Traditional Chinese Musical Instruments

Traditional Musical Instruments

Ancient Chinese believed music cleansed people’s minds.  There were around 70 types of traditional musical instruments.  The instruments were a string, wind, and percussion. These are ten of the most common traditional instruments.


The xun is one of the oldest musical instruments.  It is older than 7,000 years.  People first used a type of oval stone or bone to hunt.  They would throw these stones at their prey.  The stone made a whistling sound as the air flowed through the natural holes on the stone.  Now the instrument is made from clay or ceramic to look like an oval stone and the holes are added so music can be made by blowing in the mouthpiece of this flute instrument.

Chinese Chimes

Chinese chimes are made from different metals.  The chimes are made flat like two tiles pieced together with sharp corners. This helps to make the sound flow faster, making it possible to play them as a rhythmic instrument of several bells together in a group. The bells make two high pitch notes depending on where you strike the bell.  They also have decorated patterns on them of humans, dragons and beasts.


The Xiao is a vertically played bamboo flute with 6-8 finger holes.  The melody of this flute reminds the listener of a lonely moon in the autumn night sky.  This flute works on the same principle of blowing air over an empty bottle to make a noise.


The sheng is a wind instrument made out of bamboo.  It was used to accompany dancers in their performances and is now used for melody in orchestras.  There can be many pipes, but the first sheng had 17 pipes with a curved mouthpiece.


The pipa is a four-stringed lute with 12-26 frets on a pear-shaped body. The musician holds the instrument upright and plays with plectrums attached to each finger of the right hand. A smaller version is called a liuqin.


The guzheng was first made with a bamboo frame and silk strings.  It is a Chinese zither of 18-23 strings and movable bridges.  This instrument is typically played by plucking the strings.


The guqin is also known as the seven-stringed qin. The body is a long and narrow wooden sound box with seven strings stretched along the top of the box. On the edges are 13 inlaid jade markers. Catalpa wood is used for the base and there are two holes to help make the sound.


The erhu is one of the most popular Chinese string instruments. It is a two-stringed vertical fiddle that plays both traditional and contemporary music in China today.


The drums have been used in Chinese culture for over 3500 years. One of their first uses was for sacrificial and worship ceremonies.  Drums were also used for farming and warfare.

Bamboo Flute

The bamboo flute or dizi has eight holes including one blowhole. It is widely used in folk music, opera, and orchestras.  The flute is made from either white or purple bamboo.  The slender, lightweight instrument is a common one for many people in China.

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