Introduction and History of Chinese Traditional Instruments

1. 古琴 Guqin

It is also called “琴” (Qin) or “七弦琴” (Seven-stringed Zither) and deemed “Father of Chinese Instruments.” The oldest writing about Guqin is showed in 《詩經》(collection of poems) three thousand years ago, and the most similar instrument to Guqin was first found in ancient tombs in 5B.C.~2 B.C.


Guqin has large vibrating amplitude and a tone rich in the lower register which fits in with the sounds of the nature and the oriental culture.

2. 琵琶 PIPA

PIPA is a plucked string instrument and has been existing for over two thousand years. The most ancient instrument to be called “琵琶” was in 秦朝 (Qin Dynasty, 200 B.C.), and there were mainly two types of PIPA at that time. In 唐朝 (Tang Dynasty, 600 A.D.), PIPA became very popular and was considered one of the most important instruments.


“PI” and “PA” are two plucking techniques. “PI” and “PA” are played in forward direction and opposite direction respectively. Nowadays, PIPA has ongoing reformed to a pear shape instrument with four strings, use fingers instead of pick for plucking and changed the performing style from horizental to vertical.

3. 古箏 Guzheng

It is one of the oldest instruments in China and also called “箏” (Zheng) or “秦箏” (Qinzheng), which was named because of its high popularity in Qin territory before 220 B.C. Today, Guzheng has highly developed and is one kind of the traditional musical instruments among people in China.


Nowadays, Guzhengs are made with steel and nylon and have twelve to twenty-five strings. The smaller one near the head of the instrument is used for affixing the strings, while the bigger one in the middle is for the sound to transmit downward.

4. 二胡 Erhu

Erhu is a bowed instrument and has a long history. It was imported from northern minorities in Tang Dynasty (6 A.D. ~ 9 A.D.) After a long time of development, it derived into varios species, but the performing techniques are basically the same.


Erhu has beautiful timbre and can reach to three octaves in normal, so it can display all kinds of rhythms, speeds and styles of tune due to its wild range. It can also be played harmoniously with other string and wind instruments.

5. 笛子 Dizi

It is also called “竹笛” (Chudi, most Dizi are made of bamboo) or “Horizontal Flute”. Dizi was first showed from the rubbings of the ancient tombs and murals of Dunhuang in Han Dynasty. (2 B.C. ~1 A.D.) There are different kinds of dizi being used in China, but the most popular ones are “曲笛” (Qudi) and “梆笛” (Bangdi).


Among the bamboo, there are one hole for blowing, another for the membrane and still six others for the scale. Bangdi is much smaller and has higher pitch than Qudi. Didi has more than two octaves and has wilder range in the recent decades.

6. Plucked String Instruments

揚琴 (Yangqui) – It is known as Dulcimer and delivered to China in Ming Dynasty. (14 A.D. ~ 17 A.D.) and is a type of combination of both percussion and strings.

柳琴 (Liuqin) – It is named due to the shape – willow leaf – and is an instrument being spread and used in northern Jiangsu, southern Shangond and Anhui.

月琴 (Yueqin) – It is developed from the instrument Ruan. It has two octaves and is used as the accompanied instrument of various operatic music, folk singing and talks.

三弦 (Sanxian) – It has three strings and is developed from Xiantao in Qin Dynasty. (2 B.C.) There are two types of Sanxian in the north and south of China and with different styles.

阮 (Ruan) – It is also called “阮琴”(Ruanqin) or “阮咸”(Ruanhsien) and was created by people in Han Dynasty. (2B.C.) It is used in solo, accompaniment and orchestral works.

鼓琶 (Gupa) – It is created by Cheng Wu-Jia and is a kind of plucked instrument.



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