Top 10 Chinese Musical Instruments

Chinese musical instruments can trace its history to several thousand years ago. Each of the instruments produces a different and unique sound and effect. These China musical instruments not only entertain people but also play an important part in traditional Chinese culture. Now let us have a look at 10 famous Chinese music instruments:

1. Erhu (Chinese two-stringed fiddle )  二胡

The Erhu (known as Chinese violin) is a kind of two-stringed bowed musical instrument. Its history can  be dated back to Tang Dynasty over 1,000 years ago. Erhu can be used as a solo performance as well as in small musical groups and large orchestras. It is one of the most popular bowed string instruments used by many ethnic groups in China.This insturlent is very popular in Asian culture circle.

The classical Erhu melodies include: The Moon over a Fountain(二泉映月), Horse Racing(赛马), Jackdaw Playing in the Water(寒鸦戏水).

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2. Guzheng (Chinese Zither) 古筝

The Guzheng is a Chinese plucked zither. It is made of 18-23 or more strings and movable bridges. People believe that it has been invented during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC).  The performer pluck the strings at the right portion with right hand, and left hand presses the string on the left side of the bridge to produce pitch ornamentation and vibrato. The skilled player can create sounds that can evoke the sense of waterfall, thunder, and even the scenic countryside.

The classic Guzheng melodies include: High Mountain and Running Water(高山流水), Fishing Boat Sings the Evening(渔舟唱晚), The Moon over the Han Palace(汉宫秋月)

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3. Dizi (Chinese bamboo flute) 笛子

The Dizi (or Bamboo Flute) is a Chinese style flute. Dizi is made of bamboo, the body has six finger-holes, one blow-hole, and an extra hole between them covered by a thin membrane of reed. Dizi is a classical Chinese musical instrument widely used many genres of Chinese music. It is also very popular among the common Chinese people as it is easier to make and  play than other music instruments.

The classic Dizi melodies include: Guangling Verse(广陵散), Moon on Guan Mountain(关山月), Wild Geese on the Sandbank(平沙落雁), Plum-blossom in Three Movements(梅花三弄).

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4. Suona 唢呐

The Suona, also called Laba, is double-reed wood wind instrument. It can produce particularly loud and high-pitched sound and is widely used in Chinese traditional music ensembles especially in northern China. It is can be played solo or many times together with Sheng, drums, and other instruments in wedding and funeral ceremonies. This is another Chinese instrument popular in oriental culture.

Chinese classic Suona melodies include: Birds Paying Homage to the Phoenix(百鸟朝凰), Beating Down the Dates(打枣), Shandong Bass Drum(山东大鼓)

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5. Big Drum 大鼓

Big Drum is usually a stretched hide over a hollow vessel. Player use two bamboo or wood sticks to beat the drum. From ancient to modern times, Big Drum has always been a folk musical instrument liked by people around the country. It is widely used in the occasions of celebration, military, entertainment and festival, etc.

Traditional big drum melodies include: Lead an army expedition (帅师远征), Ancient glimpse (远古掠影).

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6. Xiao 箫

The Xiao is a Chinese vertical flute with blow-hole at one end. Xiao is usually made of dark brown bamboo and can produce graceful and mellow sound suitable for both solo playing and chamber music ensembles. It is believed that the earliest Xiao was used by the Qiang people of Southwest China during the Han Dynasty (206B.C. -220A .D).

Chinese classic Xiao melodies include: The autumn Moon Over the calm Lake(平湖秋月), Plum-blossom in Three Movements(梅花三弄), Moon on Guan Mountain(关山月), Wild Geese over the Clam Sands(平沙落雁)

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7. Hulusi 葫芦丝

The Hulusi is a free reed wind solo instrument that is very popular among the Dai and the Yi minorities in southwest Yunnan provinces. It is made of three bamboo pipes and a gourd chest; the center pipe has finger holes and the outer two are drone pipes. Hulusi has very pure, clarinet-like sound and is ideal for expressing soft and tender feelings.

The classic Hulusi melodies include: Moonlight under of Phoenix Tail Bamboo(月光下的凤尾竹),The Wedding Vow(婚誓), Peacocks and Phoenix Tail Bamboo (金孔雀和凤尾竹), The Butterfly Spring (蝴蝶泉边)

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8. Pipa (Chinese lute) 琵琶

The Pipa, known as Chinese Guitar, is a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument. It has 16 frets and a pear-shaped wooden body. It is able to express various emotions such as portraying battles and great tension or expressing tones on sad songs or love ballads. Pipa has a long history in China and is believed to have existed about two thousand years ago in China.

The classic Pipa melodies include: The House of Flying Daggers(十面埋伏), Zhaojun Departs the Frontier(昭君出塞), Gold and Sand(大浪淘沙)

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9. Sheng (or Lusheng) 笙

The Sheng is a mouth-blown free reed instrument. It is usually made of 17 bamboo pipes set in a small wind-chest. Its history can be traced back to 1100 BC. This mouth-blown instrument has a delightful, lyrical sound and it is traditionally played as an accompaniment to Suona or Dizi.

Chinese traditional Lusheng melodies include: Dance of the Yao People(瑶族舞曲), A Happy Song on Yi People(彝寨欢歌), Su Wu the Shepherd(苏武牧羊)


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10. Guqin 古琴

The Guqin is a plucked seven-string zither. It has a history of some 3000 years. In ancient China, it has been favored by scholars as an instrument of elevating spirit. It is often regarded by the Chinese as “the father of Chinese music”, however, only a small number of people can play the instrument, because musical education of Guqin has never really reached general public.

Classic Guqin melodies include: Guangling Verse(广陵散), Moon on Guan Mountain(关山月), Wild Geese on the Sandbank(平沙落雁).

Other traditional Chinese instruments include: Huqin (胡琴), Liuqin (柳琴), Dombra(冬不拉,Chinese dongbula), Xun (埙), Chimes (编钟), Dulcimer (扬琴), The Morin Khuur (马头琴pinyin:mǎ tóu qín)

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16 Responses

  1. K C Basumatary says:

    I have been listening Chinese traditional music since my childhood.I am a diehard fan of some of the Chinese musical instruments, especially Irhu and Ghujeng.

  2. K C Basumatary says:

    Chinese musics are really very charming.It has soothing effect and full of melody.i am from India and I am a regular listener of some instrumental musics, especially Ghujeng and Irhu.

  3. alden smith says:

    this was great! What got me is how accessible this music is to me as an American. I don’t think it was tailored (too much) to a Western audience. I imagine Jimi Hendrix playing a pipa!

  4. paul gearing says:

    Fantastic– Cant play a thing ,but I listen a lot. The 2 string violin is amazing ,What is the harp/zither, that is struck by small bamboo hammers called.Why was”nt it included?

  5. Mahdi says:

    Would have been perfect if contained more Chinese instruments, but it is good still.

  6. ian pajulas says:

    thanks it really helps me in my project i hope you will make more of this but another country like vietnam laos because there instruments are few.

  7. The Guqin Forest says:

    Chinese music has such an interesting history. I would really like to learn about some lesser known Chinese instruments. This was a good article to learn about the popular ones.

  8. pet says:

    you banned from my chinses restaurant for life. life! life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. jay says:

    for global studies and we had to pick a country i choose china and there music because to me it sounds peacful but i never knew the stuff

  10. Saer says:

    Thanks really helped!!

  11. Chinese tea says:

    Thanks so much, I was looking for instruments from China to research what music I could use in my tea related videos. This list is my best starting point!

  12. abbs says:

    wow great help with meh hmk thx

    XD luckily i found this ma hmk is due tomoz and i already got detention today lol.


  13. Peter says:

    Of course more than 10, these are just most popular ones.

  14. sundy says:

    is the chinese musical instrument is ten?

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