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China Musical Instruments

Posted by Unknown on 19th Apr 2015

The erhu ( 二胡), sometimes known in the West as the 'Chinese violin' or Chinese two string fiddle, is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument, used as a solo instrument as well as in small ensembles and large orchestras. It belongs to the huqin family of bowed string Chinese instruments, together with the zhonghu(中胡),gaohu(高胡),banhu(板胡),jinghu(京胡),sihu(四胡), and numerous others. It is said that there are over 40 different variations of the generic huqin instrument.

The guzheng, or zither(古箏) or zheng (箏) (gu- means "ancient") is a traditional Chinese musical instrument. It is a plucked string instrument that is part of the zither family.The Chinese character for "zheng" composed of two parts: the upper part means "bamboo" and the lower part is "argue" (see the above character). According to a legend, there was a master of se, 25-stringed zither, who had two talented daughters who love playing the instrument. Now there came a time that the master became too old, and wanted to pass his instrument over to one of them. However, both daughters wanted to have it. The master felt miserable and finally, out of desperate, he decided to split the instrument into two - one got 12 strings, and the other 13. To his amazement, the new instrument sounds mellow and even more beautiful than its original. The happy master gave the new instrument a new name "zheng" by making up the character with the symbolisms representing "bamboo" and "argue". The word "zheng", the name of this instrument, pronounces the same as the word "zheng" which means "argue" or "dispute". The origin of the Chinese character representing this instrument seems to indicate that the early version of the instrument was made of bamboo, which is different from that of today. However, this legendary story, though it might be true according to the origin of the Chinese character for this instrument, should not be taken too seriously.

The trapezoidal yangqin (揚琴) is a Chinese hammered dulcimenr.The yangqin was traditionally fitted with bronze strings, which gave the instrument a soft timbre. This form of instrument is still occasionally heard today in the hudie qin (蝴蝶琴, lit. "butterfly zither") played in the traditional silk and bamboo genre from the Shanghai region known as Jiangnan sizhu (江南絲竹), as well as in some Cantonese music groups. The Thai and Cambodian Khim is nearly identical in its construction, having been introduced to those nations by southern Chinese musicians. Since the 1950s, however, steel alloy strings (in conjunction with copper-wound steel strings for the bass(notes) have been used, in order to give the instrument a brighter, and louder tone. The modern yangqin can have as many as five courses of bridges and may be arranged chromatically. Traditional instruments, with three or more courses of bridges, are also still widely in use. Strings are struck with two lightweight bamboo beaters (also known as hammers) with rubber tips. A professional musician often carries several sets of beaters, each of which draws a slightly different tone from the instrument, much like the drum sticks of western percussionists.The yangqin is used both as a solo instrument and in ensembles, where it is lauded as the quintessential Chinese accompaniment instrument.

Most dizi are made of bamboo, which explains why dizi are sometimes known by simple names such as "Chinese bamboo flute." However, "bamboo" is perhaps more of a Chinese instrument classification like "woodwind" in the West.

Although bamboo is the common material for the dizi, it is also possible to find dizi made from other kinds of kinds of wood, or even from stone. Jade dizi (or yudi, 玉笛) are popular among both collectors interested in the almost magical beauty of jade dizi, and among professional players who seek an instrument with look that matches the quality of their renditions. But jade may not be the best material for dizi as, like with metal, jade may not be so respondant to tone quality, unlike bamboo which is more resonant.

The dizi is not the only bamboo flute of China, although it is certainly distinctive. Other Chinese bamboo wind instruments include the Xiao, the Guan, the Koudi, and the Bawu.

The pipa (琵琶) is a plucked Chinese string instrument. Sometimes called the Chinese lute , the instrument has a pear-shaped wooden body. It has been played for nearly two thousand years of history in China, and belongs to the plucked category of instruments (彈撥樂器).