Type: Cordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Bayin: 絲 Silk.
Region: Far East Asia.
Descriptions: The ruan [in Chinese: 阮; pinyin: ruǎn] is a traditional Chinese plucked instrument. It is a lute having a fretted neck, circular body and four strings. It is sometimes called ruanqin, particularly in Taiwan.
History: The Ruan has a history over 2,000 years. The earliest form of the ruan maybe the qin pipa [秦琵琶] which was then later developed in the ruanxian [named after the Ruan Xian, 阮咸]. Shortened to Ruan [阮]. In old Chinese texts from the Han to the Tang dynasty, the term pipa was used as a generic term for a number plucked chordophones, including ruan, therefore does not necessarily mean the same as the modern usage of pipa which refers only to the pear-shaped instrument.
According to the Pipa Annals《琵琶赋》by Fu Xuan [傅玄] of the Western Jin Dynasty, the pipa was designed after revision of other Chinese plucked string instruments of the day such as the Chinese zither, zheng [筝] and zhu [筑], or konghou [箜篌], the Chinese harp. However, it is believed that ruan may have been descended from an instrument called xiantao [弦鼗] which was constructed by labourers on the Great Wall of China during the late Qin Dynasty [hence the name Qin pipa] using strings stretched over a pellet drum.
|Names||in Chinese||Eng. Trns.||Tunings|
|Gaoyinruan||高音阮||Soprano||G3 / D4 / G4 / D5|
|Xiaoruan||小阮||Alto||D3 / A3 / D4 / A4|
|Zhongruan||中阮||Tenor||G2 / D3 / G3 / D4|
|Daruan||大阮||Bass||D2 / A2 / D3 / A3|
|Diyinruan||低音阮||Contrabass||G1 / D2 / G2 / D3|
Bowed Ruan: In addition to the plucked ruan, being the instruments discussed above. There also exists a family of bowed stringed instruments lāruǎn and dalaruan [literally “bowed ruan” and “large bowed ruan”]. Both are bowed “bass register” instruments and designed as alternatives to the gehu and diyingeh. In large orchestras of Chinese traditional instruments.
These instruments correspond to the cello and double bass in range. Chinese orchestras currently using the laruan and dalaruan include the China National Traditional Orchestra and Central Broadcasting National Orchestra, the latter formerly conducted by the late maestro Peng Xiuwen [彭修文].
Construction: The modern ruan has 24 frets with 12 semitones on each string, which has greatly expanded its range from a previous 13 frets. The frets are commonly made of ivory or in recent times of metal mounted on wood.
Citations: Bibliography: Myers, John 1992. The way of the pipa: structure and imagery in Chinese lute music. Kent State University Press. pp. 5–7. ISBN 9780873384551. Thrasher, Alan R. 2002. Chinese Musical Instrument, p. 40. Oxford University Press Inc. New York. ISBN 0-19-590777-9. October 18, 2009. Shen, Sin-Yan 1991. Chinese Music and Orchestration: A Primer on Principles and Practice, p. 109. Chinese Music Society of North America, Woodridge. October 19, 2009 ;
Historic References:《太平御覽》 Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era. Original text: 漢遣烏孫公主，念其行道思慕，使工知音者，戰琴箏築箜篌之屬，作馬上之樂。 Translation: “The Han Emperor sent the Wusun princess, and being mindful of her thoughts and longings on her journey, instructed expert music craftsmen to make an instrument, based on the zheng, zhu, and konghou, which is tailored for playing on horseback.” (Note that there are variations of this passage from other sources, and Konghou is not listed in the other sources.《琵琶錄》 Records of Pipa by Duan Anjie [段安節] citing Du Zhi of Jin Dynasty. Original text: 樂錄雲，琵琶本出於弦鼗。而杜摯以為秦之末世，苦於長城之役。百姓弦鼗而鼓之 Translation: According to Yuelu, pipa originated from xiantao. Du Zhi thought that towards the end of Qin Dynasty, people who suffered as forced labourers on the Great Wall, played it using strings on a drum with handle. Note: that for the word xiantao, xian means string, tao means pellet drum, one common form of this drum is a flat round drum with a handle, a form that has some resemblance to Ruan. Shen, Sin-Yan 1991. Chinese Music and Orchestration: A Primer on Principles and Practice, p. 102. Chinese Music Society of North America, Woodridge. October 19, 2009. 杜佑 《通典》 Tongdian by Du You. Original text: 阮咸，亦秦琵琶也，而項長過於今制，列十有三柱。武太后時，蜀人蒯朗於古墓中得之，晉竹林七賢圖阮咸所彈與此類同，因謂之阮咸。 Translation: Ruan Xian, also called Qin pipa, although its neck was longer than today’s instrument. It has 13 frets. During Empress Wu period, Kuailang from Sichuan found one in an ancient tomb. Ruan Xian of The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove from the Jin Dynasty was pictured playing this same kind of instrument, it was therefore named after Ruan Xian ;