The Vietnamese 36 chord zither (Đàn Tam Thập Lục)

This is a beating chordophone of Viet minority. Because the instrument has 36 strings, its name as Tam Thap Luc or thirty-six strings was made. Tam Thap Luc has shape of an equal trapezium, with the surface convex in the middle and made from light, soft and undecorated wood. String holders and frame are made from hard wood. On the surface, the two rows of bridges are alternately arranged consequently making 18 bridges for each row. At the left string holders, there are 36 hooks for string hanging, while at the right string holders, 36 tuning pegs are located. Strings are made from metal. Mallets consist of 2 thin and flexible bamboo slabs with their ends covered with felt for soft sounds.

The Tam Thap Luc plays an important role in the band accompanying cheo and cai luong operas. It can also be played to accompany instrument solos, singing, or as part of an orchestra. Recently, more strings have been added so that all semi-tones can be played.

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Tam Thap Luc gives sounds with pure, melodious and bustling timbres. Register of Tam Thap Luc is quite large with over 2 octaves tuned according to whole-tone scale. Lower register gives warm and sonorous sounds. Middle register gives full and pure sounds. Upper register gives sharp and neat sounds. When playing, instrumentalist beats on the surface of Tam Thap Luc with two mallets and takes advantages of techniques such as vibration, tremolo, stopping, sliding, making chords, and others. The tones are bright and merry and the notes of an arpeggio can be played in swift succession or simultaneously.

Tam Thap Luc plays an important role in stage orchestras including Cheo singing (the popular opera) and Cai luong (reformed theater). Tam Thap Luc can be played solo or to accompany singing, or in ensemble in the integrated orchestra of traditional instruments.