Also known as two-string violin, the erhu is a Chinese 2-stringed, vertical fiddle that has a history of more than 1000 years. The first Chinese character of the name of the instrument, èr (meaning "two"), is believed to come from the fact that the instrument has two strings.
With a range of about three octaves, it's sound is rather like a violin, but having a more nasal tone. The erhu has a small body and a long neck. There are two strings, with the bow inserted between them. 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 the unique "whining" tone color of the instrument.
The erhu is almost always tuned to the interval of a fifth. The inside string (nearest to player) is generally tuned to D4 and the outside string to A4. This is the same as the two middle strings of the violin. The erhu is usually played sitting down placed on the top of the left thigh. In some contemporary styles, erhu is also be played in a standing position.
The cello is most closely associated with European classical music. It is part of the standard orchestra and is the bass voice of the string quartet. It is typically made from wood. The cello is played while seated. Its weight is supported mainly by its endpin or spike, which rests on the floor; it is steadied on the lower bout between the knees of the seated player, and on the upper bout against the upper chest. The neck of the cello is above the player's left shoulder. The bow is drawn horizontally across the strings.
Cellos are part of the standard symphony orchestra and the cellos are a critical part of orchestral music. Much of the time, celli provide part of the harmony for the orchestra. On many occasions, the cello section will play the melody for a brief period of time, before returning to the harmony.
Cello is also widely used in Chinese symphony because of its same critical role in providing the bass voice and harmony to the orchestra.
Also known as the Morinhuur (horsehead two-string fiddle). On the Mongolian grasslands goes such a legend. A lord killed a white horse with his bow. The pet's owner, named Suhe, was sorrowful and missed his pet day and night. One night the dead horse came into his dream, saying to him, "Make an instrument with my body. Then I can accompany you for ever and you will not fell lonely." So the first type was made, with the horse hones as its neck, the horsehair as its strings, the horse skin covering its wooden soundbox, and its scroll carved into the shape of a horse head.
The instrument has quite a few other names both in Mongolian and in Chinese in different areas. Its use is beyond the Inner Mongolian region and can be seen in other Mongolian living areas such as northeast and northwest China and even in Xinjiang region.
Deep and mellow in tone, the instrument, besides for solos, is used to accompany the singing of tales and folk songs.
The Dizi (bamboo flute) is the traditional Chinese flute. Most dizi are made of bamboo, which explains why dizi are sometimes known by simple names such as "Chinese bamboo flute". But it is also possible to find dizi made from other kinds of wood, or even from stone.
The dizi also has a very different additional hole than most other flutes. A special membrane called dimo, made from an almost tissue-like shaving of reed, is made taut and glued over this hole. The dimo covering this special hole gives a distinctive resonating effect on the sound produced by the dizi, making it brighter and louder, and adding harmonics to give the final tone a buzzing, nasal quality. Dizi have a relatively large range, covering about two-and-a-quarter octaves.
The player plays the Dizi by blowing across the mouthpiece and produces different notes by stopping the six holes found in the rod.
Suona or Chinese oboe is sometimes also called a trumpet because of its distinctively loud and high-pitched sound. Owing to its large volume and strident, penetrating tone quality, the suona is most appropriate for the ardent and lively style, especially for the imitation of the singing of hundreds of birds. Experienced players can control their breath with double lips to produce the characteristic soft tone for plaintive or sentimental effect. It had been used for festival and military purposes and currently is widely used in traditional weddings in the countryside of North China.
The instrument is made in several sizes. Since the mid-20th century, "modernized" versions of the suona have been developed in China; such instruments have keys similar to those of the European oboe, to allow for the playing of chromatic notes and equal tempered tuning.
Sheng is one of the oldest Chinese musical instruments. The instrument existed as far back as 3,000 years ago. By virtue of its construction, this is the only unique Chinese musical instrument in the Chinese orchestra capable of playing up to six notes simultaneously. It is therefore commonly called as the "Chinese mouth organ" by western people.
Sheng consists of 13-17 bamboo pipes with different lengths that are mounted together onto a base. Each bamboo pipe has a free reed made of brass. Music is produced by blowing and sucking the air through a metal tube connected to the base. From the base the air then rushes through the other pipes. A player determines the notes to play by allowing the air to rush through selected pipes while pressing on selected keys near the base. By covering two or more holes on various pipes, chords can be played.
Its warm mellow sound expresses lyrical melodies well, while its ability to play chords makes it a highly prized accompaniment instrument.
Pipa (Chinese lute) resembles the Spanish guitar in some ways. It has a pear-shaped wooden body and has a history of over 2,000 years.
The most common pipa has a body with a short neck and a wooden belly. There are 4 strings and 19 to 26 bamboo frets on the neck. The frets are either made of wood, jade, or elephant tusks. The player holds the pipa vertically in the lap and 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.
Liuqin (Chinese mandolin) is a high pitch-plucking instrument. For all the difference in size, the structure of the liuqin is similar to that of the Pipa, except that it is smaller and uses plastic pick rather than finger nails to play.
Crisp and bright, the liuqin is the highest-pitched member of the plucked strings but its volume is small. Its tone is bright and clear and is extremely beautiful in performing solos. Liuqin can cut right through the heaviest sound the orchestra can make. It is also frequently features in cadenzas. Liuqin is capable of producing an exciting and agitating tune when played loudly, and a sweet and touching tune when played softly.
The Ruan is also known as the moon guitar that appears much later in Chinese history compared to other Chinese traditional instruments. It is fitted with four strings and frets with a wooden soundboard. Ruan comes in a variety of different sizes and pitches, forming a family of soprano, alto, tenor and bass, a development intended to increases its range and effectiveness in the modern Chinese orchestra. The alto and the tenor are most commonly used.
The ruan has a mellow tone quality. It is often seen in ensembles or in accompaniments but it has also become a solo instrument in recent years.
Guzheng (zither or lap harp) was a very popular instrument during ancient times, as early as the Warring States Period. The zheng has an arched surface and is elongated-trapezoidal with 13 to 21 strings stretched over individual movable bridges. The zheng 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. Its playing range spans three to four octaves.
It is a pentatonic instrument. Different techniques of playing the guzheng can create sounds that can evoke the sense of a cascading waterfall, thunder, horses' hooves, and even the scenic countryside.
Konghou (double-string harp) is an ancient Chinese harp. It went extinct sometime in the Ming Dynasty, but was revived in the 20th century. The main feature that distinguishes the modern konghou from the Western concert harp is that its strings are folded over to make two rows, which enables players to use advanced techniques such as vibrato and bending tones. The modern instrument, however, does not resemble the ancient one. On each side of the sound box is a row of bridges over which 36 to 44 strings are stretched. Each string is supported by its own bridge. Thus the player is able to bend the strings to create beautiful vibrato effects. The tone quality is mellow and graceful.
The Yangqin is also called a hammered dulcimer. It is played by hitting strings with a pair of bamboo mallets, with the size of a chopstick. 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 also a chromatic instrument.
In the orchestra, the yangqin often adds to the harmony by playing chords or arpeggios. The ends of the sticks can also be used to pluck the strings, producing a crisp and clear tone quality.
The yangqin is also sometimes called the "Chinese piano" as it has an indispensible role in the accompaniment of Chinese string and wind instruments.
The history of Chinese percussion instruments is longer than any other section of traditional Chinese instruments. Common materials used for making percussion instruments in the past were gold, rock, wood and bamboo. Because of the richness of the timbre, sound and variety of Chinese percussion instruments, they are also frequently used in Western-style musical compositions.
Percussion instruments are usually considered easy to learn and perform. As many different percussion instruments produce different sound effects, it is frequently used in depicting joyful and exciting occasions such as harvests, marriages, as well as other traditional Chinese festivals. The percussion section is also the most important section in Chinese opera.
The more popular percussion instruments include the lo (gong), bo (cymbals), gu (drums), and muyu (wodden block).