拉, 弹, 吹, 打 (play, play, play, play)

René was at a Chinese music concert last night at the Chinese Conservatory of Music. During intermission, he was in the foyer talking to some friends about the performance. Everyone was talking about two young performers, a Chinese bamboo flute performer and a zither player.

René observed that while in English you might say: ‘She’s a fantastic performer, she plays really well, ‘to play’ covered all music instruments--string, wind and percussion.

In Chinese, the equivalent of ‘to play’ a music instrument was more specific, that is, if it was a woodwind instrument ‘to play’ was ‘to blow,‘ (吹 chuī); 'to play’ a stringed instrument with a bow such as a violin or cello was to ‘drag or pull across’ the bow (拉lā); 'to play' a drum or percussion instrument was to ‘strike or ‘beat’ it (打 dǎ), and ‘to play’ a guitar, a zither or any keyboard instrument was to ‘strike' or 'hit' it (弹 tán).

The Chinese flute player’s performance was expressed as follows:

她吹得很棒
Tā chuīde hěn bàng.

Her performance was fantastic (lit: ‘she blow very great’)

And the zither’s performance:

她弹得很帮
Tā tánde hěn bàng.
Her performance was fantastic (lit: ‘she pluck/strike very great’)

With percussion instruments, René had learned 敲 (qiāo), to ‘strike’ a bell (敲钟 qiāozhōng), as well as 敲木鱼, qiāo mùyú), ‘to strike’ the large fish-shaped musical instrument in Buddhist temples.

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