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The pipa (pronounced "pee-paa") is a

four-stringed lute, one of the oldest

Chinese musical instruments with over 2000 years of history. The
Pipa playing today

term pipa (
) consists of two Chinese characters symbolizing
two playing techniques (denoted as "Tan" and "Tiao" today) while
their pronunciations p'i and p'a are imitations of the sounds
produced accordingly. The latter fact is however not often
mentioned in the literatures about the pipa (see Note )
The historical development of the pipa has been a progressive
process from its very beginning with few major fusions. The earliest
Chinese written texts about the pipadated back at least to the
second century BC. For instance, Xi Liu of the Eastern Han Dynasty
(25-220 AD) described in his book, The Definition of Terms - On
Musical Instruments, that the name of the instrument pipa originally
referred to two finger techniques. The two Chinese
characters p'i and p'a stood originally for the two movements, i.e.
plucking the strings forwards and backwards, respectively. It is
commonly known now that the term "pipa" used to be the generic name for
all pluck-string instruments of the ancient times. For instance, in the Qin

Dynasty (222-207 BC), there had been a kind of pluckedinstrument, known as xiantao, with a straight neck and a round
sound-body played horizontally, which is considered one of the
predecessors of the pipa. In the preface to his verse Ode to Pipa,
Xuan Fu of the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD) wrote:
"...the pipa appeared in the late Qin period. When the people
suffered from being forced to build the Great Wall, they played the
instrument to express their resentment". By the Han Dynasty (206
BC -- 220 AD), the instrument developed into its form of four
strings and twelve frets, plucked with fingernails and known
as pipa or qin-pipa
(see Fig.1[1]. In the Western Jin
Dynasty (256-316), the qin-pipa was named after the famous
scholar, one of "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove", Ruan Xian,
who was a great master on this instrument. (Note that Ji Kong,
grand master of the seven stringed zither qin, was among the seven
sages who often met for music and wine). The instrument has been
to this day called the ruan(

) whereas the name pipa specifically

referred to a new version in the same family of instruments, which

developed as follows:
During the Northern and Southern Dynasty (420-589 AD), a similar pluck
string instrument, called oud or barbat with a crooked neck and four or five
strings was introduced through the Silk Road from Central Asia, known as
the Hu Pipa (
Hustands for "foreign" in Chinese), which was played
horizontally with a wooden plectrum (see the picture below for the Tang
Dynastypipa player). During the early Tang Dynasty, foreign music became
very popular. A fusion of the original Chinese pipa and the "Hu pipa" took
place such that the instrument gradually became what the present pipalooks
like toward the middle of the Tang Dynasty (see the above Fig.1 [1][4] and the Note
on the right panel). Meanwhile the playing method has
been developed and repertoire increased. One of the greatest developments
was that the left hand became totally free by holding the instrument
vertically, i.e. the pipa rests on the thigh of the instrumentalist in an upright
position, and was played vertically with five fingers of the right hand instead
of horizontally with a plectrum (see the photo at the top of this page).
During the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), the pipa was
one of the most popular instruments, and it has
maintained its appeal in solo as well as chamber
genres ever since.
The Tang pipa (Fig. 1[3]) was larger than the modern
instrument. It usually had four or five strings and
fewer frets (compared to the present day pipa).
Probably influenced by the Hu pipa, the Tang pipa was
often played with a wooden plectrum, a technique still
used by its Japanese descendent, the biwa. Since the
mid Tang Dynasty, and particularly since the Song
Pipa was played
Dynasty (960-1279), the instrument was gradually
horizontally with a
developed into the present form of a lute played with
wooden plectrum
fingernails, while the techniques with the plectrum
during the Tang
were totally abandoned. The strings of the instrument
Dynasty (618-907)
were made of silk. Musicians used their real nails of
the right hand to pluck the strings. An exception to
this is the Nanguan pipa which is popular in Fujian Province (South-East
China) and Taiwan in a particular kind of traditional music called Nanguan
which can be traced back to at least the Song Dynasty. Pipa players in the
Nanguan tradition play the pipa horizontally and use one piece of plectrum
just like theTang pipa.

Another big change (fusion) occurred to the pipa during the first half of the
last century: the traditional pipa with silk strings and pentatonic tuning has
developed into the modern pipa with steel strings and chromatic tuning (by
increasing the number of frets). The modern instrument is half-pear-shaped,
with a short, bent neck, and has 30 frets which extend down the neck and
onto the soundboard, giving a wide range and a complete chromatic scale.
The usual tuning is A - E - D - A (La - Mi - Re - La). Since early last century,
steel strings began to be used by some musicians while most still kept using
silk strings. Since the 1950s, the making of the pipa has become
standardized in measure and the strings are made of steel wrapped with
nylon. Thus using the real nail becomes almost impossible. Instead, a little
plectrum (or fake nail) is attached to each finger of the right hand. The
plectrums are usually made of turtle shell or special plastics.
Notation for the pipa combines symbols for pitch (Kung-ch'e system) with
abbreviated characters for special finger techniques. Today, a simplified
version of music scores are commonly used in which numbers representing
pitches and symbols representing finger techniques are used. Meanwhile, the
standard Western music score has been used increasingly because it has
advantages in ensemble pieces and in particular for pipa concertos
There was a huge repertoire of pipa music in Chinese history, particularly
during the Tang dynasty. But most of the pieces were lost. Fortunately, there
are precious pipa pieces handed down from one generation to another by
individual artists and scholars. Some pieces have been preserved in Japan
and other musical scores were discovered along the Silk Road in Gansu
Province, China, around 1900. These musical notations, known as the
Dunhuang scores from the Tang Dynasty (7-9th century) triggered great
concern and interest within China as well as abroad. However, they remained
a mystery until the early 1980s, when the scholar, Prof. Ye Dong from the
Shanghai Conservatory of Music, successfully "decoded" 25 of the pieces.
The beauty and elegance of these pieces has thus first been revealed to the
public after having slept for a thousand years.
Pipa music has been loved by Chinese people through the centuries. During
the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1645-1911) dynasties, various pipa schools
with different styles flourished in the South, centered in Wuxi, Suzhou and
Shanghai, and the North, centered in Beijing. The development of finger
techniques for both hands achieved a high standard by the masters from
each school. The present day pipa techniques are mostly the fusion of those
different schools. Now the pipa is one of most popular instruments in China.
Many of the compositions that make up the traditional repertoire, which
were handed down from generation to generation through individual artists
and scholars, date back hundreds of years, while others are part of a body of

compositions that are dynamic and growing. In more recent times,

composers have explored the possibilities for the pipa and other Chinese and
Western instruments, even with orchestra. Nowadays, there are a number of
celebrated pipa concerti.
The playing techniqueconsists of
Liu Fang demonstrates some basic
the right hand fingers plucking the
pipa techniques. There are about 60
strings and the left hand fingers
different playing techniques for the
touching the strings in a variety of
ways to create melodies, ornaments
and special effects. The fingers that
For more music videos, click here
pluck the strings move outwards,
just the opposite to guitar
techniques. The frets are pretty high, which allows the string to be pushed,
twisted, and pressed. There are over 60 different techniques that have been
developed through the centuries.
The pipa's technique is characterized by spectacular finger dexterity and
virtuosic programmatic effects. Rolls, slaps, pizzicato, harmonics, and noises
are often combined into extensive tone-poems vividly describing famous
battles or other exciting scenes, such as the Ambush (see the demo video
#2 below). This type is called "wu qu" (martial style). This example
describes the decisive battle fought in the second century BC between Chu
(Xiang Yu) and Han (Liu Bang). The instrument is also capable of more lyric
effects, in the category of "wen qu" (civil styles) such as the famous tunes
"Fei Hua Dian Cui" (Swirling snow decorates the evergreen, see the demo
video #1 below) or Sai Shang qu(Songs from the other side of the border).
The former uses a scene in nature as metophor to describe human feeling.
The latter is said to represent the sorrowful song of a Han dynasty (206 BC 220 AD) noblewoman, who was compelled for political reasons to marry a
barbarian prince. This story appears in several versions connected with the
origin of the pipa. There are also a lot of written texts and famous poems
about the pipa music played by virtuoso performers in history. For instance,
the following comments can be found in the texts from the Tang Dynasty
(618 - 907) describing the intensity of the Ambush played by artists of that
time : "... as if thousands of warriors and horses are roaring on the battle
field, as if the earth is torn and the sky is falling". In his poem, thePipa
Song, Bai Juyi, one of the leading poets in the Tang Dynasty, described
vividly the pipa music performed by an artist: "... The thicker strings rattled
like splatters of sudden rain, the thinner ones hummed like a hushed
whisper. Together they shaped strands of melody, like larger and smaller
pearls falling on a jade plate."

Pipa () - berbentuk buah pir kecapi cemas dengan 4 atau 5 string

Pipa, a four-string lute in pear shape, is an instrument that witnesses the cultural
communication. The instrument was introduced from Central Asia around 2,000
years ago, and became very popular in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when the
society embraced exotic art forms fervently. Through ages, the instrument has
become an indispensable part of traditional Chinese music.

The Pipa tunes have very diverse styles, and are traditionally classified as either
Wen Qu (civil and mild tone) or Wu Qu (martial and fierce tone).