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A pipa on display at the Metropolitan Museum
  • Chinese/Japanese: 琵琶 (pípa / biwa)

The pipa is a Chinese stringed lute, the instrument which developed in Japan into the biwa. It is closely associated with a number of storytelling traditions, but is also often played solo (instrumentally).

The word pipa, referring to the instrument, is said to go back as far as the 3rd century BCE, if not earlier, and may derive from references to the motion of the hand as it strums the strings forward (pi) and back (pa).

While the Japanese biwa is played more horizontally, and with a large plectrum, the Chinese pipa is typically played upright on the player's knee, and strummed with the fingers.


  • Gallery labels, Musical Instruments gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Art.