List of Chinese musical instruments

Pinyin Traditional Chinese characters Simplified Chinese characters

Chinese musical instruments were traditionally grouped into eight categories known as bayin (八音).[1] The eight categories are silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd and skin. There are other instruments which may not fit these groups. This is one of the first musical groupings ever devised.

Silk ()

Silk instruments are mostly stringed instruments (including those that are plucked, bowed, and struck). Since ancient times the Chinese have used twisted silk for strings, though today metal or nylon are more frequently used. Instruments in the silk category include:



Re-enactment of an ancient traditional music performance
A mural from the tomb of Xu Xianxiu in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, dated 571 AD during the Northern Qi Dynasty, showing male court musicians playing stringed instruments, either the liuqin or pipa, and a woman playing a konghou (harp)



Bamboo ()

A half-section of the Song Dynasty (960–1279) version of the Night Revels of Han Xizai, original by Gu Hongzhong;[2] the female musicians in the center of the image are playing transverse bamboo flutes and guan, and the male musician is playing a wooden clapper called paiban.
A Bawu in the key of F[3]

Bamboo mainly refers to woodwind instruments, which includes;


Free reed pipes

Single reed pipes

Double reed pipes

Wood ()

Most wood instruments are of the ancient variety:

This is a set of muyus or Chinese wooden slit drums. The sound produced is affected by the instrument's size, type of wood, and how hollow it is.

Stone ()

The "stone" category comprises various forms of stone chimes.

Metal ()

Clay ()

Gourd ()

Skin ()

A Chaozhou dagu (large drum)
A Chinese Bolang Gu[5]


Playing contexts

Chinese instruments are either played solo, collectively in large orchestras (as in the former imperial court) or in smaller ensembles (in teahouses or public gatherings). Normally, there is no conductor in traditional Chinese music, nor any use of musical scores or tablature in performance. Music was generally learned aurally and memorized by the musician(s) beforehand, then played without aid. As of the 20th century, musical scores have become more common, as has the use of conductors in larger orchestral-type ensembles.

Musical instruments in use in the 1800s

These watercolour illustrations, made in China in the 1800s, show several types of musical instruments being played:

See also


  1. ^ Don Michael Randel, ed. (2003). The Harvard Dictionary of Music (4th ed.). Harvard University Press. pp. 260–262. ISBN 978-0674011632.
  2. ^ Patricia Ebrey (1999), Cambridge Illustrated History of China, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 148.
  3. ^ Bawu Wikipage
  4. ^ "photo". Archived from the original on 4 March 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  5. ^ Chinese Musical Instrument-Bolanggu
  6. ^ Endymion Wilkinson (2000), Chinese history, ISBN 978-0-674-00249-4