Instrument Gallery

September 14, 2016



The yangqin is a 144-stringed, chromatic, zither-style instrument played with rubber tipped bamboo mallets. It is closely related to other string and hammer-based instruments like the Appalachian dulcimer and the piano.[1] Popular in many styles of Chinese music, the yangqin is known for its wide tonal range and serendipitous tendency to cut through interfering sounds in various performance environments.[2] Yangqin players often carry several pairs of different mallets to match their instrument’s timbre to various musical moods.[3]


(A Standard Modern Yangqin

For much of Chinese history “yangqin” was written like this: “洋琴.” These characters can be roughly rendered into English as “foreign zither.”[4] Following social changes in the early 20th century, the spelling of yangqin changed to, “揚琴,” or “acclaimed zither.” Both spellings are pronounced “yang-ch’in.”


(“Persian Classical Santur,” Picture by Max Sadeghi. 2011.)

 Most scholars who have written on the origins of the yang-qin agree that it is a close sibling of the Iranian santur. It most likely arrived in China through sea trade with merchants from Portugal in an already somewhat adapted form and evolved into its modern form through heavy use in Cantonese music before becoming a staple instrument in many other styles.[5]


[1] Paul M. Gifford, The Hammered Dulcimer: A History (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2001), 270.

[2] Allen R. Thrasher, “Chinese Musical Instruments (Images of Asia), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 124.

[3] J. Lawrence Witzleben, “Silk and Bamboo” Music in Shanghai: the Jiangnan Sizhu Instrumental Ensemble Tradition (Akron: Kent State University Press, 1995), 114.

[4] Edward Ho, “Yangqin and Its Music in China in the Period of 1949-1979.” Chinese Music 20(1997): 26.

[5] Li Xia, “How the Bamboo Hammer Influenced Yanqin Music of China,” China Academy of Art, Dissertation (2007), 13.


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Dr. Mei Han

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