The Dizi is a side-blown bamboo flute with a bright and loud sound. A feature that makes the Dizi unique is the Dimo — a thin membrane of reed tissue that sits taut over an additional hole between the mouth hole and the six finger holes, and produces extra overtones reminiscent of overdrive distortion. The process of applying the membrane to create exactly the right buzz is an art form in itself.
Known for vibrato and smooth pitch glides, but also brittle and scratchy timbres, the Erhu or "Chinese violin" is an expressive solo instrument that is said to closely resemble the human voice. The Erhu has two steel strings, tuned to D and A — the same as the middle strings of a violin. With varying bowed and plucked playing styles, an Erhu can create anything from screeching to honey-sweet wailing.
Originating around 2500 years ago in Northern China, the Guzheng is the ancestor of many Asian zithers. One of a vast family of hammered dulcimers worldwide, it is tuned to a pentatonic scale, and is the main “harmony" instrument in Chinese music. The strings of a Guzheng are played with two hands, which allows the timbre and pitch of notes to be altered with harmonics, vibrato and muting.
A plucked box-zither chordophone, the Guqin is more than just a musical instrument — it is a way of life, a philosophy, and a focal point for symbolism. Its length of 3.65 Chinese feet symbolizes the 365 days of a year, and the thirteen soundboard studs stand for the thirteen moons of the year. Up to twenty layers of lacquer are applied to the wooden resonator of a Guqin, to create a uniquely delicate timbre.
A pear-shaped lute with four strings and about 30 frets, the sound of a Pipa is bright and even piercing when played with force, with a strong emphasis on the high mids. There’s huge scope for expressive playing via vibrato, portamento and glissando, or even striking the soundboard and twisting the strings away from the frets for percussive, cymbal-like effects. Unique to the Pipa is its extremely dense tremolo.
Comparable to the piano in Western music, the Yangqin is perfect for crossovers with other music styles. 144 strings are tuned 48 different pitches, with microtonal deviations between strings of the same pitch resulting in a natural chorus effect that gives the Yangqin an airy, light quality. The beaters used to hit the strings are made from elastic bamboo, and can create exceptionally fast tremolos.
Known also as the Japanese oboe, the Hichiriki is a sacred instrument. A double-reed wind instrument with a cylindrical bore, its sound is clear, bright, and penetrating. Although not even 20 cm long, the Hichiriki is loud and has a heart-stirring sound that is said to have the power to cleanse. The instrument’s distinctive pitch-gliding technique is called “Enbai”, which means "salted plum”.
The Koto, a plucked zither, has a distinctive sound that can often be heard in contemporary orchestral pieces. The instrument can be tuned by setting the moveable bridges to the desired pitch. Played kneeling, various techniques characterize the sound of a Koto, including tremolo, plucked chords, excessive vibrato, and downward glissando.
The Shakuhachi is an end-blown bamboo flute. With a broad variety of playing techniques, the sound of the Shakuhachi is extremely malleable and expressive. By only partly covering holes and over-blowing the instrument, experienced players can produce a range of more than three octaves. The Shakuhachi has also been a staple sound of Japanese-made synthesizers since the 1980s.
The Shamisen is a long-necked, lute-type instrument with a sharp, percussive sound. Shamisen players often wear bands of cloth on their fingers to facilitate sliding up and down its neck. The instrument allows for a huge range of expressive playing styles, from gentle vibrato to precipitous slides. In recent years, the Shamisen has gained popularity through the rock-influenced playing style of young performers.
The Shō is an aerophone made from bamboo pipes. Its sound is said to resemble the cry of the mythological bird Phoenix, a symbol of virtue and grace in Asian mythology. Two of the 17 pipes of a Shō are silent, as they are simply meant to complete an image of folded wings. As with an accordion or mouth harp, the Shō can be played by either exhaling or inhaling while covering specific finger holes on the bamboo pipes.
Dubbed the ‘Scratch Zither’, the Ajaeng is not plucked, but bowed. It produces sustained notes, unlike any other zither. The height of the instrument’s movable bridges give leeway for the pitch of a note to be altered by pressing down on the strings, allowing a vibrato that deviates from its center note by a minor third or more, which creates a characteristically undulating tone.
The Daegeum is a side-blown flute known for vibrato and pitch bends, whose depth of tone and wide range of expression make it a frequent choice for dramatic film scoring. Like the Chinese Dizi, it features a membrane made from a thin reed film, which creates a characteristic buzzing tone. The Daegeum covers three octaves, ranging from breathy and soft in the lower registers to loud and piercing at the top.
Considered to be the Korean national instrument, the Gayageum is a plucked zither made from paulownia wood, with 12 strings and moveable bridges. This complex instrument delivers a deep and resonant tone in a way that is delicate and subtle. The instrument’s varied playing techniques with left and right hand allow for pitch bending, harmonics, vibrato, glissando, tremolo and even echo effects.
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