Plucked Musical Instruments

Konghou is an ancient Chinese plucked musical instrument. It has a very long history of more than 2000 years. It was popular in the royal court and among the common folk as well. Between 618-907 AD, the height of the Tang dynasty, the economy and culture of China flourished. It was during this period that konghou was introduced to Japan, Korea, and other neighboring countries. Today there remain two broken instruments from the Tang dynasty in the Dongliang Temple in Japan. However, this ancient instrument was lost during the latter half of the 14th century. People today can only see the drawings of it in murals and embossments.

The Chinese musicians and instrument designers have spent a lot of time on the studies of the drawings of this instrument since the 1950s, and they have made several types of konghou as trial-reproductions. Due to short comings in the reproductions, the konghou did not become very popular until the 1980s. In the early 1980s, a new type of konghou was developed, the structure of which was very suitable for playing and which represents the ethnic features very well. Soon, it became widely used in musical performances.

The shape of the new instrument resembles that of the harp, but it has two rows of strings, and there are 36 strings in each row. The arrangement of string poles are like the order of the wild goose flying in the sky, so this instrument is called "yan zhu konghou." "Yan" means the wild goose, and "zhu" means the string poles.

The tone of yan zhu konghou is soft and clear, and its range is wide. Not only can it perform both ancient and modern ethnic music but also harp melodies. Because the two rows of strings have the same tones, it is suitable for playing rapid rhythms and overtones. It is unparalleled in producing rhythms and accompaniments in the mediant section of the two rows.   It is a very unique instrument.

Rewapu is a stringed musical instrument that is commonly played by the people of Uigur, Tajik and Uzbek ethnicities. It has had a long history of 600 years since its invention in the 14th century. Due to the frequent economic and cultural communications between Xinjiang and other ethnic groups home and abroad, Uigur people created a few new musical instruments. They were based on old folk musical instrument and the strong points of the foreign ones. Rewapu was one of the new instruments that were handed down to the present generations.

Rewapu is primarily made of wood. In addition to its very special appearance, the body is slim and long. The top is bending, and there is a semi-ball resonance box at the bottom.

There are different forms of rewapu, with 3 to 9 strings. Usually, people use the most outward string to play the music, and the rest are used as resonancing strings.

The sound of rewapu is loud and clear, and the timber is bright and unique. It is can be played in solo, ensemble or accompaniment. While performing, the person standing or sitting is required to stay straight and keep the shoulders in balance. The instrument is horizontally put in front of the player and the organ is placed in the crook of the arm. The pole is between the thumb and index finger of the left hand. The music played by Rewapu sounds highly graceful.

Rewapu has a variety of forms. Although people of Uigur, Tajik and Uzbek ethnic groups all live within the region of the Xinjiang Uigur autonomous region, their instruments are different in category, form and name. The people of Tajik ethnic group call this instrument "rebubo", which is made of apricot wood. There are many kinds of re wa pu in Uigur. Its styles are divided into the new, kashi, duolang, and shepherd styles. Kashi rewapu is named after the place where it is welcomed. The sound is soft and low, and the tone is smooth. The outlook of Uzbek rewapu is similar to that of kashi, but their volume and tone are quite different. For the former, it is loud and its tone is clear and deep.


Ruan is a stringed musical instrument in China. In the Qin dynasty, more than 2,000 years ago, people altered a wobbling drum into a stringed instrument. Later, with references to the zither and other musical instruments, people created "qin pipa". Qin indicted the Qin dynasty, and pipa was a kind of stringed musical instrument. Qin pipa was the predecessor of ruan.

Around 3 century AD, a musician named Ruan Xian was found to be extremely good at performing qin pipa. Due to his skillful performances, he was highly welcomed by the local people. Gradually the people named this musical instrument after Ruanxian. However, it was not called ruan until the Song dynasty, about 1,000 years ago.

Ruan is made up of three parts, the head, handle and the body. The head is usually decorated with some traditional Chinese imagery artwork such as the dragon. There are four tuning gages on the two sides. The body of ruan is an oblate resonance box. The structural theory, materials and performing skills are quite similar to those of pipa.

In recent years, Chinese people have paid more attention to the ethnic musical instruments. Some musicians have even made renovations to ruan, and developed alt, mediant, tenor and bourdon ruan.

The alt ruan, which is loud and clear, plays the role of performing the theme in the band. The tone of the mediant ruan is quiet and soft. It is used to perform the cantus and episodes in concert. It is abundant in variations of the rhythm while performing the accompaniment.

The big ruan is similar to the cello. While performed in the band, it often incorporates the median ruan, which may strengthen its sound effect. While performing the solo and chord, it may intensify the rhythm. The bourdon ruan sounds deep, similar to contrabass.

Liuqin is a plucked musical instrument, which also belongs to the category of pipa. It is named as liuqin or liu ye qin, because it is made from the wood of the willow tree and also its appearance is similar to the willow leaf. The look and structure of liuqin resemble that of pipa very much. The structure of the earliest liuqin is very simple. Its appearance is so rustic and localized, the Chinese people gave it a very affectionate name "tu pipa", in which the Chinese character "tu" could be literally translated as rustic and simple. "Tu pipa" has been very popular in the folk region of Shandon, Anhui and Jiangsu. It is played in the accompaniment of the local opera.

Not only does liuqin has a similar appearance and structure to pipa, but also is played in the same way as pipa. While performing, the player should sit straight, hold the organ in the left hand and press the strings. The plectrum is put between the thumb and the index finger of the right hand. The posture looks very graceful.

At the end of the year 1958, a group of workers from the Wan Huiran Musical Instrument factory invented a new type of liuqin. It has three pieces of strings and is called the three stringed liuqin. There are 24 music poles. Compared with pipa, the range of the new instrument is enlarged and it is convenient to switch its tone, and the timber turns from noisy to bright. In the 1970s, that factory created a second new type of liuqin again. The strings and music poles were added again. Most importantly, the shaft of Chinese sorghum takes the place of bamboo, and the strings are made of steel instead of silk. These changes have greatly improved the qualities of liuqin. From then on, it began to be played in solo instead of accompaniment during the past 200 years.

Today, liuqin has been played in all kinds of music performances in China. In the folk band, due to a unique sound effect, it is often used to play the high pitch region of the main rhythm. Because the tone is not easily covered and mixed by the sound of other musical instruments, it is sometimes played a very important role in the highlight performing. In addition, liuqin has the sound effect of mandolin; it can generate a special flavor when played together with the western bands.

Jiayeqin, is an old Korean musical instrument that is very popular in the Korean county in the northeastern China. The appearance resembles the guzheng, to which it is closely related.

According to the history books, at around 500 AD, the king of the ancient Korean country created a plucked instrument in the form of guzheng, and the Korean people called it jiayeqin.

Jiayeqin has a 1,500-year history. In the old times, it was cut from an entire piece of log. The end is like the shape of tornado. It has no soleplate, so the volume is quite low. Having been improved for centuries, jiayeqin has been as good as any other minority musical instruments. It even has its own special features. The volume of the modern jiayeqin has been increased, and it has more tones.

Korean people are very selective in choosing the material to make the organ. Different parts must be made of different wood material with high quality.

Since the foundation of People's Republic of China, there have been new improvements to the instrument. There are 18 and 21 stringed organs. For the latter, the resonance box has been expanded, and the strings are made of nylon and nylon steel. The sound of it is loud and clear, and the tone is fair sounding. While performing, the gesture of the player looks quite elegant.

Through the skills of the performer, the music can speak out different feelings of happiness, anxiety, misery, and heroic scenes as well. It is especially good at performing cheerful folk music. In the past, the performers were mostly males. However, there are more and more female performers, especially when the organ has gradually become one of the main ethnic music instruments.

Jiayeqin may be used to play solo or ensemble, but in most cases it is performed in corporate singing and playing and the ethnic bands. There is a traditional form of singing in Korean ethnicity. When the performance begins, a group of girls wearing their ethnic clothes sit in line on the stage. They put the end of the organ on the floor, and the top on the right knee, while singing and performing.

Huobusi is a stringed musical instrument from ancient times that is very popular among the Mongolian people. It can also be called "haobusi", "hebisi" or "hupoci", all of which are acceptable. At the beginning of the 1st century BC, the ethnic groups in northern China created this instrument with references to the musical instruments of Han ethnicity.

The traditional huobusi resembles the image of a spoon. It is 90cm long with 3 to 4 strings. The head is bending, and the handle is straight. The resonance box is covered with snakeskin. The tone has a rich flavor of the prairie of the northern China. The way to perform the instrument is quite the same as other stringed musical instruments. The performer uses his left hand to press the strings, and his thumb and index finger of the right hand to pluck them. Since it has a clear and bright sound with a soft tone, it is often used to play solo, ensemble and accompaniment.

The name of huobusi can be found in the history book of the 13 to 14th century AD. At that time, it was regarded as a national musical instrument, and was often performed at grandiose banquets. Later, it became popular with the civilians. After the Yuan dynasty was over, the governor of the Han ethnicity in Ming dynasty shared the same customs and habits with the Mongolians, but this instrument was excluded from the national level. It had not come back to the national level until the Qing dynasty in the 17th century, when the Mongolian customs prevailed again. It was played not only at the banquets but also the royal meetings and gatherings annually on February 1 and 5 of the lunar year.

For many reasons, huobusi was lost after the Qing dynasty. After the foundation of the People's Republic of China, some musicians made an effort to create a new type of huobusi based on the study of the cultural relics. For the new instruments, they are categorized into alt, mediant and bourdon ones. The top of it is like a quiver, and a bow is carved on the surface. In order to increase the volume, the flat calabash-shaped resonance box, which is wrapped with the wood of tung instead of snakeskin, is nearly two times of that of the traditional one. In addition, the new instrument draws on the designs of some stringed musical instruments to make its sound louder and deeper. There are four octaves within the diapason. The ethnic features of huobusi have found their best expressions through such a design.

Dongbula is a stringed musical instrument of the Kazak ethnicity in ancient China. The old and young members of the family are all good at playing. In Turkic language, the name "dongbula" has special meanings. "Dong" describes the sound of the music, and "bula" means to fix the strings.

The body of dongbula is made of wood, and looks like an enlarged spoon. The making of the earliest dongbula is very simple. The artist cuts an entire piece of wood into the shape of a spoon, mounts a faceplate, and then draws two pieces of sheep intestines, and finally fits it onto nine tambours at the end of the handle. The Kazak people will not feel lonely any more while grazing outside. After coming back home, they can enjoy themselves with their families, singing and dancing to the music played by dongbula.

Dongbula can be used to play solo, ensemble and accompaniment. The way of performing is quite the same with that of other instruments. Through the various skills to perform the instrument, listeners may have a vivid feeling of the gurgling spring, clear twittering of the birds, joyful flock of sheep and the hoof beating of the spanking horses.