Precious pipa


'Like pearls falling onto a jade plate...' is how a Tang Dynasty poet famously described the beautiful sound of the pipa.

The pipa, or Chinese lute, is a plucked instrument with four strings and frets. The strings are plucked with the nails - in the past players used their own nails to play - but in modern times players bind artificial nails to their fingers and pluck the strings with those.

The name 'pipa' is onomatopoeic - 'pi' is the sound made when striking the string outwards with the back of the nail - the 'pa' sound is when the nail strikes the string in the opposite direction, towards the palm of the hand.

The pipa originated in Central Asia and is more than 2000 years old.

Traditional Chinese pipa music is poetic, intimate and improvisatory in character. 

Pipa technique utilises a spectacular range of plucking techniques, many of which are quite different from guitar techniques in western music. The left hand techniques are also incredibly subtle and varied including many unique ornaments.

Plucked harmonics are very resonant and beautiful on the pipa and are used to great effect in both traditional and contemporary pipa music.

The pipa can produce a remarkable range of sounds - from percussive sounds, to whispering or sighing sounds, to the 'round' sound of the pearl of the poem. 


International pipa virtuoso Lulu Liu will perform as 'Tea' in 'Play me a Story...The Nutcracker'.