List of Chinese musical instruments

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Grouping of musical instruments, Tang dynasty
Mogao Cave 156, musicians at battle in 848 C.E., Tang dynasty vs. Tibetan Empire.
The grouping of instruments includes (from the bottom, clockwise) a zhangu, pipa, two headed drum, tambourine, konghou, sheng, and two end-blown flutes (such as xiao or pipes.

Chinese musical instruments are traditionally grouped into eight categories known as bā yīn (八音).[1] The eight categories are silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd and skin; other instruments considered traditional exist that may not fit these groups. The grouping of instruments in material categories in China 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:


Name Image
Se (Chinese: ; pinyin: ) – 25-stringed zither with movable bridges (ancient sources say 14, 25 or 50 strings)[citation needed]
Guzheng (古箏) – 16–26 stringed zither with movable bridges
Konghou (箜篌) – angular harp
Phoenix-headed konghou (鳳首箜篌 Konghou fengshou) – Arched harp. 10th century A.D., Bezeklik Caves, cave 48.[2]
Huluqin (葫芦琴) – four-stringed lute with gourd-shape body used by the Naxi people of Yunnan. With frets like pipa, the structure of the huluqin is the same as that of the pipa and can be played with the pipa technique.
Huleiqin (忽雷琴) – pear-shaped lute slightly smaller than the pipa, with 2 strings and body covered with snakeskin; it was used during the Tang dynasty but is no longer used
Pipa (琵琶) – pear-shaped fretted lute with 4 or 5 strings
Liuqin (柳琴) – small plucked, fretted lute with a pear-shaped body and four and five strings
Ruan (Chinese: ; pinyin: ruǎn) – moon-shaped lute in five sizes: gaoyin-, xiao-, zhong-, da-, and diyin-; sometimes called ruanqin (阮琴)
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)
Sanxian (三弦) – plucked lute with body covered with snakeskin and long fretless neck; the ancestor of the Japanese shamisen
Duxianqin (simplified Chinese: 独弦琴; traditional Chinese: 獨弦琴) – the instrument of the Jing people (Vietnamese people in China), a plucked, monochord zither with only one string, 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
Wanqin (弯琴) – shaped like a dragon boat. Its shape is very similar to Myanmar's saung-gauk. Another variation of the wanqin held in the form of a harp with four strings was found in a painting of Feitian in Mogao caves, Dunhuang province.
Kongqin (孔琴) – A pear-shaped ruan with five strings similar to ukulele
Dombra (冬不拉) – a

long-necked Kazakh, Uzbek and Bashkir lute and a musical string instrument

Qibue (其布厄) – The 4 strings Lisu people lute
Saiding (赛玎) – The lute of Bulang people
Dingbengba (玎崩巴) – a 4 strings lute of Dai people
Palaung dingqin (德昂族丁琴) – a 4 strings lute of Palaung people
Sugudu (苏古笃) – a 4 trings Naxi people's lute with fretless fingerboard, and the body is traditionally made from snake skin.
Kaomuzi (考姆兹) – a long-necked Dongxiangs lute with fretless fingerboard.


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)
Instrument Image
Huqin (胡琴) – family of vertical fiddles
Erhu (二胡) – two-stringed fiddle
Zhonghu (中胡) – two-stringed fiddle, lower pitch than an erhu
Gaohu (高胡) – two-stringed fiddle, higher pitch than an erhu; also called yuehu ()
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) – a Chinese bowed string instrument in the huqin family of instruments. It has two strings and is used primarily in Cantonese music, most often in "hard string" chamber ensembles.
Zhutiqin (竹提琴) – a huqin (胡琴, vertical fiddle) with cylindrical bamboo resonator and paulownia soundboard used in old-style Cantonese opera, both staged (Chinese: gu qiang Yueju, 古腔粤剧) and non-staged (Chinese: gu qiang Yue qu, 古腔粤曲).
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)
Niujiaohu (牛角胡) – a yak's horn fiddle used primarily among the Tibetan people
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
Liuhu (六胡) – six-stringed fiddle of Mongolian people in Inner Mongolia
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
Zhuihu (simplified Chinese: 坠胡; traditional Chinese: 墜胡) – two-stringed fiddle with fingerboard
Zhuiqin (simplified Chinese: 坠琴; traditional Chinese: 墜琴) – 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
Zhongdihu (中低胡) – medium dihu, tuned one octave below the zhonghu
Dadihu (大低胡) – large dihu, tuned two octaves below the 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) – bowed pear-shaped lute
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 Chinese: 轧筝; traditional Chinese: 軋箏) – bowed zither; also called yaqin (simplified Chinese: 轧琴; traditional Chinese: 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[3]
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.

Qiaoqin (桥琴) – cello-like instrument with snakeskin resonator) from Shenyang
Shenhu (桥琴) – a huqin (2-stringed vertical fiddle with snakeskin-covered resonator) with a distinctive broad, nasal timbre that is used as the primary accompanying huqin (zhu hu, 主胡) in Huju (沪剧), a genre of local Chinese opera (difang xiqu, 地方戏曲) from Shanghai.


Instrument Image
Yangqin (揚琴) – hammered dulcimer

Zhu () – a zither similar to a guzheng, played with a bamboo mallet
Niujinqin (牛筋琴) – a zither used to accompany traditional narrative singing in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. 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 steel strings.
  • Qingzhou cuoqin (青州挫琴) – strucked and bowed zither from Shandong, China.

Bamboo ()[edit]

A half-section of the Song dynasty (960–1279) version of the Night Revels of Han Xizai, original by Gu Hongzhong;[4] 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.

Bamboo () mainly refers to woodwind instruments, which includes;


Instrument Image
Dizi (笛子) – transverse bamboo flute with buzzing membrane
Bangdi (梆笛)
Wanguandi (弯管笛) - Chinese version dizi from Western alto flute and bass flute
Xiao (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: xiāo) – end-blown flute; also called dongxiao (simplified Chinese: 洞箫; traditional Chinese: 洞簫)
Paixiao (simplified Chinese: 排箫; traditional Chinese: 排簫; pinyin: páixiāo) – pan pipes
Chi (Chinese: ; pinyin: chí) – ancient transverse bamboo flute
Yue (Chinese: ; pinyin: yuè) – ancient notched vertical bamboo flute with three finger holes; used in Confucian ritual music and dance
Xindi (新笛) – modern transverse flute with as many as 21 holes
Dongdi (侗笛) – wind instrument of the Dong people of southern China
Koudi (Chinese: 口笛; pinyin: kǒudí) – very small transverse bamboo flute
Zhuxun (竹埙): a bamboo version of xun

Free reed pipes[edit]

Instrument Image
Bawu (simplified Chinese: 巴乌; traditional Chinese: 巴烏; pinyin: bāwū) – side-blown free reed pipe with finger holes
Bawu in the Key of F
Mangtong (Chinese: 芒筒; pinyin: mángtǒng) – end-blown free reed pipe producing a single pitch

Single reed pipes[edit]

Instrument Image
Mabu (马布) – single-reed bamboo pipe played by the Yi people

Double reed pipes[edit]

Instrument Image
Guan (Chinese: ; pinyin: guǎn) – cylindrical double reed wind instrument made of either hardwood (Northern China) or bamboo (Cantonese); the northern version is also called guanzi (管子) or bili (simplified Chinese: 筚篥; traditional Chinese: 篳篥), the Cantonese version is also called houguan (喉管), and the Taiwanese version is called 鴨母笛, or Taiwan guan (台湾管)
Shuangguan (雙管) – literally "double guan," an instrument consisting of two guanzi (cylindrical double reed pipes) of equal length, joined together along their length
Suona (simplified Chinese: 唢呐; traditional Chinese: 嗩吶) – double-reed wind instrument with a flaring metal bell; also called haidi (海笛)

Wood ()[edit]

A set of muyu, or Chinese wooden slit drums. The sound produced is affected by the instrument's size, type of wood, and how hollow it is.

Most wood () instruments are percussion instruments of the ancient variety:

Percussion instruments[edit]

Instrument Image
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
Paiban (拍板) – a clapper made from several flat pieces of wood; also called bǎn (), 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
    • Zhuban (竹板, a clapper made from two pieces of bamboo)
    • Kuaiban (快板)
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)


The stone () category comprises various forms of stone chimes.

Instrument Image
Bianqing (simplified Chinese: 编磬; traditional Chinese: 編磬; pinyin: biānqìng) – a rack of stone tablets that are hung by ropes from a wooden frame and struck using a mallet.
Tezhong (特鐘) – a single large stone tablet hung by a rope in a wooden frame and struck using a mallet

Metal ()[edit]

Instrument Image
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)
Fangxiang from Korea
Nao (musical instrument) () – may refer to either an ancient bell or large cymbals

Shangnao (商鐃) – ancient bellphoto

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 [1]
    • Pingluo (平锣) – a flat gong[5]
    • 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 [2]
Chun (; pinyin: chún) – ancient bellphoto
Tonggu (铜鼓) – bronze drum
Laba (喇叭) – A long, straight, valveless brass trumpet

Clay ()[edit]

Instrument Image
Xun (, Chinese: ; pinyin: xūn) – ocarina made of baked clay
Fou (Chinese: ; pinyin: fǒu) – clay pot played as a percussion instrument
Taodi (Chinese: 陶笛; pinyin: táo dí) – ocarina

Gourd ()[edit]

Instrument Image
Sheng (Chinese: ; pinyin: shēng) – free reed mouth organ consisting of varying number of bamboo pipes inserted into a metal (formerly gourd or hardwood) chamber with finger holes
Baosheng (抱笙) – larger version of the Sheng
Yu (Chinese: ; pinyin: ) – ancient free reed mouth organ similar to the sheng but generally larger
Hulusi (simplified Chinese: 葫芦丝; traditional Chinese: 葫蘆絲; pinyin: húlúsī) – free-reed wind instrument with three bamboo pipes which pass through a gourd wind chest; one pipe has finger holes and the other two are drone pipes; used primarily in Yunnan province
Hulusheng (simplified Chinese: 葫芦笙; traditional Chinese: 葫蘆笙; pinyin: húlúshēng) – free-reed mouth organ with a gourd wind chest; used primarily in Yunnan province
Fangsheng – Northern China Gourd

Hide-skin ()[edit]

Instrument Image
Dagu – (大鼓) – large drum played with two sticks
A Chaozhou dagu (large drum)
Huapengu (花盆鼓) – flowerpot-shaped large drum played with two sticks; also called ganggu (缸鼓)
Huzuo Dagu (虎座大鼓)
Huzuo Wujia Gu (虎座鳥架鼓)
Jiangu (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
Ethnic Yao biangu
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
Waist and Tao drums
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.
Bajiaogu (八角鼓) – octagonal tambourine used primarily in narrative singing from northern China.
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
Linggu (铃鼓)


Instrument Image
Gudi (骨笛) – an ancient flute made of bone[6]
Hailuo (海螺) – conch shell [3]
Kouxian (口弦) – jaw harp, made of bamboo or metal.
Yedi (叶笛) – tree leaf used as a wind instrument.
Shuijingdi (水晶笛) – crystal flute.
Zutongqin (竹筒琴) – bamboo tube zither
Shu pi hao (树皮号, literally "tree-bark horn"): a traditional horn made from coiled tree bark, used by the Dong people of Xinhuang Dong Autonomous County, western Huaihua, west-central Hunan province, south-central China, near the border with Guizhou province.

The instrument, which is also used by the Tujia and Miao ethnic groups of this part of Hunan province, is made by first felling a young paulownia tree, then, using a sharp knife, slowly peeling off its thin bark in a long, winding strip several inches in width. This strip of bark is then coiled tightly to produce a long conical tube that is blown from the narrow end with a buzzed embouchure, in the manner of a horn.

Ethnic instruments[edit]

Instrument Image Ethnic group
Frame drum Frame drums are used by ethnic groups all over China. The style of the one pictured is used mainly by Mongolic, Tungusic, and Turkic peoples.
Lusheng, or qeej – free reed gourd mouth organ of the Miao/Hmong people
A free-reed mouth organ with five or six pipes, played by various ethnic groups in southwest China and neighboring countries, such as the Miao people (or Hmong).
Lilie (唎咧) – reed wind instrument with a conical bore played by the Li people of Hainan
Miaodi (Chinese: 苗族笛; pinyin: miáozú dí) Flute played by the Miao

Playing contexts[edit]

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 1800s[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Don Michael Randel, ed. (2003). The Harvard Dictionary of Music (4th ed.). Harvard University Press. pp. 260–262. ISBN 978-0674011632.
  2. ^ "箜篌故事:凤首丝绸之路上的凤首箜篌" [Konghou Story: The Phoenix-headed Konghou on the Silk Road] (in Chinese). 23 August 2016. 图4 柏孜克里克第48窟中的凤首箜篌 公元十世纪 (translation: Figure 4 The phoenix-headed Konghou in Cave 48, Bezeklik, 10th century AD)
  3. ^ "少数民族拉弦乐器 : 艾捷克". Archived from the original on 12 December 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2022.
  4. ^ Patricia Ebrey (1999), Cambridge Illustrated History of China, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 148.
  5. ^ "photo". Archived from the original on 4 March 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  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 links[edit]