Liuqin - Chinese Plucked String Instrument
Also known as the liu ye qin (willow leaf instrument), tu pipa, or jin gang tui, the liuqin is a pipa-lookalike that has a history of more than a hundred years. Known for its bright, penetrative sound quality in the Chinese orchestra, this Chinese mandolin is the accompanying instrument of choice for folk operas.
Prior to reformation and assimilation into the Chinese orchestra in 1958, the liuqin had a mere two or three strings, no more than seven frets and sounded primitive when played. Through reformation, the instrument was firstly designed to have a larger base, three strings and 24 frets, and subsequently given a fourth string and four more frets. A fine tuner was then installed at the base of the instrument to allow for precise tuning; and an attachable stand made to prop up the instrument for stable playing. Played using a plectrum, the Chinese liuqin’s original silk strings have since been replaced with steel ones, which help to amplify the liuqin’s volume and thus giving it its characteristic piercing tone. Highly capable of producing penetrative sounds, this instrument is not easily overwhelmed by other instruments in the Chinese orchestra.
Primarily developed to fill in the lack of high frequencies within the plucked string section (the only alternative being the pipa, whose range is more of alto rather than soprano), the liuqin is considered one of the more successful examples of reformed instruments. The changes made to the liuqin have since heightened the liuqin’s performing capabilities and allowed for great showmanship.
Today, the liuqin is an indispensible instrument in the Chinese orchestra. Its versatility allows it to execute quick, passionate and carefree excerpts, thus garnering increasing popularity in recent years.