Chinese Traditional Musical Instruments

Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) has an extensive collection of Asian traditional musical instruments. It includes musical instruments from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Philippines and Thailand. This entry is about Chinese traditional musical instruments. As someone with low level of musical knowledge, looking at the collection made me realize that one cannot have too many lutes. Even with the barrage of string instruments, I like hua pen gu the most because it stands out like a bold fool with its redness and floral design.

Cultural Center of the Philippines' collection of Chinese Traditional Musical Instruments

Cultural Center of the Philippines’ collection of Chinese Traditional Musical Instruments

Yang qin is a “butterfly harp” or dulcimer with a set of string across two rows of bridges resting on a trapezoid-shaped soundbox. It was an important Confucian ceremonial instrument until the 20th century when these rituals become obsolete. The strings are struck with two light bamboo sticks. The instrument is used for popular music, including many styles of regional opera, sung narratives and solo pieces.

Yang qin

Yang qin

Yue qin is a three-stringed moon lute with a short neck and a circular or sometimes octagonal soundbox. The instrument was popular in Tang dynasty. Its frame is made of red sandalwood while both sides of its soundbox are made of wood from the phoenix tree. The instrument is played in the Chinese orchestra to accompany regional opera and popular narrative musical forms.

Yue qin

Yue qin

Liu-qin is a small lute which resembles a small p’ip’a.

Liu-qin

Liu-qin

Pipa is a four-stringed short-necked lute with a pear-shaped soundbox. The instrument is said to have originated in Central Asia and arrived in China during the Northern Wei dynasty. Its backboard is of wood and its tuning pegs are of ivory, buffalo horn or wood. The head usually takes the form of a symbolic object like a dragon’s head or a phoenix tail. It is heard as a form of entertainment and is played either solo or in an ensemble.

Pipa

Pipa

Ching is a pair of hand cymbals made of thick metal and shaped like small tea cups. Each cymbal is connected to the other by a cord which passes through small holes at both apices. The ching is used in purely instrumental ensembles and in ensembles to accompany song, dance, musicals, and dance dramas. It keeps time and beats the rhythm.

Ching

Ching

Chap is a pair of metal cymbals with a knob from which a flat metal outer rim extends. Each cymbal has a cord fastened through a hole at the top of the knob, often decorated at the end with a tassel or something fancy. The chap beats rhythm and keeps times.

Chap

Chap

Pi is a reed instrument with six fingerholes usually made of hardwood. Four fingerholes are found above its bulging center, and two are found below. Its reed, made of small rounded pieces of palmyra palm leaves in two double layers and tied to a small metal tube, is attached to the hole at the top of the pi. Covering the center of the body are 14 pairs of smooth polished small rings. In earlier days, the pi was the leader of the ensemble, hence the name pi-phat.

Pi

Pi

Luo is a gong in a shape of a platter or Chinese straw hat with a large brim. The luo is of various sizes and is suspended by a string and struck with a mallet. Its uses are very general. At the gates of the yamens, it announces the arrival of visitors; in the army, it gives signal to retreat; in processions, it drives away evil spirits; in Buddhist temples, it is beaten to call the attention of the sleeping gods; and in songs, it marks time.

Luo

Luo

Tang gu is a barrel-shaped drum with a head made of stretched hide. Archaeological evidence shows it was used in China during the earliest times. The drum, beaten with one or two sticks, is played in an ensemble of traditional musical instruments. It is used in opera and accompanies folk dances. 

Tang gu

Tang gu

Hua pen gu is also called a “flower pot drum” which evolved from the tang gu. Its shape resembles a flower pot from which it derived its name. It is also known as gang gu or jar drum, the hua pen gu is painted red with intricate designs of flowers, dragons and other patterns. Struck with two drumsticks, it has a lower and mellower sound than that of the tang gu.

Hua pen gu

Hua pen gu

Gu Zheng is a long zither with 21 strings and a curved upper surface. Its soundbox is made of wood and may be inlaid with intricate designs. The strings are suspended from wooden bridges. The instrument developed from the cheng, a string zither popular ensembles during ancient times. It accompanied vocal groups and was played in court banquets. From the 19th century, it has evolved as a solo instrument and has become modernized in the process.

Gu Zheng

Gu Zheng

Ban gu is a board drum dating back to the Tang dynasty and considered the leader among Chinese musical instruments. Its small body is made of wood, usually from birch, locust or maple tree. Its head, struck at the center, is made of pigskin or cowhide. Also called danpi or single-skinned drum, the ban gu is chiefly used in popular orchestras to beat time and accompany songs and ballads.

Ban gu

Ban gu

Hu Ch’in Family of Instruments are two-stringed Chinese lutes belonging to the family of bowed instruments called Hu Ch’in. Its unique characteristic is that bow hair was originally permanently attached between the instruments’ two strings to prevent them from slipping off. It is said that the reason for this is that the instruments were played by tribal horsemen while riding.

Er hu is a two-stringed bowed lute with a round or hexagonal body made of wood, one end of which is covered with python skin, and the other end usually decorated with an open work design. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was already popular as an ensemble instrument and accompanied opera and narrative folksongs. The instrument is popular in solo performances and in traditional music ensembles.

Chung hu is a medium sized er hu. One end of its semi-hexagonal shaped body is covered with python skin while the other end is decorated with an open work design.

Chung hu and Er hu

Chung hu and Er hu

Ti hu is the largest instrument of the Hu Ch’in family. The instrument, which has become modernized, is considered part of the modern Chinese orchestra. It has four strings and is played pizzicato or with a bow.

Ti hu

Ti hu

Ching hu is a two-stringed bowed lute with hollow cylindrical body made of bamboo, one of which is covered with python skin while the other is left open. This type of Hu Ch’in is used to accompany opera.

Ching hu

Ching hu

Pan hu is a type of er hu in the Ch’in opera of the Shaanxi Province. Its body is made of coconut shell, one end of which is covered with wood while the other end is left open.

Ching er hu is a type of er hu in the Peking opera. One end of its wooden hexagonal-shaped body is covered with python skin while the other end is left open.

Pan hu and Ching er hu

Pan hu and Ching er hu

For more Asian traditional musical instruments, please read Philippine Traditional Musical Instruments, Indian TMI, Indonesian TMI, Japanese and Thai TMI, and Korean TMI.

Where: Asian Traditional Musical Instruments, 4th Floor, CCP Main Building, Pedro Bukaneg Street, CCP Complex, Manila

When: Asian Traditional Musical is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, 10am to 6pm.

How: From Vito Cruz Station of LRT Line 1, walk to Pablo Ocampo Street. Turn right on Pablo Ocampo Street and walk straight. In 2-5 minutes, you will arrive at the jeepney station of orange jeepneys that will take you to the CCP Complex.

How much: Asian Traditional Musical Instruments entrance fee: Students, P20 (US $ 0.44) and non-students, P30 (US $0.66), which is inclusive in the fee for Museo ng Kalinangan Pilipino (Museum of Philippine Culture).

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