Traditional Chinese Instruments
Chinese music history is indeed rich and comes with an entire orchestra of unique instruments. Among them one of the most beloved is the pípá. The pípá gets its name from the manner in which it's played. Pí means to strum from right to left with your index finger, while pá means to strum from left to right with your thumb. The pípá is a lute-like stringed instrument that is plucked and therefore it takes the playing verb tán:
Tā tán pípá tánde hénhǎo.
He plays the pípá very well.
Ironically, as cherished by the Chinese as this instrument is, it is actually a fruit of the Silk Road, having originated in Persia where it was called the barbat. The barbat made it to China during Jin dynasty and its popularity flourished, becoming the most favored instrument of Tang dynasty. At that time, Persian musicians were in demand in Chángān, the Tang capital. It is at this time that some of the most strikingly designed pípá were constructed and some have been preserved to this day. Also considered a plucked instrument is the gǔzhēng. The gǔzhēng is a large twenty-one-stringed instrument belonging to the zither family. The gǔzhēng is the mother of the Japanese koto and the Korean gayageum and is easily one of China's most elegant instruments. Playing it requires not only a profound ear for the music but immense grace and poise as its play is often associated with a regulated breathing. Its strings used to be made of silk, but today most are fitted with metal strings, and players use nail attachments much the same way pípá players do.
Wǒyòunián de shíhòu wǒ xuétán gǔzhēng.
When I was young, I learned to play the guzheng.
Often referred to by Western musicians as the Chinese violin, the èrhú is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument that shines as both a solo instrument and a group or orchestral instrument. Its origins date back well over 1,000 years, and it is said to have evolved from an instrument called the xī qín, which was described as a foreign, two-stringed lute. Èr is supposed to be a reference to the number of strings, while hú was a reference the húqín, another instrument that shared common characteristics with it. As a bowed instrument it takes the verb lā.
Tā lā èrhú lā de bí wǒ hǎo.
He plays the erhu better than I.
Among the Chinese woodwind instruments, one of the most notable is the shēng. The shēng is a free reed instrument consisting of vertical tubes reminiscent of a pan flute. The shēng is primarily used in the Chinese orchestra as an instrument of accompaniment, and rarely plays any melody. What is most notable about the shēng is that it is believed that it was brought back to Europe by Pere Amiot and Johann Wilde in the eighteenth century and that it served as the inspiration for such European instruments as the accordion, the concertina, the harmonica and the reed organ. As a woodwind instrument that is blown, the shēng takes the verb chuī.
Wǒ cónglái méi xuéguò chuī shēng.
I never learned to play the sheng.
Finally, another Chinese woodwind of popularity is the dízi. This transverse flute comes in many varieties and styles. It is beloved by Chinese musicians and patrons alike for its soft melodic tone found in folk music gējù and orchestral performances alike. Another primary reason for the dízi's popularity in China is the fact that it is relatively easily fashioned from reasonable and accessible materials and it is lightweight and easy to carry about, thus making it accessible to the poor. Dízi are most commonly made from bamboo, but historically there have been dízi made from all manner of wood, even fragrant woods, and from marble or stone and even from jade. Jade dízi make fine collector's items.