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Traditional Chinese musical instruments comprise a varied range of string, wind, and percussion instruments. Traditionally, they were classified according to the materials used in their construction.Chinese instruments are very symbolic and unique. They are used for a variety of music.


The Eight Sounds (八音)

The eight categories are: silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd and hide. There are other instruments which may not fit these classifications.

Silk ()

Silk instruments are mostly string instruments (including those that are plucked, bowed, and struck). Since ancient times the Chinese have used twisted silk for strings, though today metal or nylon are more frequently used. Instruments in the silk category include:




Re-enactment of an ancient traditional music performance
  • Huqin (胡琴) - family of vertical fiddles
  • Erhu (二胡) - two-stringed fiddle
  • Zhonghu (中胡) - two-stringed fiddle, lower pitch than erhu
  • Gaohu (高胡) - two-stringed fiddle, higher pitch than erhu; also called yuehu ()
  • Banhu (板胡) - two-stringed fiddle with a coconut resonator and wooden face, used primarily in northern China
  • Jinghu (京胡) - two-stringed fiddle, very high pitched, used mainly for Beijing opera
  • Jing erhu (京二胡) - erhu used in Beijing opera
  • Erxian (二弦) - two-stringed fiddle, used in Cantonese, Chaozhou, and nanguan music
  • Tiqin (提琴) - two-stringed fiddle, used in kunqu, Chaozhou, Cantonese, Fujian, and Taiwanese music
  • Yehu (椰胡) - two-stringed fiddle with coconut body, used primarily in Cantonese and Chaozhou music
  • Daguangxian (大广弦) - two-stringed fiddle used in Taiwan and Fujian, primarily by Min Nan and Hakka people; also called datongxian (大筒弦), guangxian (广弦), and daguanxian (大管弦)
  • Datong (大筒) - two-stringed fiddle used in the traditional music of Hunan
  • Kezaixian (壳仔弦) - two-stringed fiddle with coconut body, used in Taiwan opera
  • Liujiaoxian (六角弦) - two-stringed fiddle with hexagonal body, similar to the jing erhu; used primarily in Taiwan
  • Tiexianzai (鐵弦仔) - a two-stringed fiddle with metal amplifying horn at the end of its neck, used in Taiwan; also called guchuixian (鼓吹弦)
  • Hexian (和弦) - large fiddle used primarily among the Hakka of Taiwan
  • Huluqin (葫芦琴) - two-stringed fiddle with gourd body used by the Naxi of Yunnan
  • Huluhu (simplified Chinese: 葫芦胡traditional Chinese: 葫盧胡) - two-stringed fiddle with gourd body used by the Zhuang of Guangxi
  • Maguhu (simplified Chinese: 马骨胡traditional Chinese: 馬骨胡pinyin: mǎgǔhú) - two-stringed fiddle with horse bone body used by the Zhuang and Buyei peoples of southern China
  • Tuhu (土胡) - two-stringed fiddle used by the Zhuang people of Guangxi
  • Jiaohu (角胡) - two-stringed fiddle used by the Gelao people of Guangxi, as well as the Miao and Dong
  • Sihu (四胡) - four-stringed fiddle with strings tuned in pairs
  • Sanhu (三胡) - 3-stringed erhu with an additional bass string; developed in the 1970s [1]
  • Zhuihu (simplified Chinese: 坠胡traditional Chinese: 墜胡) - two-stringed fiddle with fingerboard
  • Zhuiqin (traditional: 墜琴; simplified: 坠琴) - two-stringed fiddle with fingerboard
  • Leiqin (雷琴) - two-stringed fiddle with fingerboard
  • Dihu (低胡) - low pitched two-stringed fiddles in the erhu family, in three sizes:
    • Xiaodihu (小低胡) - small dihu, tuned one octave below the erhu
    • Zhongdihu (中低胡) - medium dihu, tuned one octave below the zhonghu
    • Dadihu (大低胡) - large dihu, tuned two octaves below the erhu
  • Dahu (大胡) - another name for the xiaodihu
  • Cizhonghu - another name for the xiaodihu
  • Gehu (革胡) - four-stringed bass instrument, tuned and played like cello
  • Diyingehu (低音革胡) - four stringed contrabass instrument, tuned and played like double bass
  • Laruan (拉阮) - four-stringed bowed instrument modeled on the cello
  • Paqin (琶琴) - modern bowed instrument
    • Dapaqin (大琶琴) - bass paqin
  • Dixianqin (低絃琴)
  • Niutuiqin or niubatui (牛腿琴 or 牛巴腿) - two-stringed fiddle used by the Dong people of Guizhou
  • Matouqin (馬頭琴) - (Mongolian: morin khuur) - Mongolian two-stringed "horsehead fiddle"
  • Xiqin (奚琴) - ancient prototype of huqin family of instruments
  • Yazheng (simplified: 轧筝; traditional: 軋箏) - bowed zither; also called yaqin (simplified: 轧琴; traditional: 軋琴)
  • Zhengni (筝尼) - bowed zither; used by the Zhuang people of Guangxi
  • Aijieke (艾捷克) - four-stringed bowed instrument used in Xinjiang; similar to kamancheh [2]
  • Sataer (萨它尔) - long-necked bowed lute used in Xinjiang


  • Yangqin (揚琴) - hammered dulcimer of varying strings struck using two bamboo hammers
  • Zhu () - ancient zither, struck or plucked with a stick
  • Jiaoweiqin ()

Bamboo ()

A half-section of the Song Dynasty (960–1279) version of the Night Revels of Han Xizai, original by Gu Hongzhong;[1] the female musicians in the center of the image are playing transverse bamboo flutes and guan, and the male musician is playing a wooden clapper called paiban.

Bamboo mainly refers to woodwind instruments, which includes;



Free reed pipes

Single reed pipes

Wood ()

Most wood instruments are of the ancient variety:

  • Zhu (Chinese: pinyin: zhù) - a wooden box that tapers from the top to the bottom, played by hitting a stick on the inside, used to mark the beginning of music in ancient ritual music
  • Yu (Chinese: pinyin: ) - a wooden percussion instrument carved in the shape of a tiger with a serrated back, played by hitting a stick with an end made of approximately 15 stalks of bamboo on its head three times and across the serrated back once to mark the end of the music
  • Muyu (simplified Chinese: 木鱼traditional Chinese: 木魚pinyin: mùyú) - a rounded woodblock carved in the shape of a fish, struck with a wooden stick; often used in Buddhist chanting
  • Paiban (拍板) - a clapper made from several flat pieces of wood; also called bǎn (板), tánbǎn (檀板), mùbǎn (木板), or shūbǎn (书板); when used together with a drum the two instruments are referred to collectively as guban (鼓板)
    • Zhuban (竹板, a clapper made from two pieces of bamboo)
    • Chiban (尺板)
  • Bangzi (梆子) - small, high-pitched woodblock; called qiaozi (敲子) or qiaoziban (敲子板) in Taiwan
    • Nan bangzi (南梆子)
    • Hebei bangzi (河北梆子)
    • Zhui bangzi (墜梆子)
    • Qin bangzi (秦梆子)

Stone ()

The "stone" category comprises various forms of stone chimes.

Metal ()

  • Bianzhong (編鐘) - 65 to 100 bronze bells hung on a rack, struck using poles
  • Fangxiang (simplified Chinese: 方响traditional Chinese: 方響pinyin: fāngxiǎngWade-Giles: fang hsiang) - set of tuned metal slabs (metallophone)
  • Nao () - may refer to either an ancient bell or large cymbals
    • Shangnao (商鐃) - ancient bellphoto
  • Bo (; also called chazi, 镲子) - cymbals
    • Xiaobo (小鈸, small cymbals)
    • Zhongbo (中鈸, medium cymbals; also called naobo (鐃鈸) or zhongcuo
    • Shuibo (水鈸, literally "water cymbals")
    • Dabo (大鈸, large cymbals)
    • Jingbo (京鈸)
    • Shenbo (深波) - deep, flat gong used in Chaozhou music; also called gaobian daluo (高边大锣)
  • Luo (simplified Chinese: traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: luó) - gong
    • Daluo (大锣) - a large flat gong whose pitch drops when struck with a padded mallet
    • Fengluo (风锣) - literally "wind gong," a large flat gong played by rolling or striking with a large padded mallet
    • Xiaoluo (小锣) - a small flat gong whose pitch rises when struck with the side of a flat wooden stick
    • Yueluo (月锣) - small pitched gong held by a string in the palm of the hand and struck with a small stick; used in Chaozhou music
    • Jingluo (镜锣) - a small flat gong used in the traditional music of Fujian [3]
    • Pingluo (平锣) - a flat gong[2]
    • Kailuluo (开路锣)
  • Yunluo (simplified Chinese: 云锣traditional Chinese: 雲鑼) - literally "cloud gongs"; 10 or more small tuned gongs in a frame
  • Shimianluo (十面锣) - 10 small tuned gongs in a frame
  • Qing () - a cup-shaped bell used in Buddhist and Daoist ritual music
  • Daqing (大磬) - large qing
  • Pengling (碰铃; pinyin: pènglíng) - a pair of small bowl-shaped finger cymbals or bells connected by a length of cord, which are struck together
  • Dangzi (铛子) - a small, round, flat, tuned gong suspended by being tied with silk string in a round metal frame that is mounted on a thin wooden handlephoto; also called dangdang (铛铛)
  • Dianqing (引磬) - an inverted small bell affixed to the end of a thin wooden handlephoto
  • Yunzheng (云铮) - a small flat gong used in the traditional music of Fujian [4]
  • Chun (; pinyin: chún) - ancient bellphoto
    • Weichun () - ancient hanging bell
  • Bronze drum (铜鼓)
  • Laba (喇叭) - A long, straight, valveless brass trumpet

Clay ()

Gourd ()

  • Sheng (Chinese: pinyin: shēng) - free reed mouth organ consisting of varying number of bamboo pipes inserted into a metal (formerly gourd or hardwood) chamber with finger holes
    • Baosheng (抱笙) - larger version of the Sheng

Hide ()

A Chaozhou dagu (large drum)
  • Dagu - (大鼓) - large drum played with two sticks
    • Huapengu (花盆鼓) - flowerpot-shaped large drum played with two sticks; also called ganggu (缸鼓)
  • Huzuo Dagu (虎座大鼓)
  • Huzuo Wujia Gu (虎座鳥架鼓)
  • Jian'gu (建鼓)
  • Bangu (板鼓) - small, high pitched drum used in Beijing opera
  • Biangu () - flat drum, played with sticks
  • Paigu (排鼓) - set of three to seven tuned drums played with sticks
  • Tanggu (堂鼓) - medium-sized barrel drum played with two sticks; also called tonggu (同鼓) or xiaogu (小鼓)
  • Biqigu (荸荠鼓) - a very small drum played with one stick, used in Jiangnan sizhu
  • Diangu (点鼓; also called huaigu, 怀鼓) - a double-headed frame drum played with a single wooden beater; used in the Shifangu ensemble music of Jiangsu province and to accompany to kunqu opera
  • Huagu (花鼓) - flower drum
  • Yaogu (腰鼓) - waist drum
  • Taipinggu (太平鼓) - flat drum with a handle; also called dangu (单鼓)
  • Zhangu (战鼓 or 戰鼓) - war drum; played with two sticks
  • Bajiao gu (八角鼓) - octagonal tambourine used primarily in narrative singing from northern China zh:八角鼓
  • Yanggegu (秧歌鼓) - rice planting drum
  • Bofu (搏拊) - ancient drum used to set tempo
  • Jiegu (羯鼓) - hourglass-shaped drum used during the Tang Dynasty
  • Tao (; pinyin: táo) or taogu (鼗鼓) - a pellet drum used in ritual music

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Playing contexts

Chinese instruments are either played solo, or collectively in large orchestras (as in the former imperial court) or in smaller ensembles (in teahouses or public gatherings). Normally, there is no conductor in traditional Chinese music, or use of musical scores or tablature whilst in performance. Music was generally learned orally and memorized by the musician(s) beforehand, then played without aid, meaning totally accuracy and teamwork is required. But nowadays, music scores can be used, or a conductor if the number of musicians is large enough for that need.


  1. ^ Ebrey, Cambridge Illustrated History of China, 148.
  2. ^ photo
  • Lee, Yuan-Yuan and Shen, Sinyan. Chinese Musical Instruments (Chinese Music Monograph Series). 1999. Chinese Music Society of North America Press. ISBN 1-880464-03-9
  • Shen, Sinyan. Chinese Music in the 20th Century (Chinese Music Monograph Series). 2001. Chinese Music Society of North America Press. ISBN 1-880464-04-7
  • Yuan, Bingchang, and Jizeng Mao (1986). Zhongguo Shao Shu Min Zu Yue Qi Zhi. Beijing: Xin Shi Jie Chu Ban She/Xin Hua Shu Dian Beijing Fa Xing Suo Fa Xing. ISBN 7-80005-017-3.

External links

See also


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