CHAPTER 5: Dulcimers in other countries since 1800 > Far East


In China there seem to be two main types of music, and two main types of instrument. The Mandarin Chinese name for both kinds is yang ch'in, 'foreign stringed-instrument'; and indeed throughout the Far East, the local name for such instruments, and sometimes even for the modern piano, is a local variant of these words.

The northern music is to western ears perhaps rather austere, a solo melody, with no harmony apart from occasional octaves, rapid passages using the pentatonic scale, then single notes played with very fast tremolo at 'cadence' points and in slower passages.

The southern music is very strongly westernised, with strong bass line and full harmony: the dulcimer alternates between accompaniment figures which are almost repetitive enough to be called ostinati, and solo passages, using the same tremolo on slow notes and running passages of faster notes.

Of the two kinds of instrument, one is the "butterfly harp" or "butterfly piano", made in standard form and size

The other instruments are of more basic external shape, but more complex internally, having up to three or four bridges, and fine tuning adjusters, in the shape of little cylinders of steel, passed under the strings behind the saddle.


The decoration on bridges , and sometimes even of hammers, is very impressive; the sound hole of a butterfly harp usually has a delicately carved ivory boss, and the bridges may have something special too.



One instrument belonging to Sir David Trench, has protective lids over the pins, just as those of Birmingham players.

There seems to be no detailed account of China's dulcimers, although yang ch'ins are discussed briefly by Courent (82) and Sachs (67).


2002: One yang qin player, writer and recorder of its music is Kimberly Murley Her book is entitled Purple Bamboo Melody and she also sells a casette tape of music.