Sanxian - Chinese Traditional Musical Instruments

21. Bowed String Instrument


San is the Chinese word for three. Sanxian means "three strings." This instrument is known as the samsien in Japan. It uses a long fretless fingerboard. The soundboard is often snakeskin. Ours has a snakeskin on it. We bought it in Zhengzhou in 1998. Ours hangs in the Great Room on the wall.

The sanxian (a long-necked lute) is a 3-string plucked instrument with snake skin membrane stretched over a resonator. Owing to its distinctive acoustical properties - rich, full tonal quality, great volume and a wide range - the sanxian is widely used for accompaniment, orchestral and solo performances. Variation in the art of playing the sanxian also enables the long neck to be adapted for different uses. Sanxian is made in 3 sizes: large, medium and small. The large one is used mainly for accompanying story singing and music drama performances.

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