Tips of Weblearn

How do I know I am good for learning Pipa or fail to it?

A book about “the right INSTRUMENT for your child” written by Atarah Ben-tovim and Douglas Boyd tells that “the right instrument gives the child physical pleasure, without stress or discomfort; the right instrument gives the child no mental stress, but the continuing stimulation of doing something which his or her brain finds natural; the right instrument satisfies and develops the emotional side of the child’s nature and does not frustrate it.”

“To succeed on the right instrument, a child does not have to be good at schoolwork. Most schools and teachers denigrate those characteristics which make life in the classroom difficult, so that impatient, slow-learning and can’t concentrate are criticized as defects when they are really no more than indicators of how the child reacts to the classroom environment. Some of the characteristics which teachers dislike most can actually lead to success in learning an instrument. And many children who are under-valued at school make excellent progress on an instrument–perhaps partly because they have been denied achievement in the classroom. Happily, this in turn helps them cope with the problems they formerly had at school.”

For Pipa learning, it is kind of natural instrument to inspire a child during growing up, the Naive child is a very good child to learn it for life-long time! It’s not aimed at to be “STAR”, it is aimed at building up a good character by a every day’s good habit. “You start to do in five minutes, you reward yourself with hands, brain, mood……built into your memory in the golden life period of youth! When you grow up, it shows back to you more benefits than when you are a child.

Why you call Pipa music as natural as water?

Pipa music is like “Swan is in water” “D” is the key for main tunes.

There is an example in western music history:Handel  (George Frideric Handel)

Musician’s musician

“Handel has generally been accorded high esteem by fellow composers, both in his own time and since.[71] Bach attempted, unsuccessfully, to meet with Handel while he was visiting Halle.[72] Mozart is reputed to have said of him, “Handel understands affect better than any of us. When he chooses, he strikes like a thunder bolt.”[73] To Beethoven he was “the master of us all… the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb”.[73] Beethoven emphasised above all the simplicity and popular appeal of Handel’s music when he said, “Go to him to learn how to achieve great effects, by such simple means”.

University of Halle-Wittenberg

 What kind of music should listen while study?

Listening to calming classical music or eat a candy while you study are helpful items that can help you remember things better. If you don’t like classical music, trance is another style of music that stimulates the brain, light jazz is also good because it makes you productive, and new age to relax your mind. Music that is played at a rate about 60-80 beats for minute creates Alpha waves, which is the mind at a state of relaxation and that may help concentration. Try to find music that has minimal words, unless you are the type that can concentrate with music with lyrics. Look for classical and new age works that have keywords such as Adagio, Andante, Dolce, Pastorale, etc. Pipa music is one of the good choice.

Why Pipa is a window of Chinese music?

From China Mirror, Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, there is an article related to how did it evolve in history.

Will Pipa meet the global needs?

If the development of the pipa follows the unique course of Chinese cultural history, it also parallels musical developments in other parts of the world. As a matter of fact, the history of the guitar, one of the most widely used musical instruments in the contemporary world, shows striking commonalities with that of the pipa. The early history of the guitar is also vague and raises questions that have yet to be answered definitively, such as whether the guitar developed indigenously in Europe or whether it was one of the many instruments that Arabs introduced to medieval Europe. Until the six-course guitar emerged in Spain sometime before 1780 and led to the rise of a relatively standardized version in the early 19th century, the instrument showed significant variations in its size, shape, decoration and number of strings. In the 19th century, composers, performers, and theorists began to build a guitar tradition through the creation of idiomatic compositions, frequent performances, and published anthologies of notated music and performance methods, but prior to that the guitar was mostly used as a vernacular instrument to accompany singing and dancing. It was only through the artistry of 20th-century masters like Andres Segovia, who actively promoted the instrument, that the guitar has achieved its current status as a concert instrument. And as the guitar has passed through diverse peoples and cultures, it has served the needs of both professional and amateur musicians, elite and non-elite, and it has acquired multiple meanings that are integrally related to specific cultures and histories, just as pipa has in China.

How to let Pipa work it out?

Keep open mind for Pipa playing, if you have learnt how to play guitar, you can use the same techniques to play Pipa also. The following is listed some geneal how-to for Pipa learning based on the up to date information. A lot of aspects need to be explored by a person who likes to play pipa as you in the future.

How to tune Pipa?

The strings are usually tuned to A-D-E-A (La – Re – Mi – La), from 2nd to 3rd octaves in the piano keys, although there are various other ways of tuning.

Why we have to put on false nails?

Since the revolutions in Chinese instrument-making during the 20th century, the softer twisted silk strings of earlier times have been exchanged for nylon-wound steel strings, which are far too strong for human fingernails, so false nails are now used, constructed of plastic or tortoise-shell, and affixed to the fingertips with the player’s choice of elastic tape.

Shall we use a guitar pick instead of false nails?

Yes, it’s up to you. For younger beginners, we recommend guitar pick for playing 4 strings for several months to a year. It’s just represented the 2 basic technique “pi” and “pa”.

The name “pípá” is made up of two Chinese syllables, “pí” (琵) and “pá” (琶). These, according to the Han Dynasty text by Liu Xi, refer to the way the instrument is played – “pí” is to strike with the right hand from right to left, and “pá” is to pluck in the opposite direction.

Later on with fingers, tan is striking with the index finger, tiao with the thumb.

What’s the held position for Pipa playing?

The pipa is held in a vertical or near-vertical position during performance, although in the early periods the instrument was held in the horizontal position, or near-horizontal with the neck pointing slightly downwards. Through time, the neck was raised gradually and by the Qing Dynasty the instrument was played upright.

What’s the basic techniques for playing Pipa by right hand? (We make some nick names for memorizing it)

1. “Clock walking”—-Playing with fingers, tan is striking with the index finger, tiao with the thumb.The fingers normally strike the strings of pipa in the opposite direction to the way a guitar is usually played, i.e. the fingers flick from right to left from the player’s perspective, while the thumb moves from left to right.

2. “Butterfly flying”—-Plucking in the opposite direction to tan and tiao are called mo (抹) and gou (勾) respectively. When two strings are plucked at the same time with the index finger and thumb (i.e. the finger and thumb separate in one action), it is called fen (分), the reverse motion is called zhi (摭).

3. “Fans swinging”—-A rapid strum with four fingers is called sao (掃), and rapid strumming in the reverse direction is called fu (拂).

4. “Horse riding”—-A distinctive sound of pipa is the tremolo produced by the lunzhi (輪指) technique which involves all the fingers and thumb of the right hand. It is however possible to produce the tremolo with just one or more fingers.

What’s the basic techniques for playing Pipa by left hand?

1. Expressive sounding: The left hand techniques are important for the expressiveness of pipa music. Left-hand techniques that produce vibrato, portamento, glissando, pizzicato, harmonics or artificial harmonics(滑奏,滑音,颤音,拨弦,泛音或人工泛音) found in violin or guitar are also be found in pipa.

2. String-bending for example may be used to produce a glissando or portamento (滑奏或滑音). Note however that the frets on all Chinese lutes are high so that the fingers and strings never touch the fingerboard in between the frets, this is different from western fretted instruments and may allow for greater manipulation over timbre and tone.

3. Other sound effects: In addition, there are a number of techniques that produce sound effects rather than musical notes, for example, striking the board of the pipa for a percussive sound(like drummer or the steps of horses), or strings-twisting while playing that produces a cymbal-like effect (used for celebration or sometimes military sounding).

What’s the notation system for Pipa?

The music collections from the 19th century also used the gongche notation which provides only a skeletal melody and approximate rhythms with some playing instructions given (such as tremelo or string-bending), and how this basic framework can become fully fleshed out during performance may only be learnt by the students from the master. The same piece of music can therefore differ significantly when performed by students of different schools, with striking differences in interpretation, phrasing, tempo, dynamics, playing techniques, and ornamentations.

In more recent times, many pipa players, especially the younger ones, no longer identify themselves with any specific school. Modern notation systems, new compositions as well as recordings are now widely available and it is no longer crucial for a pipa players to learn from the master of any particular school to know how to play a score. Improvisation is used by some players too.

How to use Pipa music?

1. Use in contemporary classical music

In the late 20th century, largely through the efforts of Wu Man, Min Xiao-Fen, and other performers, Chinese and Western contemporary composers began to create new works for the pipa (both solo and in combination with chamber ensembles and orchestra). Most prominent among these are Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Lou Harrison, Tan Dun, Bright Sheng, Chen Yi, Zhou Long, Bun-Ching Lam, and Carl Stone.

2. Use in rock music:

The pipa has also been used in rock music; the California-based band Incubus featured one, borrowed from legendary guitarist Steve Vai, in their 2001 song “Aqueous Transmission,” as played by the group’s guitarist, Mike Einziger.[44] The Shanghai progressive/folk-rock band Cold Fairyland, which was formed in 2001, also use pipa (played by Lin Di), sometimes multi-tracking it in their recordings. Australian dark rock band The Eternal use the pipa in their song ‘Blood’ as played by singer / guitarist Mark Kelson on their album ‘Kartika’.

3. Use as electric guitar: The electric pipa was developed in the late 20th century by adding electric guitar-style magnetic pickups to a regular acoustic pipa, allowing the instrument to be amplified through an instrument amplifier or PA system.

4. Use as “Qi style” music for traditional Chinese Tai Chi, Kong Fu, Dao Music.

A brief technique introduction in Chinese: 



For a reference of techniques and tonal colour in English, please click on on-line classroom. 

Where shall I get more information about Chinese music?

Chinese music, the art form of organized vocal and instrumental sounds that developed in China. It is one of the oldest and most highly developed of all known musical systems.

If you have additional question, please contact at, we wish you a nice journey with Pipa music learning in your life.

Once heard, forever remember!