List of Chinese musical instruments

Chinese musical instruments were traditalhstys grouped into eight categories known as putangina (八音).[1] The eight categories are silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd and skin. There are other instruments which may not fit these groups. This is one of the first musical groupings ever devised.

Silk ()Edit

Silk instruments are mostly stringed 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:


  • LonQin – Chinese historical zither, early zither in Chinese. An ancient classical Chinese musical instrument similar to Guqin.
  • Guqin (Chinese: 古琴; pinyin: gǔqín) – 7-stringed zithers
  • Se (Chinese: ; pinyin: ) – 25-stringed zither with movable bridges (ancient sources say 14, 25 or 50 strings)
  • Zheng (Chinese) – Similar to Guzheng
  • Guzheng (古箏) – 16–26 stringed zither with movable bridges
  • Konghou (箜篌) – harp
  • Huluqin (葫芦琴) – four-stringed guitar with gourd body used by the Naxi of Yunnan
  • Pipa (琵琶) – pear-shaped fretted lute with 4 or 5 strings
  • Sanxian (三弦) – plucked lute with body covered with snakeskin and long fretless neck
  • Ruan (Chinese: ; pinyin: ruǎn) – moon-shaped lute in five sizes: gaoyin-, xiao-, zhong-, da-, and diyin-; sometimes called ruanqin (阮琴)
  • Liuqin (柳琴) – small plucked, fretted lute with a pear-shaped body and four and five strings
  • Yueqin (月琴) – plucked lute with a wooden body, a short fretted neck, and four strings tuned in pairs
  • Qinqin (秦琴) – plucked lute with a wooden body and fretted neck; also called meihuaqin (梅花琴, literally "plum blossom instrument", from its flower-shaped body)
  • Duxianqin (simplified Chinese: 独弦琴; traditional Chinese: 獨弦琴) – the instrument of the Jing People (Vietnamese people in China) plucked zither with only one string a monochord zither tuned to C3.
  • Huobosi (火不思) – a plucked long-necked lute of Turkic origin
  • Tembor (弹拨尔) – a fretted plucked long-necked lute with five strings in three courses, used in Uyghur traditional music of Xinjiang
  • Dutar (都塔尔) – a fretted plucked long-necked lute with two strings, used in Uyghur traditional music of Xinjiang
  • Rawap (热瓦普 or 热瓦甫) – a fretless plucked long-necked lute used in Uyghur traditional music of Xinjiang
  • Tianqin (天琴) - a 3 strings plucked lute of Zhuang people in Guangxi.
  • Qiben (起奔) - a four strings plucked lute of Lisu people


Re-enactment of an ancient traditional music performance
A mural from the tomb of Xu Xianxiu in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, dated 571 AD during the Northern Qi Dynasty, showing male court musicians playing stringed instruments, either the liuqin or pipa, and a woman playing a konghou (harp)
  • Huqin (胡琴) – family of vertical fiddles
  • Erhu (二胡) – two-stringed fiddle
  • Zhonghu (中胡) – two-stringed fiddle,(Alto Erhu) lower pitch than an erhu
  • Gaohu (高胡) – two-stringed fiddle, higher pitch than erhu; also called yuehu (aka Sopranino Erhu)()
  • Banhu (板胡) – two-stringed fiddle with a coconut resonator and wooden face, used primarily in northern China
  • Jinghu (京胡) – two-stringed fiddle,(Piccolo Erhu) 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)(Essentially a Stroh Erhu)
  • Hexian (和弦) – large fiddle used primarily among the Hakka of Taiwan
  • 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 (aka Tenor Erhu)
  • Zhongdihu (中低胡) – medium dihu, tuned one octave below the zhonghu (aka Baritone Erhu)
  • Dadihu (大低胡) – large dihu, tuned two octaves below the erhu (aka bass 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
  • 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
  • Shaoqin (韶琴) - electric huqin
  • Yazheng (simplified: 轧筝; traditional: 軋箏) – bowed zither; also called yaqin (simplified: 轧琴; traditional: 軋琴)
  • Wenzhenqin (文枕琴) – a zither with 9 strings bowed
  • Zhengni (琤尼) – bowed zither; used by the Zhuang people of Guangxi
  • Ghaychak (艾捷克) – four-stringed bowed instrument used in Uyghur traditional music of Xinjiang; similar to kamancheh [2] (Tuned just like a Fiddle G, D, A, E)
  • Sataer (萨塔尔 or 萨它尔) – long-necked bowed lute with 13 strings used in Uyghur traditional music of Xinjiang. 1 playing string and 12 sympathetic strings.
  • Khushtar (胡西它尔) – a four-stringed bowed instrument used in Uyghur traditional music of Xinjiang tuned just like a Fiddle (G, D, A, E)


  • Yangqin (揚琴) – hammered dulcimer
  • Zhu () – a zither similar to a guzheng but it's played with a bamboo mallet
  • Niujinqin (牛筋琴) – a zither used to accompany traditional narrative singing in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, China. Similar to a se but played with a bamboo mallet.


  • Wenqin (文琴) – a combination of the erhu, konghou, sanxian and guzheng with 50 or more strings made by steel.

Bamboo ()Edit

A half-section of the Song Dynasty (960–1279) version of the Night Revels of Han Xizai, original by Gu Hongzhong;[2] 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.
A Bawu in the key of F[3]

Bamboo mainly refers to woodwind instruments, which includes;


Free reed pipesEdit

Single reed pipesEdit

Double reed pipesEdit

Wood ()Edit

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
This is a set of muyus or Chinese wooden slit drums. The sound produced is affected by the instrument's size, type of wood, and how hollow it is.
  • 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)
    • Ban (Chinese Language)
    • 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 ()Edit

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

Metal ()Edit

  • Bianzhong (編鐘) – 16 to 65 bronze bells hung on a rack, struck using poles
  • Fangxiang (simplified Chinese: 方响; traditional Chinese: 方響; pinyin: fāngxiǎng; Wade–Giles: fang hsiang) – set of tuned metal slabs (metallophone)
  • Nao (musical instrument) () – may refer to either an ancient bell or large cymbals
  • Bo (; also called chazi, 镲子) –
    • 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[4]
    • 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)
  • Yinqing (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
  • Bronze drum (铜鼓)
  • Laba (喇叭) – A long, straight, valveless brass trumpet

Clay ()Edit

Gourd ()Edit

Hide-skin ()Edit

A Chaozhou dagu (large drum)
A Chinese Bolang Gu[5]
  • Dagu – (大鼓) – large drum played with two sticks
  • 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; also called danpigu (单皮鼓)
  • 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
  • Gaogu (鼛鼓) – large ancient drum used to for battlefield commands and large-scale construction
  • 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
  • Bolang Gu (波浪鼓; pinyin: bo lang gu) – a traditional Chinese pellet drum and toy


  • Gudi (骨笛) – an ancient flute made of bone[6]
  • Hailuo (海螺) – conch shell [5]
  • Lilie (唎咧) – reed wind instrument with a conical bore played by the Li people of Hainan
  • Lusheng (simplified Chinese: 芦笙; traditional Chinese: 蘆笙; pinyin: lúshēng) – free-reed mouth organ with five or six pipes, played by various ethnic groups in southwest China and neighboring countries
  • Kouxian (口弦) – jaw harp, made of bamboo or metal
  • Muye (木叶) – tree leaf used as a wind instrument, some time call yedi (葉笛)
  • Shuijingdi (水晶笛) - crystal flute.

Playing contextsEdit

Chinese instruments are either played solo, 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, nor any use of musical scores or tablature in performance. Music was generally learned aurally and memorized by the musician(s) beforehand, then played without aid. As of the 20th century, musical scores have become more common, as has the use of conductors in larger orchestral-type ensembles.

Musical instruments in use in the 1800sEdit

These watercolour illustrations, made in China in the 1800s, show several types of musical instruments being played:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Don Michael Randel, ed. (2003). The Harvard Dictionary of Music (4th ed.). Harvard University Press. pp. 260–262. ISBN 978-0674011632.
  2. ^ Patricia Ebrey (1999), Cambridge Illustrated History of China, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 148.
  3. ^ Bawu Wikipage
  4. ^ "photo". Archived from the original on 4 March 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  5. ^ Chinese Musical Instrument-Bolanggu
  6. ^ Endymion Wilkinson (2000), Chinese history, ISBN 978-0-674-00249-4
  • 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 linksEdit