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The pipa (Chinese: 琵琶; pinyin: pípa, [pʰǐpʰǎ]) is a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument, belonging to the plucked category of instruments. Sometimes called the Chinese lute, the instrument has a pear-shaped wooden body with a varying number of frets ranging from 12 to 26. Another Chinese four-string plucked lute is the liuqin, which looks like a smaller version of the pipa.

The pipa is one of the most popular Chinese instruments and has been played for almost two thousand years in China. Several related instruments in East and Southeast Asia are derived from the pipa; these include the Japanese biwa, the Vietnamese đàn tỳ bà, and the Korean bipa. The Korean instrument is the only one of the three that is no longer widely used; examples survive in museums, but recent attempts to revive the Korean instrument have been partially successful in recent years.


Musicians in a scene from paradise, Yulin Cave 25, Tang Dynasty

There are considerable confusion and disagreements about the origin of pipa. This may be due to the fact that the word pipa was used in ancient texts to describe a variety of plucked chordophones from the Qin to the Tang Dynasty, as well as the differing accounts given in these ancient texts. One traditional Chinese narrative recounts the story of the Han Chinese princess, Wang Zhaojun, who was sent to marry a Hun king as part of a peace accord during the Han Dynasty between the Hans and Huns, and the pipa was created so she can play music on horseback to soothe her longings.[1][2][3][4][5] Some researchers such as Laurence Picken and John Myers suggest a "non-Chinese origin".[6][7]

The earliest mention of pipa in Chinese texts appeared late in the Han Dynasty around 2nd century AD.[8][9] According to Liu Xi's Eastern Han Dynasty Dictionary of Names, the word pipa may have an onomatopoeic origin (the word being similar to the sounds the instrument makes),[8] although modern scholarship suggests a possible derivation from the Persian word "barbat", the two theories however are not necessarily mutually exclusive.[7][10] Liu Xi also stated that the instrument called "pipa", though written differently (枇杷 or "piba" 批把) in the earliest texts, originated from amongst the Hu people (a general term for non-Han people living to the north and west of ancient China). Another Han Dynasty text also indicates that, at that time, pipa was a recent arrival,[9] although later 3rd-century texts from the Jin Dynasty suggest that pipa existed in China as early as the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC).[11] An instrument called xiantao (弦鼗), made by stretching strings over a small drum with handle, was said to have been played by labourers who constructed the Great Wall of China during the late Qin Dynasty.[11][12] This may have given rise to the Qin pipa, an instrument with a straight neck and a round sound box, and evolved into ruan, an instrument named after Ruan Xian, one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove and known for playing similar instrument.[13][14] Yet another term used in ancient text was Qinhanzi (秦漢子), perhaps similar to Qin pipa, but modern opinions differ on its precise form.[15][16][17]

The pear-shaped pipa is likely to have been introduced to China from Central Asia, Gandhara, and/or India.[3] Pear-shaped lutes have been depicted in Kusana sculptures from the 1st century AD.[6] Pipa from the Han Dynasty is referred to as Han pipa, however, depictions of the pear-shaped pipas in China only appeared after the Han Dynasty during the Jin Dynasty in the late 4th to early 5th century.[18] There are therefore differing opinions about the form of the Han Dynasty pipa. Pipa acquired a number of Chinese symbolisms during the Han Dynasty - the instrument length of three feet five inches represents the three realms (heaven, earth, and man) and the five elements, while the four strings represent the four seasons.[9]

Depictions of the pear-shaped pipas appeared in abundance from the Southern and Northern Dynasties onwards, and pipas from this time to the Tang Dynasty were given various names, such as Hu pipa (胡琵琶), bent-neck pipa (曲項琵琶, quxiang pipa), and Kuchean pipa (龜茲琵琶), some of these terms however may refer to the same pipa. Apart from the four-stringed pipa, other instruments introduced include the five-stringed, straight-necked, wuxian pipa (五弦琵琶), a six-stringed version, as well as the two-stringed hulei (忽雷). From the 3rd century onwards, through the Sui and Tang Dynasty, the pear-shaped pipas became increasingly popular in China. By the Song Dynasty the word pipa was used to refer exclusively to the pear-shaped instrument.

The pipa reached a height of popularity during the Tang Dynasty, and was a principal musical instrument in the imperial court. During this time Persian and Kuchan performers and teachers were in demand in the capital, Chang'an (which had a large Persian community).[19] Some delicately carved pipas with beautiful inlaid patterns date from this period, with particularly fine examples preserved in the Shosoin Museum in Japan. It had close association with Buddhism and often appeared in mural and sculptural representations of musicians in Buddhist contexts. For example, masses of pipa-playing Buddhist semi-deities are depicted in the wall paintings of the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang. The four and five-stringed pipas were especially popular during the Tang Dynasty, and these instruments were introduced into Japan during the Tang Dynasty as well as into other regions such as Korea and Vietnam. The five-stringed pipa however had fallen from use by the Song Dynasty, although attempts have been made to revive this instrument in the early 21st century with a modernized five-string pipa modeled on the Tang Dynasty instrument.[20]

Pipa fell from favour in the imperial court during the Song Dynasty. During the Ming period, the plectrum was replaced by fingernails, while the horizontal playing position became the vertical (or near-vertical) position by the Qing Dynasty. The early instrument had 4 frets (相) on the neck, but during the early Ming Dynasty extra bamboo frets (品) were affixed onto the soundboard, increasing the range of the instrument. The number of frets gradually increased to 10, 14 or 16 during the Qing Dynasty, then to 19, 24, 29, and 30 in the 20th century. The 4 wedge-shaped frets on the neck became 6 during the 20th century. The 14- or 16-fret pipa had frets arranged in approximately equivalent to the western tone and semitone, starting at the nut, the intervals were T-S-S-S-T-S-S-S-T-T-3/4-3/4-T-T-3/4-3/4, (some frets produced a 3/4 tone or "neutral tone"). In the 1920s and 1930s, the number of frets was increased to 24, based on the 12 tone equal temperament scale, with all the intervals being semitones. The traditional 16-fret pipa is becoming less common, although it is still used in some regional styles such as the pipa in the southern genre of nanguan/nanyin. During the 1950s, the use of metal strings in place of the traditional silk ones also resulted in a change in the sound of the pipa which became brighter and stronger.[3]

Ladies in palace enjoying an informal concert, Tang Dynasty

Pipa in Chinese literature

Early literary tradition in China, for example in a 3rd-century description by Fu Xuan, Ode to Pipa,[2][21] associates the Han pipa with the northern frontier, Princess Liu Xijun, and Wang Zhaojun, who were married to nomad rulers of the Wusun and Xiongnu peoples in what is now Mongolia and northern Xinjiang respectively. Wang Zhaojun in particular was frequently referenced in later literary works, as well as in music pieces such as Zhaojun's Lament (昭君怨), and in paintings where she was often depicted holding a pipa.

There are many references to pipa in Tang literary works, for example, in A Music Conservatory Miscellany Duan Anjie related many anecdotes associated with pipa.[22] The pipa is mentioned frequently in Tang Dynasty poetry, where it is often praised for its refinement and delicacy of tone, with poems dedicated to well-known players describing their performances.[23][24][25] A famous poem by Bai Juyi's Pipa xing (琵琶行), describes a chance encounter with a female pipa player on the Yangtze River:[26]


The bold strings rattled like splatters of sudden rain,
The fine strings hummed like lovers' whispers.
Chattering and pattering, pattering and chattering,
As pearls, large and small, on a jade plate fall.

Another excerpt of figurative descriptions of a pipa music may be found in a eulogy for a pipa player, Lament for Shancai:[24]


On the plectrum, figure of a golden phoenix with flowers in its beak,
With turned wrist, he gathered the strings to pluck and strum faster.
The flowers fluttered, and from Heaven the phoenix trilled,
Lingering, filling the palace hall, spring snow flew.

During the Song Dynasty, many of the literati and poets wrote ci verses, a form of poetry meant to be sung and accompanied by instruments such as pipa. They included Ouyang Xiu, Wang Anshi, and Su Shi. During the Yuan Dynasty, the playwright Gao Ming wrote a play for nanxi opera called Pipa ji (琵琶記, or "Story of the Pipa"), a tale about an abandoned wife who set out to find her husband, surviving by playing the pipa. It is one of the most enduring work in Chinese theatre, and one that became a model for Ming Dynasty drama as it was the favorite opera of the first Ming emperor Zhu Yuanzhang.[27][28]

Playing and performance

The name "pípá" is made up of two Chinese syllables, "pí" (琵) and "pá" (琶). These, according to the Han Dynasty text by Liu Xi, refer to the way the instrument is played - "pí" is to strike outward with the right hand, and "pá" is to pluck inward towards the palm of the hand.[8] The strings were played using a large plectrum in the Tang Dynasty, a technique still used now for the Japanese biwa.[29] The plectrum was then gradually replaced by the fingernails of the right hand, although finger-playing techniques existed as early as Tang.[30] The most basic technique, tantiao (彈挑), involves just the index finger and thumb (tan is striking with the index finger, tiao with the thumb). The fingers normally strike the strings of pipa in the opposite direction to the way a guitar is usually played, i.e. the fingers and thumb flick outward, unlike the guitar where the fingers and thumb normally pluck inward towards the palm of the hand. Plucking in the opposite direction to tan and tiao are called mo (抹) and gou (勾) respectively. When two strings are plucked at the same time with the index finger and thumb (i.e. the finger and thumb separate in one action), it is called fen (分), the reverse motion is called zhi (摭). A rapid strum with four fingers is called sao (掃), and rapid strumming in the reverse direction is called fu (拂). A distinctive sound of pipa is the tremolo produced by the lunzhi (輪指) technique which involves all the fingers and thumb of the right hand. It is however possible to produce the tremolo with just one or more fingers.

The left hand techniques are important for the expressiveness of pipa music. Left-hand techniques that produce vibrato, portamento, glissando, pizzicato, harmonics or artificial harmonics found in violin or guitar are also be found in pipa. String-bending for example may be used to produce a glissando or portamento. Note however that the frets on all Chinese lutes are high so that the fingers and strings never touch the fingerboard in between the frets, this is different from many Western fretted instruments and allows for dramatic vibrato and other pitch changing effects.

In addition, there are a number of techniques that produce sound effects rather than musical notes, for example, striking the board of the pipa for a percussive sound, or strings-twisting while playing that produces a cymbal-like effect.

The strings are usually tuned to A-D-E-A, although there are various other ways of tuning. Since the revolutions in Chinese instrument-making during the 20th century, the softer twisted silk strings of earlier times have been exchanged for nylon-wound steel strings, which are far too strong for human fingernails, so false nails are now used, constructed of plastic or tortoise-shell, and affixed to the fingertips with the player's choice of elastic tape.

The pipa is held in a vertical or near-vertical position during performance, although in the early periods the instrument was held in the horizontal position, or near-horizontal with the neck pointing slightly downwards.[6][15] Through time, the neck was raised and by the Qing Dynasty the instrument was mostly played upright.

Half-section of the Night Revels of Han Xizai, a 12th century remake of a 10th century painting by Gu Hongzhong. One lady is seen entertaining guests with a pipa and another lady is seen holding onto one.


Early 10th century tablature for pipa from Dunhuang Mogao Caves.

Pipa has been played solo, or as part of a large ensemble or small group since the early times. Few pieces for pipa survived from the early periods, some however are preserved in Japan as part of togaku (Tang music) tradition. In the early 20th century, twenty-five pieces were found amongst 10th-century manuscripts in the Mogao caves near Dunhuang, most of these pieces however may have originated from the Tang Dynasty.[31] Three Ming Dynasty pieces were discovered in the Gaohe Jiangdong (高河江東) collection dating from 1528 which are very similar to those performed today, such as "The Moon on High" (月兒高). During the Qing Dynasty, scores for pipa were collected in Thirteen Pieces for Strings.[32] During the Qing Dynasty there originally two major schools of pipa — the Northern and Southern schools, and music scores for these two traditions were collected and published in the first mass-produced edition of solo pieces for pipa, now commonly known as the Hua Collection (華氏譜).[33] The collection was edited by Hua Qiuping (華秋萍, 1784-1859) and published in 1818 in three volumes.[7] The first volume contains 13 pieces from the Northern school, the second and third volumes contain 54 pieces from the Southern school. Famous pieces such as "Ambushed from Ten Sides", "The Warlord Takes Off His Armour", and "Flute and Drum at Sunset" were first described in this collection. The earliest-known piece in the collection may be "Eagle Seizing Swan" (海青挐天鵝) which was mentioned in a Yuan Dynasty text.[34] Other collections from the Qing Dynasty were compiled by Li Fangyuan (李芳園) and Ju Shilin (鞠士林), each representing different schools, and many of the pieces currently popular were described in these Qing collections. Further important collections were published in the 20th century.

The pipa pieces in the common repertoire can be categorized as wen (文, civil) or wu (武, martial), and da (大, large or suite) or xiao (小, small). The wen style is more lyrical and slower in tempo, with softer dynamic and subtler colour, and such pieces typically describe love, sorrow, and scenes of nature. Pieces in the Wu style are generally more rhythmic and faster, and often depict scenes of battles and are played in a vigorous fashion employing a variety of techniques and sound effects. The wu style was associated more with the Northern school while the wen style was more the Southern school. The da and xiao categories refer to the size of the piece - xiao pieces are small pieces normally containing only one section, while da pieces are large and usually contain multiple sections. The traditional pieces however often have a standard metrical length of 68 measures or beat.[35]

Famous solo pieces now performed include:

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin English (translation)
十面埋伏 十面埋伏 Shí Mìan Maífú Ambushed from Ten Sides
夕陽簫鼓 夕阳箫鼓 Xīyáng Xīao Gǔ Flute and Drum at Sunset
陽春白雪 阳春白雪 Yángchūn Baíxuě White Snow in Spring Sunlight
龍船 龙船 Lóngchuán Dragon Boat
彝族舞曲 彝族舞曲 Yìzú Wúqǔ Dance of the Yi People
大浪淘沙 大浪淘沙 Dàlàng Táo Shā Big Waves Pushing the Sand
昭君出塞 昭君出塞 Zhàojūn Chū Saì Zhaojun Outside the Frontier
霸王卸甲 霸王卸甲 Bàwáng Xiè Jiǎ The Warlord Takes Off His Armour
綠腰 绿腰 Lǜyāo Green Waist
春江花月夜 春江花月夜 Chūnjiāng Huā Yuèyè Moonlit River in Spring

Most of the above are traditional compositions dating to the Qing Dynasty or early 20th century, new pieces however are constantly being composed, and most of them follow a more Western structure. Examples of popular modern works composed after the 1950s are "Dance of the Yi People" and "Heroic Little Sisters of the Grassland" (草原英雄小姐妹). Non-traditional themes may be used in these new compositions and some may reflect the political landscape and demands at the time of composition, for example "Dance of the Yi People" which is based on traditional melodies of the Yi people, may be seen as part of the drive for national unity, while "Heroic Little Sisters of the Grassland" extols the virtue of those who served as model of exemplary behaviour in the People's commune.[36]


Scene from a Ming Dynasty painting, Tao Gu Presents a Poem, c. 1515, by Tang Yin.

There are a number of different traditions with different styles of playing pipa in various regions of China, some of which then developed into schools. In the narrative traditions where the pipa is used as an accompaniment to narrative singing, there are the Suzhou tanci (蘇州彈詞), Sichuan qingyin (四川清音), and Northern quyi (北方曲藝) genres. Pipa is also an important component of regional chamber ensemble traditions such as Jiangnan sizhu, Teochew string music and Nanguan ensemble.[37] In Nanguan music, the pipa is still held in the near-horizontal position or guitar-fashion in the ancient manner instead of the vertical position normally used for solo playing in the present day.

There were originally two major schools of pipa during the Qing Dynasty — the Northern (Zhili, 直隸派) and Southern (Zhejiang, 浙江派) schools, and from these emerged the five main schools associated with the solo tradition. Each school is associated with one or more collections of pipa music and named after its place of origin -

A page of music notation from the Li Collection by Li Fangyuan.
  • Wuxi (無錫派) - associated with the Hua Collection by Hua Qiuping, who studied with Wang Junxi (王君錫) of the Northern school and Chen Mufu (陳牧夫) of the Southern school, and may be considered a synthesis of these two schools of the Qing Dynasty. As the first published collection, the Hua Collection had considerable influence on later pipa players.
  • Pudong (浦東派) - associated with the Ju Collection (鞠氏譜) which is based on an 18th-century handwritten manuscript, Xianxu Youyin (閑敘幽音), by Ju Shilin.
  • Pinghu (平湖派) - associated with the Li Collection (李氏譜) first published in 1895 and compiled by Li Fangyuan who came from a family of many generations of pipa players.[38]
  • Chongming (崇明派) - associated with Old Melodies of Yingzhou (瀛洲古調) compiled by Shen Zhaozhou (沈肇州, 1859-1930) in 1916.
  • Shanghai (汪派) - the Shanghai or Wang school (named after Wang Yuting (汪昱庭) who created this style of playing) may be considered a synthesis of the other four schools especially the Pudong and Pinghu schools. Wang did not publish his notation book in his lifetime, although handwritten copies were passed on to his students.

These schools of the solo tradition emerged by students learning playing the pipa from a master, and each school has it own style, performance aesthetics, notation system, and may differ in their playing techniques.[39][40] Different schools have different repertoire in their music collection, and even though these schools share many of the same pieces in their repertoire, a same piece of music from the different schools may differ in their content. For example, a piece like "The Warlord Takes off His Armour" is made up of many sections, some of them metered and some with free meter, and greater freedom in interpretation is possible in the free meter sections. Different schools however can have sections added or removed, and may differ in the number of sections with free meter.[39] The music collections from the 19th century also used the gongche notation which provides only a skeletal melody and approximate rhythms with some playing instructions given (such as tremolo or string-bending), and how this basic framework can become fully fleshed out during performance may only be learnt by the students from the master. The same piece of music can therefore differ significantly when performed by students of different schools, with striking differences in interpretation, phrasing, tempo, dynamics, playing techniques, and ornamentations.

In more recent times, many pipa players, especially the younger ones, no longer identify themselves with any specific school. Modern notation systems, new compositions as well as recordings are now widely available and it is no longer crucial for a pipa players to learn from the master of any particular school to know how to play a score.


A Sui Dynasty (581–618) terracotta pipa-player in a suit of armor


Early known players of pipa include General Xie Shang (謝尚) from the Jin Dynasty who was described to have performed playing it on tiptoe.[41] The introduction of pipa from Central Asia also brought with it virtuoso performers from that region, for example Sujiva (蘇祇婆) from the Kingdom of Kucha during the Northern Zhou Dynasty, Kang Kunlun (康崑崙) from Kangju, and Pei Luoer (裴洛兒) from Shule. Pei Luoer was known for pioneering finger-playing techniques,[30] while Sujiva was noted for the "Seven modes and seven tones", a musical modal theory from India.[42][43] (The heptatonic scale was used for a time afterwards in the imperial court due to Sujiva's influence until it was later abandoned). These players had considerable influence on the development of pipa playing in China. Of particular fame were the family of pipa players founded by Cao Poluomen (曹婆羅門) and who were active for many generations from the Northern Wei to Tang Dynasty.[44]

Texts from Tang Dynasty mentioned many renowned pipa players such as He Huaizhi (賀懷智), Lei Haiqing (雷海清), Li Guaner (李管兒), and Pei Xingnu (裴興奴).[25][45][46] Duan Anjie described the duel between the famous pipa player Kang Kunlun and the monk Duan Shanben (段善本) who was disguised as a girl, and told the story of Yang Zhi (楊志) who learned how to play the pipa secretly by listening to his aunt playing at night.[22] Celebrated performers of the Tang Dynasty included three generations of the Cao family — Cao Bao (曹保), Cao Shancai (曹善才) and Cao Gang (曹剛),[47][48] whose performances were noted in literary works.[23][24]

During the Song Dynasty, players mentioned in literary texts include Du Bin (杜彬).[49] From the Ming Dynasty, famous pipa players include Zhong Xiuzhi (鍾秀之), Zhang Xiong (張雄, known for his playing of "Eagle Seizing Swan"), the blind Li Jinlou (李近樓), and Tang Yingzeng (湯應曾) who was known to have played a piece that may be an early version of "Ambushed from Ten Sides".[50]

In Qing Dynasty, apart from those of the various schools previously mentioned, there was Chen Zijing (陳子敬), a student of Ju Shilin and known as a noted player during late Qing Dynasty.

Modern era

Wu Man playing pipa at WOMEX 15

In the 20th century, two of the most prominent pipa players were Sun Yude (孙裕德; 1904–1981) and Li Tingsong (李庭松; 1906–1976). Both were pupils of Wang Yuting (1872–1951), and both were active in establishing and promoting Guoyue ("national music"), which is a combination of traditional regional music and Western musical practices. Sun performed in the United States, Asia, and Europe, and in 1956 became deputy director of the Shanghai minzu yuetuan (Shanghai Folk Orchestra). As well as being one of the leading pipa players of his generation, Li held many academic positions and also carried out research on pipa scales and temperament. Wei Zhongle (卫仲乐; 1908 or 1909–1998) played many instruments, including the guqin. In the early 1950s, he founded the traditional instruments department at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Players from the Wang and Pudong schools were the most active in performance and recording during the 20th century, less active was the Pinghu school whose players include Fan Boyan (樊伯炎). Other noted players of the early 20th century include Liu Tianhua, a student of Shen Zhaozhou of the Chongming school and who increased the number of frets on the pipa and changed to an equal-tempered tuning, and the blind player Abing from Wuxi.

Lin Shicheng (林石城; 1922–2006), born in Shanghai, began learning music under his father and was taught by Shen Haochu (沈浩初; 1899–1953), a leading player in the Pudong school style of pipa playing. He also qualified as a doctor of Chinese medicine. In 1956, after working for some years in Shanghai, Lin accepted a position at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Liu Dehai (born 1937) also born in Shanghai, was a student of Lin Shicheng and in 1961 graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Liu also studied with other musicians and has developed a style that combines elements from several different schools.

Prominent students of Lin Shicheng include Liu Guilian (刘桂莲, born 1961), Wu Man (born 1963) and Gao Hong (born 1964). Wu, who is probably the best known pipa player internationally, received the first-ever master's degree in pipa and won China's first National Academic Competition for Chinese Instruments. She lives in San Diego, California and works extensively with Chinese, cross-cultural, new music, and jazz groups. Shanghai-born Liu Guilian graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music and became the director of the Shanghai Pipa Society, and a member of the Chinese Musicians Association and Chinese National Orchestral Society, before immigrating to Canada. She now performs with Red Chamber and the Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble. Gao Hong graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music and was the first to do a joint tour with Lin Shicheng in North America. They recorded the critically acclaimed CD "Eagle Seizing Swan" together.

Other prominent contemporary pipa players who work internationally include Min Xiao-Fen, Zhou Yi, Qiu Xia He, Liu Fang, Cheng Yu, Jie Ma, Yang Jing (楊靜 *1963), Guan Yadong (管亚东), Jiang Ting (蔣婷), Tang Liangxing (湯良興), and Lui Pui-Yuen (呂培原). Some other notable pipa players in China include Yu Jia (俞嘉), Wu Yu Xia (吳玉霞), and Fang Jinlung (方錦龍).

Use in contemporary classical music

In the late 20th century, largely through the efforts of Wu Man, Min Xiao-Fen (in USA), Yang Jing (in Europe) and other performers, Chinese and Western contemporary composers began to create new works for the pipa (both solo and in combination with chamber ensembles and orchestra). Most prominent among these are Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Minoru Miki, Donald Womack, Daniel Schnyder, Thüring Bräm, Lou Harrison, Tan Dun, Bright Sheng, Chen Yi, Zhou Long, Bun-Ching Lam, and Carl Stone.

Use in other genres

The pipa has also been used in rock music; the California-based band Incubus featured one, borrowed from legendary guitarist Steve Vai, in their 2001 song "Aqueous Transmission," as played by the group's guitarist, Mike Einziger.[51] The Shanghai progressive/folk-rock band Cold Fairyland, which was formed in 2001, also use pipa (played by Lin Di), sometimes multi-tracking it in their recordings. Swiss Jazz 4tett CD: «Different Song»; Yang Jing and Pierre Favre CDs «Moments», «Tow in One» (Intakt). «Oriental Jazz Ensemble» (Switzerland). Australian dark rock band The Eternal use the pipa in their song "Blood" as played by singer/guitarist Mark Kelson on their album Kartika. The instrument is also played by musician Min Xiaofen in I See Who You Are, a song from Björk's album Volta. Wolfgang Sieber(Organ) and Yang Jing (Pipa):«Pipa and Pipe», «Dancing On a Bridge» (Naxos Deutschland). Miki Minoru Opera:«To die for Love»«爱怨»(Feature Yang Jing pipa music).

Electric pipa

The electric pipa was developed in the late 20th century by adding electric guitar–style magnetic pickups to a regular acoustic pipa, allowing the instrument to be amplified through an instrument amplifier or PA system.

In 2014, an industrial designer residing in the United States Xi Zheng(郑玺)designed and crafted the first electric pipa - "E-pa" in New York. In 2015, pipa player Jiaju Shen(沈嘉琚) released the mini album "Black Silk"(《青絲》)which was composed and produced by Li Zong(宗立). The title track "Black Silk" was played by E-pa, it dazzles with its strong Chinese flavor within a modern Western pop music shell. Not only the delicate blend of funk tempo rhythm and Chinese melody, but also the electric rock guitar-like rub, push, pick, and roll of the electronic pipa itself, is an expression of the joy and beauty of the Chinese woman.

At the same year, zhongruan player and composer Zhang Si'an (张思安) - Djang San (Jean-Sébastien Héry) created his own electric pipa and recorded an experimental album around that instrument, "Experimental Electric Pipa". One year before that he had created his own electric zhongruan.


See also


  1. http://www1.chinaculture.org/gb/en_aboutchina/2003-09/24/content_22654.htm
  2. 2.0 2.1 Song Shu 《宋書·樂志一》 Book of Song quoting earlier work by Fu Xuan (傅玄), Ode to Pipa (琵琶賦). Original text: 琵琶,傅玄《琵琶賦》曰: 漢遣烏孫公主嫁昆彌,念其行路思慕,故使工人裁箏、築,為馬上之樂。欲從方俗語,故名曰琵琶,取其易傳於外國也。 Translation: Pipa - Fu Xuan's "Ode to Pipa" says: "The Han Emperor sent the Wusun princess to marry Kunmi, and being mindful of her thoughts and longings on her journey, instructed craftsmen to modify the Chinese zither Zheng and zhu to make an instrument tailored for playing on horseback. Therefore the common use of the old term "pipa" came about because it was transmitted to a foreign country." (Note that this passage contains a number of assertions whose veracity has been questioned by scholars.)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 The pipa: How a barbarian lute became a national symbol
  4. http://www.cultural-china.com/chinaWH/History/en/48History9144.html
  5. http://www.orientaloutpost.com/proddetail.php?prod=lq-zhaojun
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Picken, Laurence (March 1955). "The Origin of the Short Lute". The Galpin Society Journal. 8: 32. doi:10.2307/842155.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 John Myers (1992). The way of the pipa: structure and imagery in Chinese lute music. Kent State University Press. ISBN 0-87338-455-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Chinese Text Project - 《釋名·釋樂器》 Shiming by Liu Xi (劉熙)]. Original text: 枇杷,本出於胡中,馬上所鼓也。推手前曰枇,引手卻曰杷。象其鼓時,因以為名也。 Translation: Pipa, originated from amongst the Hu people, who played the instrument on horseback. Striking outward with the hand is called "pi", plucking inward is called "pa", sounds like when it is played, hence the name. (Note that this ancient way of writing pipa (枇杷) also means "loquat".)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 應劭 -《風俗通義·聲音》 Fengsu Tongyi (Common Meanings in Customs) by Ying Shao. Original text: 批把: 謹按: 此近世樂家所作,不知誰也。以手批把,因以為名。長三尺五寸,法天地人與五行,四弦象四時。 Translation: Pipa, made by recent musicians, but maker unknown. Played "pi" and "pa" with the hand, it was thus named. Length of three feet six inches represents the Heaven, Earth, and Man, and the five elements, and the four strings represent the four seasons. (Note that this length of three feet five inches is equivalent to today's length of approximately two feet and seven inches or 0.8 meter.)
  10. Kishibe's diffusionism theory on the Iranian Barbat and Chino-Japanese Pi' Pa'
  11. 11.0 11.1 《琵琶錄》 Records of Pipa by Duan Anjie (段安節)] citing Du Zhi of Jin Dynasty. Original text: 樂錄雲,琵琶本出於弦鼗。而杜摯以為秦之末世,苦於長城之役。百姓弦鼗而鼓之 Translation: According to Yuelu, pipa originated from xiantao. Du Zhi thought that towards the end of Qin Dynasty, people who suffered as forced labourers on the Great Wall, played it using strings on a drum with handle. (Note that for the word xiantao, xian means string, tao means pellet drum, one common form of this drum is a flat round drum with a handle, a form that has some resemblance to Ruan.)
  12. 《舊唐書·音樂二》 Jiu Tangshu Old Book of Tang. Original text: 琵琶,四弦,漢樂也。初,秦長城之役,有鞀而鼓之者。 Translation: Pipa, four strings, comes from Han Dynasty music. In the beginning, forced labourers on the Qin Dynasty's Great Wall played it using a drum with handle.
  13. The music of pipa
  14. 杜佑 《通典》 Tongdian by Du You. Original text: 阮咸,亦秦琵琶也,而項長過於今制,列十有三柱。武太后時,蜀人蒯朗於古墓中得之,晉竹林七賢圖阮咸所彈與此類同,因謂之阮咸。 Translation: Ruan Xian, also called Qin pipa, although its neck was longer than today's instrument. It has 13 frets. During Empress Wu period, Kuailang from Sichuan found one in an ancient tomb. Ruan Xian of The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove from the Jin Dynasty was pictured playing this same kind of instrument, it was therefore named after Ruan Xian.
  15. 15.0 15.1 《舊唐書·音樂二》 Jiu Tangshu Old Book of Tang. Original text: 今《清樂》奏琵琶,俗謂之「秦漢子」,圓體修頸而小,疑是弦鞀之遺制。其他皆充上銳下,曲項,形制稍大,疑此是漢制。兼似兩制者,謂之「秦漢」,蓋謂通用秦、漢之法。 Translation: Today's "Qingyue" performance pipa, commonly called the Qinhanzi, has a round body with a small neck, and is suspected to be descended from Xiantao. The others are all shaped full on top and pointed at the bottom, neck bent, rather large, and suspected to be of Han Dynasty origin. Being composite of two different constructions, it's called "Qinhan", as it is thought to use both Qin and Han methods. (Note that the description of the pear-shaped pipa as being "full on top and pointed at the bottom", an orientation that is inverted compared to modern instrument, and refers to the way pipa was often held in ancient times).
  16. John Myers (1992). "Chapter 1: A General history of the Pipa". The way of the pipa: structure and imagery in Chinese lute music. Kent State University Press. p. 10. ISBN 0-87338-455-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. 杜佑 《通典》 Tongdian by Du You citing Fu Xuan of Jin Dynasty. Original text: 傅玄云:「體圓柄直,柱有十二。」 Translation: Fu Xuan said: "The body is round and the handle straight, and has twelve frets."
  18. Albert E. Dien (2007). Six Dynasties Civilization. Yale University Press. pp. 342–348. ISBN 978-0-300-07404-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. See also The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T'ang Exotics, by Edward H. Schafer; University of California Press, 1963.
  20. Cheng Yu : 5 string pipa
  21. 杜佑 《通典》 Tongdian by Du You. A longer quote of Fu Xuan here.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Duan Anjie - A Music Conservatory Miscellany (Yuefu zalu 樂府雜錄)
  23. 23.0 23.1 劉禹錫 《曹剛》 Cao Gang by Liu Yuxi Original text: 大弦嘈囋小弦清,噴雪含風意思生。一聽曹剛彈薄媚,人生不合出京城。
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 李紳 《悲善才》 Lament for Shancai by Li Shen. The name Shancai is also used to mean virtuoso or maestro in the Tang Dynasty.
  25. 25.0 25.1 元稹 《琵琶歌》 Pipa Song by Yuan Zhen.
  26. 琵琶行 The "Pipa Song" by Bai Juyi, translation here.
  27. Faye Chunfang Fei, ed. (2002). Chinese Theories of Theater and Performance from Confucius to the Present. University of Michigan Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0472089239.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Jin Fu (2012). Chinese Theatre (3rd ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 447. ISBN 978-0521186667.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Chinese Pipa - a four-stringed lute
  30. 30.0 30.1 杜佑 《通典》 Tongdian by Du You Original text: 舊彈琵琶,皆用木撥彈之,大唐貞觀中始有手彈之法,今所謂搊琵琶者是也。《風俗通》所謂以手琵琶之,知乃非用撥之義,豈上代固有搊之者?手彈法,近代已廢,自裴洛兒始為之。 Translation: The olden ways of playing pipa all used a wooden plectrum for playing. During the reign of Tang Dynasty's Emperor Taizong, there began the use of a finger-playing technique, which is what's called plucked pipa today. What's referred to in Common Meanings in Customs as playing pipa by hand is thus understood to be played without plectrum, but how are we sure that there were those who played by plucking in this early period? The use of this technique has fallen away in recent times, but it was started by Pei Luoer. (Note that Pei Luoer is also known as Pei Shenfu (裴神符)).
  31. A report on Chinese research into the Dunhuang music manuscripts Chen Yingshi, Musica Asiatica, 1991 ISBN 0-521-39050-8
  32. Xiansuo Shisan Tao (弦索十三套)
  33. This was first published as Nanbei Erpai Miben Pipapu Zhenzhuan (南北二派祕本琵琶譜真傳)
  34. Luanjing Zayong 《灤京雜詠》 by Yang Yunfu (楊允孚) Original text: 為愛琵琶調有情,月髙未放酒杯停,新腔翻得凉州曲彈出天鵝避海青海。 《海青挐天鵝》新聲也。 This piece is however listed as "Eagle Seizing a Crane" (海青挐鶴) in the Hua Collection.
  35. John Myers (1992). "Chapter 3 - Musical structure in the Hua Collection". The way of the pipa: structure and imagery in Chinese lute music. Kent State University Press. pp. 39–40. ISBN 0-87338-455-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. Bulag, Uradyn E. (July 1999). "Models and Moralities: The Parable of the Two "Heroic Little Sisters of the Grassland"". The China Journal (42): 21. doi:10.2307/2667639.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. The Concise Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume 2. Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Routledge. 2008. pp. 1104–1105. ISBN 978-0415994040.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. The Li Collection was published as Nanbei Pai Shisan Tao Daqu Pipa Xinpu 南北派十三套大曲琵琶新譜 in 1895.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Pipa Pai: Concept, History and Analysis of Styles
  40. Comparison of Three Chinese Traditional Pipa Music Schools with the Aid of Sound Analysis
  41. 劉義慶 《世說新語》 A New Account of the Tales of the World by Liu Yiqing. Original text: 桓大司馬曰:「諸君莫輕道,仁祖企腳北窗下彈琵琶,故自有天際真人想。」 Translation: Grand Marshal Huan said: "Gentlemen, do not disparage Renzu, he played the pipa under the north window on tiptoe, and thus evoked thoughts of an immortal in heaven." (Note that Renzu (仁祖) refers to Xie Shang.)
  42. 隋書 Book of Sui. Original text: 先是周武帝時,有龜茲人曰蘇祗婆,從突厥皇后入國,善胡琵琶。聽其所奏,一均之中間有七聲。因而問之,答雲:『父在西域,稱為知音。代相傳習,調有七種。』以其七調,勘校七聲,冥若合符 Translation: In the beginning, during the reign of Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou, there was a Kuchean named Sujiva, who came into the country with the Tu-jue empress and excelled in playing the hu pipa. Listening to what he played, within one scale there were seven notes. He was thus questioned about it, and he replied: "In the Western Region, my father was praised for his knowledge of music. As transmitted and practised through generations, there were seven kinds of mode." Taking his seven modes, and on investigating and comparing them with the seven notes, they fitted together and tallied well.
  43. Laurence E. R. Picken and Noel J. Nickson (2000). Music from the Tang court (PDF). 7. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-78084-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  44. 《舊唐書·音樂二》 Jiu Tangshu (Old Book of Tang) Original text: 後魏有曹婆羅門,受龜茲琵琶于商人,世傳其業。至孫妙達,尤為北齊高洋所重,常自擊胡鼓以和之。 Translation: During Later Wei there was Cao Poluomen, who was a trader in Kuchean pipa for whose craft he was famous. His grandchild Miaoda in particular was highly regarded by Emperor Wenxuan of Northern Qi Dynasty, who would often play the hu drum in accompaniment. (Note that Poluomen (or Bolomen) means Brahmin or Indian.)
  45. 段安節 《琵琶錄》 Records of Pipa by Duan Anjie
  46. Note that some people claimed Pei Xingnu to be the female player described in the poem Pipa Xing, there is however no definitive proof of that claim.
  47. Duan Anjie - A Music Conservatory Miscellany (Yuefu zalu 樂府雜錄) Original text: - 貞元中有王芬、曹保,保其子善才其孫曹綱皆襲所藝。次有裴興奴,與綱同時。曹綱善運撥,若風雨,而不事扣弦,興奴長於攏撚,不撥稍軟。時人謂:「曹綱有右手,興奴有左手。」 Note that Shancai was used as a word to mean virtuoso or maestro during the Tang Dynasty.
  48. 琵琶行 (Pipa xing) Original text: - 曲罷曾教善才伏,妝成每被秋娘妒。 Translation: Her art the admiration even of master Shancai, Her beauty the envy of all pretty girls.
  49. Houshan Shihua《後山詩話》 by Chen Shidao (陳師道), relating a story about Ouyang Xiu listening to Du Bin. Original text: 故公詩雲:座中醉客誰最賢?杜彬琵琶皮作弦。自從彬死世莫傳。 Translation: So Master (Ouyang Xiu) in his poem says: "Who amongst the drunken guests in their seats was the most worthy? It's Du Bin who played the pipa with animal hide for strings. Ever since Du Bin's death such skill is lost to the world".
  50. 《湯琵琶傳》 Original text: 而尤得意於《楚漢》一曲,當其兩軍決戰時,聲動天地,瓦屋若飛墜。徐而察之,有金聲、鼓聲、劍弩聲、人馬辟易聲。俄而無聲。久之,有怨而難明者,為楚歌聲;淒而壯者,為項王悲歌慷慨之聲、別姬聲;陷大澤,有追騎聲;至烏江,有項王自刎聲、餘騎蹂踐爭項王聲。
  51. Incubus - Mike Einziger Guitar Gear Rig and Equipment

Further reading

  • Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John, eds. (2001). New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries. ISBN 1561592390.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • John Myers (1992). The way of the pipa: structure and imagery in Chinese lute music. Kent State University Press. ISBN 9780873384551.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links