Types of Chinese Percussion Instruments

Written by rochelle leggett
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Types of Chinese Percussion Instruments
Gongs fall into the category of metal instruments. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Chinese percussion instruments are used for many purposes, such as emphasising rhythm or changing the tonal quality of the music. While modern China has adopted many Western-style musical instruments, traditional instruments are still widely used and valued. Traditional Chinese percussion instruments are typically divided into groups based on the materials from which they are made, how they are played, and their pitch.

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Traditional Chinese instruments are typically made from wood, stone, skin or metal. A clapper is an example of a wood instrument, ancient chimes are a stone instrument, a Chinese bass drum or dagu is a skin instrument and gongs are a metal instrument.

Playing Method

Instruments can be categorised by how they are played: ban lei, gu lei, bo lei, and luo lei. Ban lei instruments are board instruments, such as temple claves; gu lei instruments are drum instruments, such as hand drums; bo lei are cymbals, such as bells or xiabo, which are small cymbals; and luo lei are gongs, such as cloud gongs.


Chinese percussion instruments fall into two categories based on their pitch: definite pitch instruments and indefinite pitch instruments. Bianzhong, or bronze bells, are an example of an instrument with a definite pitch. Tom-toms and timpani are examples of indefinite pitch instruments. Indefinite pitched instruments are further divided into whether they have a high, medium or low general pitch.

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