Also:       yang-ch’in      hudie qin      

Title: Chinese Traditional Yang-qin Music--Galloping Over the Vast Grasslands; Anna Guo, yangqin. Label: Oliver Sudden Productions. Format: CD. Catalogue#: K10-18CD. Track: 2.

Contextual Associations

The yangqin is a struck box-zither chordophone of China. Pictured and described here is a modernized version of an earlier model that was quite similar in design and stringing to the Cambodian khimm, which is a direct descendant of the earlier yangqin. While the earlier yangqin was initially associated with amateur ensemble traditions of southern China and eventually spread to central and northern China (see ‘Sizhu Ensemble from China’), the modern yangqin is very much a product of ideological currents following the 1949 Communist Revolution that encouraged the modernization of traditional artistic resources. Since the 1950s highly trained yangqin graduates of government supported music conservatories have become professional performers in a wide array of government sponsored orchestras and dance and theatre troupes. A notated solo repertoire consisting of arrangements of traditional pieces and newly composed works for yangqin has been created, and a similarly structured repertoire for modern chamber ensembles and Chinese orchestras often includes the yangqin in their orchestration. The earlier forms of the instrument are still used by some amateur music ensembles in China and can also be found integrated into musical practices throughout the Chinese diaspora, especially throughout Asia but also in North America. 


The resonator box of this yangqin is trapezoid-shaped and constructed from wood. Soundboard and backboard are made from thin boards of a straight-grained softwood, and the backboard has eighteen holes each 2 inches in diameter. The trapezoidal frame (the sides of the box) is made from four pieces of hardwood joined together. Inside the resonator, glued to the back of the soundboard, are five support bars located directly below the five center bridges on the top of the soundboard. There are a total of seven bridges on the soundboard (see first detail image): five high partitioning bridges that we will call (from the top to the bottom sides of the image) the short, treble, alto, tenor, and bass bridges; and two low side bridges one each located just inside the rows of hitch pins (left side; see second detail image) and the tuning pins (right side; see third detail image) along the outside edge of a flat shelf. The partitioning bridges have a series of plateaus and valleys carved into them, their bottom face glued to the surface of the soundboard. One-hundred-forty-four strings of varying gauges and designs (some wire, some wire wound with steel) are organized into forty-eight courses of from one to five strings. Each string has a noose at one end that is looped around a hitch pin along the left side of the soundboard. Each string then makes contact with the left side-bridge, a rolling cylindrical nut, then with the plateau cap of one partitioning bridge (but not any of the others), and makes contact with the cap of the right side-bridge or some other tuning nut or dampening felt before being threaded through and wound around a tuning pin that is securely imbedded in the pinblock beneath the right end of the soundboard. The lowest-pitched, thickest string (nearest the camera) runs over its own individual moveable bridge. Ten double-course strings pass over the bass bridge, ten more double-course strings pass over the tenor bridge, eleven triple-course strings pass over the alto bridge, seven four-course and six five-course strings pass over the treble bridge, and three four-course strings run over the short bridge. After the individual bass string with its own bridge, there is a sequence to the ordering of the string courses: first a bass bridge course, then a tenor one, then an alto, and finally a treble course. These four bridges are aligned so that once a course passes over its bridge it avoids contact with the other bridges by passing through their ‘valleys.’ The three short bridge courses and the top four treble bridge courses also pass over individual moveable bridges with rolling tuning nuts. The pegblock ends of the soundboard can be concealed with hinged covers. The hammers for the instrument are made out of thinly-shaven lengths of bamboo tipped with rubber (see fourth detail image for close-up of the beaters).

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The yangqin is supported on a three-sided stand so that its far edge is slightly higher than its near edge, the soundboard facing upward. The player sits in a chair facing the instrument (the view in the gallery photo is that of the performer. One hammer is held in each hand, its end pinched between the thumb and index finger.  The padded end of the hammer is thrust against the strings using a staccato wrist movement. The sound of a struck string dies away quickly, so to sustain a note the tremolo technique is used. The string segments are only struck with the beaters and are not otherwise manipulated, resulting in just one pitch per string segment. Single line melodies are most often performed on this instrument, although simple two-voice passages are possible. One possible tuning for the yangqin is as follows: single-course bass string F2; left side of bass bridge G2 - A2 - B2 - C3 - D3 - E3 - F-sharp3 - G-sharp3 - A-sharp3 - C4; left side of tenor bridge D-flat3 - E-flat3 - F3 - G3 - A3 - B3 - C-sharp4 - D-sharp4 - F4 - G4; left side of alto bridge A-flat 3 - B-flat3 - C4 - D4 - E4 - F-sharp4 - G-sharp4 - A-sharp4 - C5 - D5 - E5; right side of treble bridge D-flat4 - E-flat4 - F4 - G4 - A4 - B4 - C-sharp5 - D-sharp5 - F5 - G-sharp5 - A-sharp5 - G6 - A6; left side of treble bridge A-flat4 - B-flat4 - C5 - D5 - E5 - F5 - G5 - A5 - B5 - C6 - D6 - E6 - F-sharp6; right side of short bridge C-sharp6 - D-sharp6 - F6. The pitches on the opposite sides of the treble bridge are (if unaffected by a tuning roller or added bridge, which many of them are) a perfect fifth apart. If the lowest string is tuned to the note F2 and the highest to A6, the instrument a range of four octaves and a third. Except for the lowest octave, this tuning pattern is fully chromatic over most of its range (from C3 to G6). Music for the yangqin is notated in staff notation, cipher notation, and a combination of the two. The instrument has a fairly wide dynamic range controlled by the forcefulness of the hammering action.


Gifford (2001) speculates that it was most likely Europeans, especially British individuals, who introduced the hammered dulcimer to the southern China coastal area around 1700 CE. This theory runs contrary to an earlier one that postulates the Persian santur, introduced during the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), as being the instrument upon which the yangqin is modeled. Since the yangqin features rows of connected (like British models) rather than separate bridges (like the santur), and British and other European merchants and sailors were visiting the South China coast by the turn of the 18th century, Gifford’s theory seems the more plausible one. It would appear that the earliest yangqin had two partitioning bridges accommodating seven double or triple course strings each. Over time, the two bridges had additional courses added up to ten on each. More dramatic design changes were made to the instrument following the 1949 Communist Revolution when the new government established conservatories of music and encouraged instrument makers to experiment with new designs. This environment led to the adoption of equal temperament tuning, the increased size and expanded ranges for traditional instruments, professionalism, and an increase in virtuosic display. These ideals fueled changes in the design of the yangqin including increases in its overall size, the number of bridges, and the number of string courses, expanding its range to over four octaves and making it chromatic over nearly this entire range, and providing it with a fine-tuning mechanism that it did not previously possess. All these changes have taken place since the 1950s.

Bibliographic Citations

Gifford, Paul M. 2001. The Hammered Dulcimer, A History. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Thrasher, Allan R. 1984. “Yangqin [yang-ch’in].” NGDMI v.3: 893-894.

________. 2000. Chinese Musical Instruments. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wu Ben. 2002. "Instruments: Yangqin." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 7. East Asia. ed. Robert C. Provine, Yosihiko Tokumaru, and J. Lawrence Witzleben. New York: Routledge, pp. 179-181.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: East Asia

Nation: China

Formation: Han

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

314.122 chordophone--true board zither (the plane of the strings is parallel with that of the string bearer): with resonator box (box zither); the resonator is made from slats

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: zither - board

Resonator design, chordophone: box with wood soundboard

String courses: single, double at unison, triple at unison, quadruple at unison, quintuple at unison

Vibrational length: pressure bridge to ridge-nut

String tension control: friction pin

Method of sounding: striking (direct)

Pitches per string course: one and two (with partitioning bridge)


46.2 in. length (near edge) 30.5 in. length (far edge) 20.1 in. width (near edge to far edge) 4.3 in. depth of resonator box

Primary Materials

string - wire
string - wire-wound wire

Entry Author

Roger Vetter