The pipa is a short-necked string chordophone of Chinese origin. It is a plucked lute with a characteristic pear-like body. An ordinary pipa has a flat soundboard with no resonator hole. The modern pipa has four strings and frets that can range in number from 12 to 26.
History of the Pipa
The origins of the pipa are ancient and complex, with written records suggesting that the term was first used to describe many lute-like chordophone instruments used during the Qin dynasty (which began in 221 BC). During the Northern Wei dynasty (386 - 534), new trading routes with other countries brought foreign influence to China which is believed by some to have influenced the design of the pipa which came to be made with silk strings and was played vertically by the player. By the time of the imperial Tang dynasty (618 - 907), musicians had begun using their fingernails instead of a plectrum, which called for a small instrument to be held horizontally like a guitar or mandolin. The pear shape of the pipa was likely to have been introduced by Indian influence and other Asian countries’ lutes of the time. The quxiang pipa seems to be a likely early ancestor to the modern pipa and may have arrived via the silk road from Persia. The pipa came to be referenced in Chinese literature during the 3rd century and soon established itself as a culturally significant instrument for China. The four-string pipa was standardized and began to be used in Chinese courts like the Zhou Court (1046–256 B.C.) as well as early Chinese classical music. Modern pipa players now traditionally use nylon strings instead of silk, as it can be an expensive and temperamental material to use for instrument makers. 20th Century Western composers including American musicians Philip Glass and Lou Harrison eventually adopted the pipa and its use has continued to be popular in China. An electric pipa was developed during the late 20th century.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

£250 - £1,000

Hear the Pipa

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How to Play

A four-stringed Chinese musical instrument, similar to a lute, played by plucking the strings with a pick.

In Popular Music

The pipa is still predominantly used in China but it may have been added to orchestral film scores for example 'The Karate Kid' and 'Kung Fu Panda' to create an authentic feel. ‘The Cusp Of Magic’ by American composer Terry Riley (2005) is a famous example of a Western piece to feature a pipa player.

Famous Players

Wu Man, Liu Fang, Yang Jing

Close Relations

Ruan, Zhongruan
Video Credit: LessonGoWhere
Understanding the Pipa
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2nd century BC






Instruments of Music

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