Chinese instruments are very much similar to the Western instruments, in terms of classification. It is classified into Strings, Woodwind, and Percussion family. The Strings family are further divided into plucked strings, bowed strings and hammered strings.

The sound of the bowed-string instruments is produced by using a bow made of horse hair to vibrate the strings. They generally have a soft, elegant tone, which is often used to produce a feeling of weeping or complaining. The most popular bowed strings include Erhu, Gaohu, Zhonghu.  Gaohu and Erhu are the outstanding ones among the instruments and are capable of performing in solos and concertos. In a modern Chinese Orchestra, the strings section shares an equal importance as the string family in a western orchestra.

Similar to that of the Western woodwind instruments, the Chinese woodwind instruments produce sound by vibrating the air in the tube and reeds of the instruments. The tone produced depends on the strength of the wind. Different strengths can produce pitches that differ by a perfect fifth or an octave. Its origin can be traced back to BC 1100, the Shang Dynasty, when there were Xun, He (Sheng), and Yan (Da Xiao) etc. The more popular wind instruments include Sheng, Suona, Di and Xiao etc.
The history of percussion instruments in China is the longest in comparison to other families of the Chinese instruments.  The character of 'drum' was first found in the inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells of the Shang Dynasty.
The percussion section plays an extremely important role in Chinese Opera. Due to the richness of timbre and sound, Chinese percussion instruments are frequently found in Western musical compositions for dramatic effects. A large gong is often employed to create a stately and imposing atmosphere, while the tanggu, muyu and Ching are used to produced mysterious atmosphere.

Percussion Instruments are also used to decorate different moods and occasions, such as harvest, marriage, dragon boat as well as more as well as memorial ceremonies. The more popular percussion instruments include Luo, Gu, Bo, and Bianzhong. The four major percussion instruments are drum, large and small gongs, and cymbals.

~Written by Boon Sin Ler

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