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Sataer: Preserving the Melodic History of Xinjiang

Last Updated on 2023/12/03

Sataer’s Role in Uyghur Music: An Instrument of Harmony and Tradition.

Sataer (萨塔尔 or 萨它尔) is a traditional Uyghur bowed string instrument, predominantly used in Xinjiang, a region in China. It is distinguished by its long neck and 13 strings, comprising one playing string and 12 sympathetic strings. The instrument is deeply rooted in Uyghur culture and is commonly used for solo performances, ensembles, or accompanying the singing of the “Twelve Muqam.”

Historical Background

The history of the Sataer traces back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Initially popular in the southern Xinjiang cities of Kashgar and Shache, the instrument gradually spread to northern and eastern Xinjiang. During the Qing Dynasty, it was incorporated into the court music of the Hui people, under the name “Saitar.” The Sataer is believed to have evolved from another instrument, “Setar,” suggesting a historical transformation from a plucked to a bowed instrument. This evolution is a common phenomenon in the development of musical instruments across various cultures and nations.

Mythology and Origin

According to Uyghur mythology, the Sataer was created by the deity Anla, who fashioned it to entice the soul into the human body. The soul, reluctant to enter the body’s darkness, was drawn in by the enchanting music of the Sataer, leading to the soul’s entry into the human form while dancing the Sama dance.

Structure and Design

The Sataer is primarily made of mulberry wood and measures approximately 1380 mm in length. Its resonator box, carved from a single block of wood, is pear-shaped, featuring crescent-shaped sound holes on either side of the upper fretboard. The instrument’s neck is long and decorated with bone inlays. The Sataer has 18 frets wrapped with silk strings on the fretboard, and five additional high-pitched frets on the soundboard. The strings include a metal main playing string and nine to thirteen metal sympathetic strings. The playing string is positioned away from the fretboard, facilitating different playing techniques.

Playing Techniques

In performance, the Sataer is held vertically on the player’s left thigh, with the right hand using a horsehair bow to produce sound and the left hand altering pitch by pressing the strings. The main playing string is usually tuned to D or C, while the tuning of the sympathetic strings varies according to the player, location, and piece being played. The instrument produces sharp high tones, bright and beautiful middle tones, and deep, slightly hoarse low tones. Different finger and bowing techniques are employed, including vibrato, glissando, and various types of bowing.

Evolution and Usage

Historically, the Sataer has undergone several transformations in structure and playing technique. The “Setar” mentioned in the “Qing History Draft” had two silk playing strings and was a plucked instrument, indicating a significant difference from the contemporary Sataer. The Sataer has been a key instrument in large classical music suites like the “Twelve Muqam” and “Turpan Muqam,” performed in various regions of Xinjiang.

Modern Developments

In the 1950s, a modified version of the Sataer, known as “Jislah Satar,” was developed to suit contemporary musical needs. This version is shorter, with a larger resonator box made of multiple wooden planks, and has 13 strings with a range of C to C2. This modern Sataer is used in solo, ensemble, and accompaniment settings, especially in “Muqam” music.

Current Status

A well-crafted Sataer is housed in the Museum of Chinese Musical Instruments at the Chinese National Academy of Arts in Beijing. Made in 1958, this instrument exemplifies fine craftsmanship with intricate bone inlays and a polished finish, making it a valuable piece in the preservation and study of traditional Uyghur music and culture.

Source: Baike Baidu

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