Name: Ruan.
Type: Lutes > Chordophones.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Bayin: Silk 絲.
Dimensions: Scale length in cm.
Country: China.
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.

The Ruan Family
Name in Chinese Pinyin Translation Tuning
Soprano 高音阮 Gaoyinruan High pitched G3 / D4 / G4 / D5
Alto 小阮 Xiaoruan Small D3 / A3 / D4 / A4
Tenor 中阮 Zhongruan Medium G2 / D3 / G3 / D4
Bass 大阮 Daruan Large D2 / A2 / D3 / A3
Contrabass 低音阮 Diyinruan Low pitched 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.


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