Chinese Arts & Music Association

Chinese Musical Instruments

The history of music in China and Chinese musical instruments can date back about 4,000 years. Traditionally, Chinese musical instruments were classified by the material of which they were made: skin, gourd, bamboo, wood, silk, earth/clay, metal and stone.

A Chinese instrument is used as well as a solo instrument or in ensemble with other Chinese instruments to form a Chinese orchestra. A Chinese orchestra is an amalgam of many cultural traditions. Similar to a western philharmonic orchestra, a full Chinese orchestra is made up of four sections: Bowed-strings, Plucked-strings, Woodwind, Percussion. The four sections combine together to produce the finest tune for the audience. In addition, a few western instruments have also been incorporated into the orchestra, like the cello and double bass, to provide lower notes which are necessary for a better instrumental blend. A typical full-size Chinese orchestra is illustrated as below.

Chinese musical instruments can therefore be categorized by the method of their sound production. Thus, woodwind instruments are blown, plucking instruments are plucked, string instruments are bowed and percussion instruments are struck.