Chinese

Guzheng

A plucked string musical instrument placed horizontally and played with fingers or a plectrum. It is a half-tube wooden zither with steel strings, numbering from 15 to 25, but more commonly 21, held across movable thin wooden bridges. As a member of the zither family, the guzheng is historically one of the most ancient Chinese musical instruments. The Chinese zither became popular in the Qin state (in today’s Shaanzi and Gansu provinces) during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, hence it is also known as “qin zither”.

Guqin

China’s oldest string instrument, its history dating back some 3,000 years. It is made of a long tone block rounded at one end and having seven strings stretched across the top, but without bridges. In the past, learning to play the guqin was regarded as an important element in the education of students, whose heart and spirit were enriched by the experience. In Imperial China, scholars and ladies among the aristocracy were expected to master the four arts – the qin (guqin), qi (weiqi, also known as “go”), shu (calligraphy) and hua (painting).

Pipa

Sometimes called the Chinese lute, is a four-string lute with a flat pear-shaped body on which are found varying numbers of frets, ranging from 12 to 26. The plucked instrument is played vertically. Its history dates back more than 2,000 years to the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC), but it was during the Tang Dynasty (AD618-907) that the pipa became one of the most popular Chinese musical instruments. It has maintained its appeal in both solo and chamber compositions.

Yangqin

A hammered musical instrument consisting of a sounding board or box, typically trapezoidal in shape, over which bronze or steel strings of graduated lengths are stretched. A modern yangqin can have up to five bridge courses and may be arranged chromatically. It is played by being struck with two thin and light bamboo beaters fitted with rubber tips. It is performed both as a solo instrument and in ensembles, and is lauded as among the best Chinese accompaniment instruments.

Erhu

Known in the West as a Chinese violin, it is a two-string instrument whose history can be traced back to musical instruments introduced into China ten centuries ago. Of about 80cm in length, it has a small rounded or hexagonal sound box and a long neck and is played vertically with the horse-string bow drawn horizontally between the strings which rest on a small wooden bridge held on the surface of the skin, typically python, stretched on the box. Played by someone skilful, it produces soothing and haunting music that is expressive and melancholic or merry.

Dizi/Xiao

A traditional transverse Chinese flute which goes back to the Ming Dynasty (AD1366-1644), it is made of bamboo on which are drilled a blowing hole, a stop hole with a buzzing membrane (rice paper) and six finger holes. There are two basic variations of the dizi – the bangdi and qudi. Bangdi, the shorter of the two and which derives its name from accompanying clapper-type operas, has a strong and piping tone which makes it suitable for expressing robust and lively emotions. Qudi, often used to accompany kunqu opera, has a lower pitch and a pure and mellow tone, rendering it suitable for expressing delicate and understated moods.