as a solo instrument and in the modern Chinese orchestra.
Zhonghu
(two string viola)
Type: silk - bowed. The "Chinese viola", its body is covered on the playing end with snakeskin. The instrument has two strings and is commonly used in ensembles and accompaniments, and for solos as well.
Yangqin
(hammered dulcimer)
Type: struck. It is an adaptation of the Persian santur or some Arabian kind; bright and harmonious in tone, is often used for solos and in ensembles or in the accompaniment of local operas, narratives and other vocal singings.
Guzheng
(table harp)
Type: silk - plucked. The zheng's soundbox is constructed of wood, red sandal for its sides and bottom and wutong wood. The instrument is rich in playing techniques. Typeing melodious and elegant, it is as important solo instrument now.
Xiao
(vertical bamboo flute)
Type: bamboo - flutes. The dongxiao produces soft and delicate tones, suitable for solo performances and duets with the qin zither or used in the sizhu (silk and bamboo instrument) chamber music traditions.
Suona
(Chinese oboe)
Type: bamboo - oboes. Also called laba (trumpet), it is most appropriate for the ardent and lively style for the imitation of the singing of birds. The instrument is commonly used for solos or ensembles on such occasions as weddings, funerals or other celebrations.
Xun
(vessel flute)
Type: clay. Xun flutes, in numerous periods, were in the sharp of an olive, a ball, fish or an egg, most with flattened bottoms. Later, types with various finger holes were melodic, mainly used in the court ceremonies.
Guanzi
(double reeds wind)
Type: bamboo - oboes. The "bili" is suitable for a stirring or tragic mood, able to create a strong local flavor, commonly adopted in court orchestras.
Paigu
(Drum set)
Type: hide. It is a set of three to seven tuned drums, traditionally made of wood with animal skin heads. Most drums are double sided with different tunings.
Sheng
(mouth organ)
Type: gourd. It is a free reed mouth organ consisting of varying number of bamboo pipes (until 17) inserted into a gourd chamber with finger holes.
Pipa
(Pear-shaped lute)
Type: gourd. The "Chinese lute" has a pear-shaped wooden body. Its clear, bright and mellow tone is often used for solos and in ensembles or in the modern Chinese orchestra.
Matouqin
(horsehead two-string fiddle)
Type: silk - bowed. Known as Morinhuur by Mongolian it is a symbol for Mongolian nation. Deep and mellow in tone, the instrument, besides for solos, is used to accompany the singing of tales and folk songs.


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