Name: Sanxian.

Type: Lute > Chordophone.

Region: China > Far East Asia.

Description: The sanxian (in Chinese 三弦), literally "three strings". it is a fretless lute that is played with a plectrum. Belonging to a family of lutes the membrane is stretched over the both sides of the body. Relatives of this instrument include its descendants, the Mongolian Shan, Japanese Shamisen, Okinawan Shanshin and the Vietnamese đàn tam. The sanxian is used in nanguan and Jiangnan sizhu ensembles, as well as many other folk and classical ensembles.

Sanxian Tunings
Small sanxian 95 cm D A D
Small sanxian 95 cm D G D
Large sanxian 122 cm G D G

Playing Techniques: Traditionally the instrument is plucked with a thin, hard plectrum made from animal horn but today most players use a plastic plectrum (similar to a guitar pick) or alternatively, using their fingernails. The use of fingernails is interchangeable as shared technique among pipa players and sanxian players, thus allowing techniques such as tremolo. Other techniques that are incorporated are harmonics and and hitting the skin of the instrument with the plectra or fingernail (comparable to the technique used to play the northern Japanese tsugaru-jamisen).

Construction: It is made in several sizes for different purposes and in the late 20th century a four-stringed version was also developed. The northern sanxian is generally larger, at about 122 cm in length, while southern versions of the instrument are usually about 95 cm in length.