Is it true that 家("jia")denotes perhaps greater competence or prestige, while 手(“手”) is a slightly less professional specialist? How can one know when to use one rather than the other?
Examples: 乐手-yuè shǒu instrumental performer 歌手-gē shǒu singer 鼓手-gǔ shǒu drummer 吉他手-jíta shǒu guitarist 音乐家-yīnyuè jiā musician 作曲家-zuòqǔ jiā songwriter 钢琴- gāngqín jiā pianist

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    钢琴手 exists, see iciba, thus 手 for players of particular instruments is valid,家 might generally apply to specialists with a wider range of expertise, since "Most pianists can, to a certain extent, play other keyboard-related instruments such as the synthesizer, harpsichord, celesta and the organ" (Wikipedia), this might justify 钢琴家,or this may simply be a more respectful term
    – user6065
    Mar 20, 2016 at 18:39
  • It seems few people say "小号家" or "加他家," but rather use "小号手" and "吉他手." Perhaps it's a window into what's deemed a serious instrument?
    – 寻实猴
    Mar 21, 2016 at 23:35

2 Answers 2


钢琴家 is not just any pianist; s/he is a piano virtuoso. I would reserve this for someone who has a career in music, especially in performance; or someone who has attained a very high level in the art of piano playing. 家 can be translated loosely as "an expert in ..." So you definitely do not use it for yourself. 手, on the other hand, can be used more generally for someone who plays a musical instrument.


I play piano, I'm a 钢琴手. Beethoven also play piano, but we should call him a 钢琴家, because he is too good.

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