orig. China The pipa is a short-necked wooden lute. The head of the instrument is often carved with a bat's head, because the word for "bat" in Chinese sounds similar to the word for "luck." The strings were traditionally made of twisted silk, but are now typically synthetic.
The first known text reference to the pipa is in a third-century Chinese encyclopedia, which notes that it originated "among barbarians," who played it while riding horseback. Since the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.), the pipa has been one of the most popular instruments in China.
The pluck-playing technique is characterized by spectacular finger dexterity and virtuosic effects, including rolls and percussive slaps. Pipa repertoire includes extensive tone poems vividly describing famous battles and other exciting stories.