The pipa (Chinese: 琵琶; pinyin: pípá) is a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument, belonging to the plucked category of instruments (弹拨乐器/彈撥樂器). Sometimes called the Chinese lute, the instrument has a pear-shaped wooden body with a varying number of frets ranging from 12–26. Another Chinese 4 string plucked lute is the liuqin, which looks like a smaller version of the pipa.
The ruan (阮, pinyin: ruǎn) is a Chinese plucked string instrument. It is a lute with a fretted neck, a circular body, and four strings. Its strings were formerly made of silk but since the 20th century they have been made of steel (flatwound for the lower strings). The modern ruan has 24 frets with 12 semitones on each string, which has greatly expanded its range from a previous 13 frets. The frets are commonly made of ivory. Or in recent times, metal mounted on wood. The metal frets produce a brighter tone as compared to the ivory frets.
The sanxian (Chinese: 三弦, literally "three strings") is a Chinese lute — a three-stringed fretless plucked musical instrument. It has a long fingerboard, and the body is traditionally made from snake skin stretched over a rounded rectangular resonator. It is made in several sizes for different purposes and in the late 20th century a four-stringed version was also developed. The northern sanxian is generally larger, at about 122 cm in length, while southern versions of the instrument are usually about 95 cm in length.
The liuqin (柳琴; pinyin: liǔqín, pronounced [li̯òʊ̯tɕʰǐn]) is a four-stringed Chinese mandolin with a pear-shaped body. It is small in size, almost a miniature copy of another Chinese plucked musical instrument, the pipa. The range of its voice is much higher than the pipa, and it has its own special place in Chinese music, whether in orchestral music or in solo pieces.
The yueqin (Chinese: 月琴, pinyin: yuèqín, pronounced [y̯œ̂tɕʰǐn]; also spelled yue qin, or yüeh-ch'in; and also called moon guitar, moon-zither, gekkin, la ch'in, or laqin) is a traditional Chinese string instrument. It is a lute with a round, hollow wooden body which gives it the nickname moon guitar. It has a short fretted neck and four strings tuned in courses of two (each pair of strings is tuned to a single pitch), generally tuned to the interval of a perfect fifth. Occasionally, the body of the yueqin may be octagonal in shape.
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