The pipa, or Chinese lute, is a four-stringed musical instrument with frets ranging from 12 to 26. The Chinese lute's construction makes it look delicately feminine: It is made of wood shaped like a tennis racket, with the elongated neck held by the fretting hand, and the pear-shaped belly played by the plucking hand. Unlike the guitar, it is held almost vertically and played with finger picks.
"Pipa" is an ancient Chinese term suggesting how the instrument is played by beginners: "pi" for forward plucking, and "pa" for backward plucking. Once a beginner has mastered the basics, he or she can move on to plucking using all five fingers. After plucking, a player is now ready to learn complicated-looking, five-fingered tremolo picking, creating a wavering effect in a musical tone one often hears when watching classic Chinese movies.
Since all 10 fingers are used to play the instrument - five to fret and five to pluck, the Chinese lute can perform a wide variety of techniques, making it a highly expressive musical instrument.
Pipa is often depicted in Chinese paintings as played by heavenly maidens, and for good reason. Pipa is known for its delicate tonality, producing high-pitched melodies that evoke the gentle images of nature. True to its potential, it can also be played vigorously to show its masculine side, evoking images of battle or the violent forces of nature.
Pipa can be played solo or in an ensemble where both Western and Eastern musical instruments are employed. Despite its origins in ancient China with history of at least 2,000 years, pipa is occasionally played in jazz and rock music, or by modern Western musicians who want to incorporate elements of Chinese melody in their work.
Proper instruction from an expert is crucial for beginners, but finding a pipa teacher within driving distance can be a challenge. The Chinese lute is seldom played in mainstream performances, so eager beginners are likely to find a pipa instructor living elsewhere but providing services online.
With online music lessons, the student can have real-time online music instruction. This is vital to learning one of the most complicated Chinese musical instruments. As there will be no commuting involved, the time that would be spent in travelling can be channelled into more practice and lesson interaction with the pipa instructor.
There are tremendous professional opportunities for pipa players. China is one of the world’s biggest consumer markets, so any skill that could prove useful for a billion consumers can be highly lucrative.
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