The pipa is a short-necked plucked wooden lute. The head of the pipa is usually carved in a symbolic form such as a bat’s head, often used because the word for “bat” in Chinese sounds similar to the word for “luck”. The strings, once made of twisted silk are now usually synthetic.
The first text reference to the pipa is in a third-century Chines encyclopedia which notes that it originally arose “among barbarians” who played it while riding horseback. Since Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), the pipa has been one of the most popular instruments in China. The playing technique is characterized by spectacular finger dexterity and by virtuosic effects including rolls and percussive slaps. Pipa repertoire includes extensive tone poems vividly describing famous battles and other exciting stories.