|The liuqin (柳琴; pinyin: liǔqín) is a four-stringed Chinese
lute with a pear-shaped body. It is small in size, almost a miniature
copy of another Chinese plucked instrument, the pipa. But the range of
its voice is much higher than the pipa, and has its own special place
in the Chinese music, whether in orchestral music or in solo pieces. This
has been the result of a modernization in its usage in recent years, leading
to a gradual elevation in status of the liuqin from an accompaniment instrument
in folk Chinese opera, narrative music, i.e. Suzhou pingtan, in northern
Jiangsu, southern Shandong and Anhui; to an instrument well-appreciated
for its unique tonal and acoustic qualities.
Historically the liuqin was commonly made of willow wood, while the professionals used versions constructed with a higher-quality red sandalwood or rosewood. In contemporary versions though, the front board is made of tong wood (桐木) and for the reverse side, of red sandalwood, as comparable to historical types.
Playing technique, tones and range
Its technique is closer to that of the mandolin than that of the pipa, using a plectrum and frequently using the tremolo technique. Its strings are either tuned in fifths, G-D-A-E (as a mandolin or violin), or else in a mixture of fourths and fifths, as for example G-D-G-D, which is a more common tuning employed by mainstream players of the liuqin. This makes playing of the liuqin exactly the same as the ruan, hence players of either the liuqin or the ruan often double on both instruments.
The modern liuqin has four steel strings. Like the ruan, the number of the liuqin's frets was increased from 7 to 24 over the course of the 20th century. These frets are arranged in half-step intervals. Its refreshing and jubilant tonal quality is more delicate than that of the yueqin.
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