Yangqin – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Musical Instruments Glossary

I. What is a Yangqin?

The yangqin is a traditional Chinese musical instrument that belongs to the hammered dulcimer family. It is a percussion instrument that consists of a set of metal strings stretched across a trapezoidal wooden soundboard. The strings are struck with two bamboo hammers to produce sound. The yangqin is known for its bright and resonant tone, making it a popular instrument in Chinese traditional music.

II. History of the Yangqin

The yangqin has a long history that dates back to ancient China. It is believed to have originated from the Persian santur, which was introduced to China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Over time, the yangqin evolved and became an integral part of Chinese traditional music.

During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties, the yangqin gained popularity among the Chinese elite and was often featured in court music ensembles. It was also used in folk music and opera performances, further solidifying its place in Chinese musical culture.

III. Construction and Design of the Yangqin

The yangqin is typically made of wood, with a trapezoidal shape that tapers towards the bottom. The soundboard is usually made of fir or paulownia wood, which helps to amplify the sound of the strings. The instrument has a series of metal strings stretched across the soundboard, with each string tuned to a specific pitch.

The strings are struck with two bamboo hammers, which are held in each hand. The hammers have soft heads that produce a mellow tone when striking the strings. The yangqin also has bridges that help to support the strings and transmit vibrations to the soundboard, creating a rich and resonant sound.

IV. Playing Techniques for the Yangqin

Playing the yangqin requires a combination of striking the strings with the hammers and using the fingers to dampen or sustain the sound. The hammers are used to produce the initial attack on the strings, while the fingers can be used to control the sustain and dynamics of the notes.

Players can use a variety of techniques to create different sounds on the yangqin, such as tremolo, glissando, and arpeggios. Tremolo involves rapidly alternating between two notes, creating a shimmering effect. Glissando is the technique of sliding the hammers across the strings to produce a smooth and continuous sound. Arpeggios involve playing a series of broken chords to create a flowing and melodic effect.

V. Notable Yangqin Players

There have been many talented yangqin players throughout history who have contributed to the instrument’s popularity and development. One of the most famous yangqin players is Wang Changyuan, who was known for his virtuosic playing and innovative techniques. Another notable player is Li Xiangting, who has helped to popularize the yangqin both in China and internationally.

In addition to these traditional players, there are also many contemporary yangqin players who are pushing the boundaries of the instrument and exploring new musical styles. These players are incorporating elements of jazz, rock, and world music into their performances, creating a fusion of traditional and modern sounds.

VI. Modern Day Use of the Yangqin

In modern times, the yangqin continues to be a popular instrument in Chinese traditional music and is often featured in orchestras, ensembles, and solo performances. It is also used in contemporary music genres, such as pop, rock, and electronic music, where it adds a unique and exotic sound to the music.

The yangqin has also gained recognition on the international stage, with many musicians from around the world incorporating the instrument into their compositions. Its versatility and distinctive sound have made it a favorite among musicians and audiences alike, ensuring that the yangqin will continue to be a cherished part of Chinese musical culture for years to come.