Name: Ruan

Region: China > Far East Asia.

Type: Plucked Lute > Chordophone.

Description: The ruan (阮, pinyin: ruǎn) is a Chinese plucked lute having, raised frets, a distinct circular body and four strings. Possessing a history of that is at least two thousand years old. These instruments due to their circular bodies are erroneously called “moon guitars”. Although in fairness the two instruments do sound alike even if they are not related. Many 7th century depictions of the ruan in the court orchestras pained on the walls in Dun Huang.

Early History:
The history of this instrument dates back to over 2,000 years. Having gone by several names having gone by several names [秦琵琶], ruan xian [阮咸] and ruan (). According to the Pipa Annals [琵琶赋] by Fu Xuan [傅玄] of the Western Jin Dynasty, the ruan was designed after revisions of other Chinese plucked string instruments of the day including the zheng () and zhu () or konghou (箜 篌) the Chinese harp. Another suggestion is that it was descended from an instrument called xiantao (弦鼗) which was constructed by labourers on the Great Wall of China during the late Qin Dynasty (hence Qin pipa) using strings stretched over a pellet drum.

In ancient China, the ruan was called Qin pipa Qin Dynasty, (221 BC - 206 BC). Prior to the Song Dynasty the use of the word pipa was a generic term for a number of plucked cordophones. Qin pipa from other pipas is that the Qin pipa had a long, straight neck with a round sound box while the pipa is pear-shaped. The name of "pipa" is associated with "tan tiao" (彈挑), a right hand techniques of playing a plucked string instrument. "Pi" (琵), which means "tan" (彈), is the downward movement of plucking the string. "Pa" (琶), which means "tiao" (挑), is the upward movement of plucking the string.

Ruan Tunings
Xiao Ruan / Alto D3 A3 D4 A4
Gaoyin Ruan / Soprano G3 D4 G5 D5
Zhong ruan / Tenor G2 D3 G3 D4
Da Ruan / Bass  D2 A2 D3 A3
Diyin Ruan / Contrabass G1 D2 G2 D3
Adopted standard G3 D3 A4 E5
Adopted standard C3 G3 D4 A4

Note: The tunings are expressed in scientific pitch notation to define the pitches in use for orchestral performances. As these instruments have been modernized for use in orchestras that feature both Chinese and Western Instruments. As for the use of the 12 tone frets, these instruments are fully capable of performing both Chinese and Western repertoires. Performers in orchestras may tune their instruments to GDAE or CGDA. This is quite a recent practice. Alternative tunings maybe used on the da ruan (bass ruan) include BFCG or CGCG.

The ruan is found in three sizes: the smallest size of ruan is the xiao-ruan, the middle sized ruan and the bass da-ruan. The main components of the ruan are the body, neck, fingerboard, tuners and head stock. The frets are raised traditionally they were often of ivory but plastic and metal frets are now the norm. Metal frets are said to have a brighter tone. On current instruments 24 frets are installed per the 12 tone chromatic scale. Traditionally the ruan had up to 13 frets.

Citations: New Grove Dictionary of Music by Stanley Sadie > Ruan Article by Randy Raine Reusch @ Records of Pipa [段 安節] by Duan Anjie [段 安節] citing Du Zhi of Jin Dynasty.