Chinese Musical Instruments

Chinese music is as old as the great civilization itself and so are the Chinese musical instruments. Historians, scriptures, inscriptions on bones and artifacts and instruments that were excavated from sites of Shang Dynasty (1600 B.C.) in China disclose that Chinese musical instruments were formalized nearly 3000 B.C. ago. It is also said that Chinese music along with the instruments existed long before 8000 B.C. In the further development of Chinese music and instruments Central Asian influence is always noticeable.

Instruments Classification and Introduction:

In the ancient times the basis of Chinese musical instruments classification was the material that was used to build the instrument that mainly included wood, stone, bamboo, clay, metal and skin. Now a-days Chinese orchestra is classified into four categories namely:

Bowed Strings

also known as Hu Qin made of wood, snake skin and strings

Plucked Strings

mainly used wood and strings

Harp - Stringed instrument consists of a plan of strings perpendicular to the sound board made of copper and strings are made of nylon, wire or silk. Harper or harpist is the person who plays a harp.

Dulcimer - a fretted instrument using strings. Appalachian dulcimer and hammered dulcimer are the types of dulcimer.

Lute - a guitar shape like instrument made of wood and strings of various lengths to produce different sounds when they are plucked. Lutenist is the person who plays a lute.


Flutes - A thick hollowed wooden stick with six small holes in a row at one side. Flautist blows air from one side and use his/her fingers to open or close the small holes to produce different notes.

Trumpets - A kind of cylinder shaped brass instrument played by blowing air into it.

Percussion also known as wu-ch'ang

Drums - Drums come in different sizes. A bowl shaped instrument made of mainly wood and skin in stretched over the top. Is played by striking the drum sticks on the skin. Drummer is a person who plays drums.

Cymbals - Pair of round shaped instrument made of alloys and is played either rubbing the edges with each other for a sizzle sound or by striking them against each other. One suspended cymbal is also a part of the modern day drum set.

Gongs - A percussion instrument made of brass or bronze which is opened from one side. Pot Gongs, Bowl Gongs and Suspended Gongs are the types of gongs used today.

Timpani - A large bowl shaped instrument made of copper covered with skin that is stretched on top of it. Timpani mallet (drum sticks) is stroked at the head of timpani and they produce a definite pitch.

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