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The following is a brief but sufficient description of almost all of the instruments used in the Orchestra. Part of the information sourced from Singapore Chinese Orchestra Company Limited. (Slow loading page, due to the amount of images)
For an explanation in Chinese , click on the link below:
General Orchestral Layout
The layout of today's Chinese orchestra is very similar to that of the symphony orchestra. The number of players in an orchestra can vary from a minimum of 20 to as many as 100.The orchestra is divided into 4 sections, classified by the type of instruments, namely the woodwind, string, plucked string and percussion. A few western instruments have also been incorporated into the orchestra, like the cello and the double bass that provided the lower notes which are necessary for a better instrumental blend.
Basically, Chinese musical instruments are catergorised by the method of their sound production. Thus, woodwind instruments are blown, plucking instruments are plucked, stringed instruments are bowed and percussion instruments are struck. However, it should be noted that different orchestras may position each section differently.
To find out more about each instrument, click on the instrument's name below:
Bowed StringsGaohuBanhuErhuZhonghuGehu/DiyingehuGaohu 高胡This instrument is chiefly used in Cantonese music. It is also the main accompanied instrument in Cantonese opera. The sound box is covered with snake skin . Its two strings give a fine delicate and graceful sound when struck.Banhu 板胡The banhu is another two-string Chinese bowed instrument. Its sound box is covered with a thin slice of wood. Its tone is clear and articulate. The instrument is widely used in Chinese orchestras and it comes in three sizes, the mezzo, the soprano and the alto. The instrument is widely used for accompanying operatic performances.Erhu 二胡The erhu is also known as the nanhu, nan being south, because the instrument first became popular in southern China. It is capable of producing a gentle but firm tone.Zhonghu 中胡The zhonghu produces music of a lower pitch. The shade of the resonator varies from circular to octagonal.Gehu 革胡/Diyingehu 低音革胡Both the dagehu and diyingehu are the Chinese equivalents of the cello and double bass respectively; however, the resonator of the gehu is mounted with a snake skin membrane.<>Plucked StringsZhengYangqinPipaLiuqinRuanSanxianZheng 筝Zheng was popular during the Warring States. The instrument comprises 13 to 21 strings the tone qualities of the Zheng is Mellow and clear; it's a very popular solo instrument. In the orchestra, the zheng is employed when special effects such as the descending strains of cascading water are required.Yangqin 扬琴Yangqin originates from Western Asia and was introduced into China during the Ming Dynasty. Two bamboo sticks are used to hit strings in pairs thus producing a high and tinkling timbre in its top registers, a soft and beautiful tone in the middle and a strong rich sound in the lower registers.Pipa 琵琶Pipa is one of the oldest and well-know instruments in the Chinese orchestra with 2,000 years if history. It has four strings. It is rich in expression and has diverse performing techniques. Pipa is one of the most symbolic Chinese musical instruments.Liuqin 柳琴Liuqin is also known as liuyueqin. It is a two or three-string, willow-shaped plucking instrument which was popular during the Tang Dynasty. It is now improved to a four-string, plucking instruments. This instrument provides the high noted in a Chinese orchestra.Ruan 阮The ruan is a short-neck lute with a history of 1600 years. It is known as qin pipa of ruanxian during the ancient times. There are different types of ruan: daruan, zhongruan, xiaoruan and diruan.Sanxian 三弦The sanxian (a long-necked lute) is a 3-string plucked instrument with a skin membrane stretched over a resonator. Owing to its distinctive acoustical properties-rich, full, tonal quality, great volume and a wide range, the sanxian is widely used for accompaniment, orchestral and solo performances.The sanxian is made in three sizes: large, medium and small. The large-size sanxian is mostly used to accompany epic singing; the small one to accompany story-singing and music drama performances.<>WindDiziXiaoShengSuonaDizi 笛子A set of these instruments are often used including bangdi, qudi and xindi, They vary in sizes and keys. The dizi or flute is made of bamboo. It is believed to have been brought from Tibet during the Han Dynasty. It has a full, bright and smooth timbreXiao 箫The xiao is also made of bamboo. With a history of over 2000 years, it was sometime during the Tang and Sung Dynasty when the vertically played instruments were categorised as xiao and those horizontally-played as dizi. The xiao is not only a unique solo instrument, but is also used widely in ensembles and for accompaniment purposes. Its mellow tone quality makes it most suitable for playing lyrical melodies.Sheng 笙The instrument existed as far back as 3 000 years ago. By virtue of its construction, this is the only Chinese musical instrument capable of playing various notes simultaneously. Music is produced by inhaling and exhaling the air through a whistle at the base.Suona 唢呐The suona is an ancient wind instrument and is also called the 'la ba'. The tone quality of the instrument is bright. The body is made of wood with a metal bell at one end and a straw double-reed at the other. In its modified form, the suona is used in orchestral ensembles as well as for the solos. The instrument comes in four sizes: the bass souno, alto suona, soprano souna, soprano suona and the small hai di.<>PercussionDrumGongWooden BlockCymbalsOther Percussion InstrumentsDrum 鼓The drum has been in existence since 2079 BC In the past, its function was to launch an attack during a battle. There are various kinds of drums-the twirling drum, the nahing drum, the type suspend on a foot frame to be beaten with two wooden hammers and the drum on a pedestal. Drums can be made of metal, bamboo or animal skin.Gong 锣The gong is a popular folk musical instrument. It is also known as luo. The sound from the luo or gong is produced by the mallet hitting the metal plate.Cymbals 钹Like the luo, the cymbals or bo is mainly used in theatres and on ceremonial occasions.Woodblocks 木鱼It is a percussion instrument made of a hollow wooden block, originally used by Buddist priests to beat rhythm when chanting scriptures. In recent years, a full set of wooden fish has been produced for use of orchestra.Other Percussion InstrumentsOther percussion instruments include: maracus, bells, tambourine, jingles, clares, flamed drum, bamboo, clippers, ban and bangu.<>
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