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Yangqin: A Guide to the Chinese Hammered Dulcimer

Last Updated on 2023/12/23

Yangqin in Chinese Orchestras: Understanding Its Unique Structure and Sound.

Yangqin, also known as the Chinese hammered dulcimer, is an essential instrument in Chinese folk and traditional music ensembles. Its distinctive timbre and expressive capability make it a versatile instrument for solo, ensemble, and accompaniment purposes. This article delves into the historical evolution, structural details, playing techniques, and current status of the Yangqin in the realms of Chinese music.

Historical Background

Origin and Evolution

  • The earliest known images of an instrument resembling the Yangqin date back to the Sumerian civilization in the 4th-3rd century BC, depicted on an ancient Sumerian monument.
  • Similar instruments were evident in the ancient Babylonian civilization (9th century BC) and the Assyrian civilization (7th century BC).
  • The Yangqin’s shape in the Mesopotamian era resembled a triangle, with strings stretched across the instrument, resembling a harp.
  • Influences from different cultures, including Greek (Pythagoras’s monochord), Middle Eastern (music bows), and Gypsy and Arabic migrations into Europe, contributed to the development of the Yangqin’s modern form.
  • The Yangqin gained popularity in Western feudal lords and was seen as a fashionable instrument, particularly among women, in the 11th-12th centuries.

Transmission to China

  • The Yangqin was introduced to China and quickly integrated with traditional Chinese music, becoming an indispensable part of musical accompaniment and contributing to the development of folk narrative arts.
  • Over centuries, the Yangqin evolved to suit Chinese musical aesthetics and techniques.

Structure of the Yangqin


  • Resonance Box: Made from wood, it forms the body of the instrument and is crucial for sound projection.
  • Strings: Originally made from animal intestines, later replaced with metal wires, the strings are struck to produce sound.
  • Bamboo Hammers: Used to strike the strings, these bamboo sticks are essential for playing the Yangqin.
  • Bridges: Wooden structures that support the strings and are critical for tuning and sound quality.

Playing Techniques

  • The Yangqin is played with bamboo hammers, employing techniques like single notes, chords, trills, and tremolos.
  • Traditional pieces often feature rapid, intricate passages that showcase the instrument’s capabilities.

Development and Current Status

Academic Integration

  • The Yangqin has been integrated into music education in China, with numerous institutions offering specialized training in its performance.
  • It has become a subject of academic research, with a focus on both performance and theoretical aspects.

Contemporary Use

  • The Yangqin continues to be a vital part of Chinese orchestras and ensembles, playing a role similar to the piano in Western music.
  • Its use in contemporary compositions and fusion music genres highlights its adaptability and evolving nature.

Representative Works

  • Numerous traditional and contemporary compositions showcase the Yangqin’s versatility, ranging from folk tunes to complex orchestral works.

Source: Baike Baidu

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