Ruan

History

Ruan is a plucking instrument that has a long history.

Once known as the Qin Pipa or the Ruan Xian in the past, it is part of the Tan Bo Yue (plucking instrument) family.

Dating from the Han dynasty between 140-87 BC, the Ruan was created based on the Qin,Zheng which are all part of the Tan Bo Yue family. The name Ruan Xian came from the renowned scholar Ruan Xian, a musician and one of the "seven Sages of Bamboo Grove" of the 3rd century (the Six Dynasties) who was adept in playing this instrument.

However due to the chaotic situation at those times, the instrument was lost. It was not until Tang Dynasty (AD 684~701) that the Ruan was rediscovered and subsequently  named after Ruan Xian. The Ruan became wildly popular among the people and during the Tang Dynasty; it was even spread to Japan. Presently, the Nara Museum still holds a Ruan from the bygone era.

The traditional Ruan did not command much range. Since 1953, many improvements have made to the instrument, including increasing the range and also the number of frets of the instrument.

 

Types

The present Ruan has 4 strings and it has been expanded to form a family of 5, the Gao Yin Ruan(soprano Ruan), Xiao Ruan(small Ruan), Zhong Ruan (alto Ruan), Da Ruan (tenor Ruan) and the Di Yin Ruan (bass Ruan), a development intended to increase the range and the effectiveness in the modern Chinese orchestra. The alto and the tenor Ruan are commonly used. Plectrums or  fingernails made from plastic or tortoise shells are needed in performances. Mellow in tone quality, the Ruan is often seen in ensembles or in accompaniments, and more recently as a solo instrument.

There are more than 30 types of right hand plucking techniques and more than 10 types of left hand fingering techniques.

Tuning

Zhong ruan (alto Ruan)

A d a d1

G d a e1 

G d G d

Range: A-a2

Daruan (tenor Ruan)

D A d a

C G d a

Range: D-e1

 

Structure  

Qin Xian(Strings)

The Ruan has 4 strings. The strings, wound round the Zhou, past through the Shan Kou and the Fu Shou. In the past, silk strings are used but now mainly stainless steel strings are used.


Zhou (Axis)

This is for tightening and tuning the strings.

Pin (Frets)

They are usually made of bamboo or fish bones.

 

Famous Solos Pieces include "Si Lu Tuo Ling", and "Yun Nan Hui Yi".  

 

References

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