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Qin Qin: A Symphony of Shapes, Sounds, and Strings

Last Updated on 2023/11/24

The Qin Qin (秦琴): A Traditional Chinese String Instrument


The Qin Qin (秦琴), also known as the Meihua Qin (梅花琴), is a traditional Chinese plucked string instrument. It evolved from the ancient “Xian Tao” and shares structural similarities with the Ruan. The Qin Qin’s sound box, created from six or eight pieces of hard wood glued together, comes in various shapes: plum blossom, circular, hexagonal, or octagonal. The two sides of the box are covered with thin Paulownia wood boards.



The body of the Qin Qin, also the resonator box, is constructed from 6 or 8 hard curved wooden panels, forming the frame of the instrument. The top and bottom are open to insert the neck, and the frame is covered on both sides with thin Paulownia wood to complete the resonator box. The shape of the box varies, including plum blossom, circle, hexagon, or octagon.


The neck of the Qin Qin is narrow and long, typically made of colored or various hard woods. It is inlaid with frets, commonly numbering nineteen, arranged according to the twelve-tone equal temperament.


The headstock is intricately carved into shapes like plum blossoms, Ruyi (a curved decorative object), bats, or shovel heads. Some also feature inlaid bone flowers.

Tuning Pegs

Tuning pegs are made from the same wood as the neck or from gear-like copper shafts.

Size and Comparison

The Qin Qin’s resonator box is smaller than those of the Ruan and Yueqin, but its neck is longer. Various shapes of the instrument are depicted, such as in the Feitian ensemble painting in Mogao Cave 220, where an instrument resembling the modern Qin Qin is shown, albeit with a shorter neck.

Sound Characteristics

The Qin Qin produces a bright and soft tone, harmonizing well in ensembles. It’s a mid-range instrument, bridging high and low sounds. It is frequently used in Guangdong music, Chaozhou large drum music, and ethnic orchestras, and as an accompaniment in various regional opera genres.

In Guangdong music, the Qin Qin is an indispensable accompaniment for instruments like the Gaohu or Yangqin, especially effective in conveying soft and graceful melodies.

In ethnic orchestras, the Qin Qin often accompanies melody instruments like the Dizi and Erhu, playing rhythm and harmony parts, or echoing melodies played by other instruments, but rarely using high notes.

Tuning and Range

The Qin Qin is tuned in fifths, with a range from G to E3. It comes in two, three, or four-string variations, each tuned differently. The three-string Qin Qin, commonly used in orchestras, is tuned to G, D1, and A1, featuring 19 frets arranged in twelve-tone equal temperament, covering a range from G to E3.

Playing Technique

The Qin Qin is played with the left hand holding the instrument and the right hand plucking the strings with a plectrum. There are variations with two, three, or four strings, with three-stringed instruments being more common, using either silk or steel strings.

The Banjo-Inspired Pigu Qin

In Guangdong, an adaptation of the Qin Qin, influenced by the Western banjo, has led to the creation of the Pigu Qin. This variant features a central panel of python, cow, or sheepskin on the body, with the strings supported by a bridge and played with steel strings. The Pigu Qin, characterized by its skin-covered panel and use of steel strings, produces a loud sound with prolonged resonance, making it distinctively unique.


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