The Chinese dulcimer

“Crows are black the world over.” -Chinese proverb

What would I consider to be a universal language? Music. Wherever you come from, you can appreciate the wordless art. This past weekend, I had a chance to listen to a Chinese hammered dulcimer.


Hammered dulcimers, like those black crows, exist all over the world. They are instruments with strings stretched across a trapezoidal sounding board and are played with small mallets (hammers). The name dulcimer comes from the Latin dulcis (sweet) and the Greek melos (song). Versions of the musical instrument are played in India, Iran, Southwest Asia, China, parts of Southeast Asia, Central Europe, Switzerland, Austria, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.

The Chinese version of the hammered dulcimer is known as the yangqin. The strings (over 100 of them!) can be made from bronze, although older versions use silk. The mallets are made from rubber-tipped bamboo sticks. The yangqin can be played solo or in group performances.

I haven’t tried my hand at the yangqin, but I did attempt to play a guzheng, which is a plucked zither. It has over 18 strings and moveable bridges. I wanted to be like those maidens in the old Chinese dramas. Of course, I didn’t come close to creating any type of beautiful music.

Don’t worry. I won’t make you suffer my poor playing skills on this blog. Instead, here’s a more expert rendering on the yangqin:


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  1. I so agree- music is so universal. And I love the hammered dulcimer. Such a beautiful instrument and so hard to find anyone who plays it.

  2. Music is the purest form of expression. At least, that’s how I’ve always felt about it. (Says the composer.) My great-grandmother called it poetry of the soul, and I don’t know how to sum it up more adequately.

    Beautiful piece!

    • jenniferjchow says

      The poetry of the soul. That’s the best definition I’ve heard of music so far. Thanks for sharing, Crystal!

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