Saturday, September 6, 2008


The ''ruan'' is a plucked string instrument. It is a lute with a fretted neck, a circular body, and four strings. Its strings were formerly made of silk but since the 20th century they have been made of steel . 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, metal mounted on wood. The metal frets produce a brighter tone as compared to the ivory frets.

It comes in a family of five sizes:

*Soprano: ''Gaoyinruan''
*Alto: ''Xiaoruan''
*Tenor: ''Zhongruan''
*: ''Daruan''
*Contrabass: ''Diyinruan''

The ''ruan'' is now most commonly used in Chinese opera and the Chinese orchestra, where it belongs to the plucked string section.

Playing techniques and usage

The instrument can be played using a plectrum similar to a guitar pick , or using a set of two or five acrylic nails that are affixed to the fingers with adhesive tape. Mainstream ''ruan'' players use plectrums, though there are some schools which teach the fingernail technique, similar to that of the ''pipa''. ''Pipa'' players who play ''ruan'' as a second instrument also often use their fingernails. Plectrums produce a louder and more clear tone, while fingernails allow the performance of polyphonic solo music. The instrument produces a mellow tone.

In Chinese orchestras, only the ''zhongruan'' and ''daruan'' are commonly used, to fill in the tenor and bass section of the plucked string section. Occasionally the ''gaoyinruan'' is used to substitute the high-pitched ''liuqin''.

''Daruan'' soloists generally use the D-A-D-A tuning, as it allows for the easy performance of diatonic chords. Some orchestral players tune to C-G-D-A, which is exactly the same as cello tuning. The advantage of using C-G-D-A in orchestras is so that the ''daruan'' can easily double the cello part.

A ''ruan'' ensemble consists of two or more members of the ''ruan'' family, for instance, an ensemble of the ''xiaoruan'', ''zhongruan'' and ''daruan''. The wide range covered by the ''ruan'', its easily blended tone quality, and the variety of soprano, alto, tenor, bass, and contrabass instruments all make ''ruan'' ensembles very effective in playing polyphonic music.


With a history of over 2000 years, the ''ruan'' has gone by several names: the ''qin pipa'' , and ''yueqin'' . According to the ''Pipa Annals'' 《琵琶赋》 by Bo Xuan of the Eastern Han Dynasty, the ''ruan'' was designed after revision of other Chinese plucked string instruments of the day, including the Chinese zither, ''zheng'' , '''', and ''konghou'' , or Chinese harp. The ''ruan'' came to be named after Ruan Xian , one of the reputed "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove" of the Six Dynasties period in ancient China, who was a highly skilled master musician of the ''ruan''.

The famed Tang poet Bai Juyi once penned a poem about the ''ruan'':



In addition to the plucked ''ruan'' instruments mentioned above, there also exist a family of bowed string instruments called '''' and ''dalaruan'' . Both are bowed bass register instruments designed as alternatives to the ''gehu'' and ''diyingehu'' 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 .

''Ruan'' repertoire

A famous work in the zhongruan repertoire is the ''zhongruan'' concerto "Reminiscences of Yunnan" 《云南回忆》 by Liu Xing , the first full-scale concerto for the ''zhongruan'' and the Chinese orchestra. This work finally established the ''zhongruan'' as an instrument capable of playing solo with the Chinese orchestra.

Some works for the ''ruan'':

*《满江红》 Red Fills the River - ''zhongruan'' concerto
*《汉琵琶情》 Love of the Han Pipa - ''zhongruan'' concerto
*《玉关引》 Narration of Yuguan - ''ruan'' quartet
*《山韵》 Mountain Tune - ''zhongruan'' concerto
*《塞外音诗》 Sound Poem Beyond The Great Wall- ''zhongruan'' concerto
*《泼水节》The Water Festival- ''Ruan'' Tecerto
*《睡莲》 Water Lilies- ''zhongruan'' solo
*《火把节之夜》 Night of the Torch Festival- ''zhongruan'' solo (林吉良曲)

Some of 刘星's compositions for the ruan:

*《云南回忆》 Reminiscences of Yunnan - ''zhongruan'' concerto
*《山歌》''zhongruan'' solo
*《月光》''zhongruan'' solo
*《孤芳自赏》''zhongruan'' solo
第六号-异想天开 ''zhongruan'' duet
第七号- 夜长梦多 ''zhongruan'' solo
第十一号-心不在焉 ''zhongruan'' solo
*《流连忘返》''zhongruan'' solo
*《随心所欲》''zhongruan'' solo
*《回心转意》''zhongruan'' solo
*《来日方长》''zhongruan'' solo
*《无所事事》''zhongruan'' solo
*《水到渠成》''zhongruan'' solo
*《心旷神怡》''zhongruan'' solo

Some of 宁勇's compositions for the ruan:

*《拍鼓翔龙》 Flying Dragons in Drum Beats - ''zhongruan'' solo (林吉良,宁勇曲)
*《丝路驼铃》 Camel Bells on the Silk Road- ''zhongruan''/ ''daruan'' solo (宁勇曲)
*《篮关雪》Snow at Lan Guan ''zhongruan'' solo(宁勇曲)
*《终南古韵》Ancient Tune of Zhongnan ''zhongruan''/ ''daruan'' solo(宁勇曲)
*《望秦川》''zhongruan'' solo(宁勇曲)

Notable players/composer of the ''ruan''

*Ding Xiaoyan
*Qiu Xia He
*Lin Jiliang
*Liu Xing
*Miao Xiaoyun
*Wei Yuru
*Wu Man
*Zhang Rong Hui
*Shen Fei
*Wei Yu Ru
*Wei Wei
*Wang Zhong Bing
*Xu Yang
*Ruan Shi Chun
*Liu Bo (刘波)
*Wu Qiang
*Cui Jun Miao
*Fei Jian Rong
*Ning Yong(宁勇)

More information

* in traditional Chinese



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