The Silk Road Project Winter 2007 Newsletter

Silk Road sounds: the pipa

Silk Road Ensemble member Wu Man
©Todd Rosenberg/Sony BMG 2007

A pear-shaped, short-necked wooden lute, the pipa has four strings, traditionally of twisted silk, but now made of steel. Plastic picks are used to pluck the strings and perform dexterous rolls. Combined with percussive slaps, these techniques evoke particularly vivid emotions.

The pipa has been one of the most popular instruments in China since the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.), but early references note it was brought with nomads who played it on horseback. “We say that the pipa is a Chinese instrument,” says acclaimed pipa player Wu Man, “but if you look at its history, you learn that it didn’t originate in China. The pipa came from Central Asia. It eventually became a Chinese instrument by acquiring the language of Chinese music.”