Chinese Instruments

Dizi, Xiao, Ehru, Pipa, Yangqin, Hulusi, Suona, Guzheng

Chinese Instrument Assignment directions


The dizi, a wind instrument, is mostly made of bamboo, hence its nickname, the bamboo flute. It differs from the Western flute in having a thin membrane covering a hole halfway between the mouth hold and the first finger hold. It is also known as the horizontal flute because it is handled horizontally. Other materials, such as iron, bronze, porcelain, and jade were also used for making the dizi, which took an important part in the ensembles during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods. The dizi we use today can be categorized into qudi (曲笛) and bangdi (梆笛), which are very expressive and distinctive in performing skills. It is one of the most popular traditional Chinese musical instruments with a strong folk flavor, clear, gentle, sweet, and melodious. The dizi has an important role even today and is commonly seen in operatic ensembles of traditional stringed and woodwind instruments in the areas south of the lower reaches of the Changjiang (Yangtze) River, and in those wind and percussion instruments in southern Jiangsu Province.

From: Galaxy Youth Performing Group, "instrument-dizi." (accessed 11/11/2006).

Xiao (vertical flute)

Xiao is a traditional Chinese wind instrument made of bamboo. Its earliest appearance can be traced back to the Qiang nationality (one of the Chinese minorities of China's Mid-West) in the 1st century. It became popular nationwide around 600 A.D. Scholars, young men and women were very fond of the xiao. Usually played as a solo instrument, it is sometimes also played with other instruments, though not many people are actually able to perform with it. An ordinary xiao has six tone-holes. The tone of the xiao is extremely beautiful, suitable for expressing a peaceful or melancholy mood. The xiao is often featured in music of the "civil repertory", typically used to accompany the quiet guqin.

From: Chinese Culture Net, "Dizi Xiao Bawu Hulusi Products List." (accessed 11/14/2006).


The Erhu has a small body and a long neck. There are two strings, with the bow inserted between them. With a range of about three octaves, it's sound is rather like a violin, but with a thinner tone due to the smaller resonating chamber. In the 2nd orchestra they are usually divided into 1st and 2nd parts. The Erhu first appears about 1104 AD during the Song Dynasty. We bought ours in Zhengzhou in 1999. It hangs on the wall in our Great Room. You often see blind men playing this instrument in some of the big cities. I always enjoyed listening and gave them money for their efforts. Er is two in Chinese.
The Chinese 2-stringed, vertical fiddle has a history of more than 500 years. It started to be popular in Southern China during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 AD), which gave it another name "Nan-hu" (the word "south" pronounced in Chinese as "Nan"). Erhu is still the most popular bowed instrument in today's Chinese music. An erhu is quite different from a western fiddle. There is a vertical post with a fingerboard, which goes through the sides of a resonator at its base. This resonator is covered with a piece of stretched snakeskin (python), which results in a unique "whining" tone color of the instrument. The bow for the erhu is placed between its two strings. Traditionally the two strings are made of silk, although metallic strings are used as well. The player of an erhu usually sits, and the erhu is placed on his left upper thigh in front of his left hip. The instrument is played by moving the bow horizontally through the two vertical strings. Erhu's range spans about three octaves. It has some of the qualities of a violin, but having a more nasal tone. Erhu is capable of producing a gentle but firm tone.

From: Noll, Paul. "Chinese Musical Instruments - Ehru." (accessed 11/11/2006).


This instrument resembles the Spanish guitar in some ways, with long fingernails being cultivated to pluck the strings. The Pipa has a history of over 2,000 years spanned from the Han Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty. The most common pipa has a body with a short neck and a wooden belly. There are 19 to 26 bamboo frets called Xiang on the neck. The Xiang are either made of wood, jade, or elephant tusks. A pipa traditionally had 4 silk strings mostly with common tunes of A, D, E, and A. With the pipa held vertically in the lap, the player plays it using imitation fingers. This allows more freedom for the player to perform various techniques on the four strings. The range of techniques that can be used are the widest among all of the Chinese plucked-strings, making it the most expressive instrument in the plucked-string section. Some of the techniques include: fretted pitch-bends, tremolos, various double and triple, and a continuous strumming of the strings with four fingers.

From: Noll, Paul. "Chinese Musical Instruments - Pipa." (accessed 11/11/2006).


The Yangqin comes in a variety of sizes. The Yangqin is a dulcimer played with bamboo mallets, with the size of a chopstick, and one held in each hand, are used to hit strings in pairs. This produces a high and tinkling timbre in its top registers, a soft and beautiful tone in the middle and a strong rich sound in the lower registers. The metallic tone resembles the harpsichord. It has the widest range of scale amongst the Chinese plucked-strings instruments (about 5 octaves). It is rather new instrument by Chinese standards, first appearing in 1368 from the Middle East, during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644).

From: Noll, Paul. "Chinese Musical Instruments - Yangqin." (accessed 11/11/2006).


The hulusi (traditional: ; simplified: ; pinyin: húlúsī) is a free reed wind instrument from China. It is held vertically and has three bamboo pipes which pass through a gourd wind chest; one pipe has finger holes and the other two are drone pipes.
The hulusi was originally used primarily in the Yunnan province by the Dai and other non-Han ethnic groups but is now played throughout China, and hulusi are manufactured in such northern cities as Tianjin. Like the related free reed pipe called bawu, the hulusi has a very pure, clarinet-like timbre.

From: "Hulusi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." (accessed 11/11/2006).


It is a double reed instrument and quite difficult to make noise with it. You see these instruments at most Chinese weddings in the countryside. The suona has a conical wooden body, similar to that of the European oboe, but uses a brass or copper mouthpiece to which a small double reed is affixed, and possesses a detachable metal bell at its end.
The instrument, often popularly called Laba (trumpet), firstly appeared in the Wei and Jin period (200-420). The instrument is commonly used in the accompaniment to local theatres or to singing and dancing, and also for solos or ensembles on such occasions as weddings, funerals or other ceremonies and celebrations.

From: Noll, Paul. "Chinese Musical Instruments - Suona." (accessed 11/11/2006).


The guzheng is an ancient Chinese instrument. It has been developed from a small instrument made from bamboo, originally used by herdsman. It was very popular during ancient times, as early as the Warring States Period and the Qin Dynasty (225 to 206 BC and earlier). The Guzheng has an arched surface and is elongated-trapezoidal with 13 to 21 strings stretched over individual bridges. Although metal strings are common today, the strings were of silk in ancient times. The guzheng rests on two pedestals and is played using 3 to 4 imitation fingernails. On the right side of the bridges, both hands pluck the strings and on the left side, the left fingers bend the strings to change pitch or to provide embellishment. It’s playing range spans three to four octaves.

From: Noll, Paul. "Chinese Musical Instruments - Zheng." (accessed 11/11/2006).

Chinese Instruments Assignment

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