5. June 2017

Guqin Music

 Gu Qin – Chinese Zither

Gu Qin 古琴 [gǔ qín], it is a plucked seven-string Chinese musical instrument of the zither family with a history of more than 3000 years. The prefix “gu-” (meaning “ancient”) was later added for clarification. It can also be called qixianqin (lit. “seven-stringed instrument”). Guqin had been favored by ancient scholars and literatus as an instrument of great subtleties and refinements, as a prerequisite for their cultivationas and as the most popular of  four Chinese cultural activities such as Guqin, chess, calligraphy and painting. Its beautiful melodies helped to maintain peace and balance of  mind.

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Ambiance was an important aspect in playing Guqin. Zong Bing 宗炳 (375- 443), a painter and musician of the late Eastern Jin Dynasty (317- 420) and early Southern Dynasties (420- 589), enjoyed playing his zither by a stream in mountains. As he plucked strings gently, he would gradually forget where he was. His melodies and echoes reverberated among mountains, until he found himself in nature.

Playing Guqin in snow was a favorite pastime for ancient artists, who regarded its melodies as the purest as snow in the world. What could be more fitting than playing it midst white snow Dai Jin 戴进 (1388—1462), a famed painter of the Ming Dynasty, described the following scene in the masterpiece “Looking for Plum Blossoms in Snow”. A man with a walking stick was crossing a snow covered bridge. A servant followed him, holding a zither in his arm. Melting snow was dripping from the bridge onto the rugged rocks of the riverbed. This painting represented a dreamland for ancient Chinese artists and scholars.

A moonlit night was also considered ideal for playing Guqin. Wang Wei 王维 (701-761), a highly accomplished poet of the Tang Dynasty, liked playing Guqin in a bamboo forest at moonlit nights. His poem “In a Bamboo Forest” has these lines: “Alone in the dense bamboos, I am playing my Guqin and roaring a song. Too deep for anyone to chord with me,  only my comrade – the bright moon illuminated me.”

Guqin is 3 feet 65 inches representing the 365 days in a year. A round top part represents the sky, a flat bottom represents the earth. The whole body of Guqin corresponds a phoenix, also looks like a human body, with head, neck, shoulder, waist and feet etc. Markers are called “Hui” (emblem) to indicate note positions and normally filled with shell or gold, silver, jade, pearl. 13 Hui represent 12 months of Chinese lunar year, the middle bigger Hui seven is a  leap month. There are 7 strings in of Guqin.nThe first 5 in pentatonic scale representing 5 elements Metal, wood, water, fire and the earth. The 6 string was added by King Wen when his son was died. So the 6 string is sorrowful. The 7 string was added by King Wu when he encourage his soldiers go to the war. So the 7 string is very strong.


The Guqin produce the most diligent and subtle tones. There are 3 category sounds produced by the Guqin. Harmonics is representing the sound from the Heaven. Open Strings is representing the sound from the earth. Stopped string is representing the Human Beings. Guqin score was first recorded with words, that is, word score Wenzi pu (文字譜). Character notation is a kind of notation that describes fingering, string order and phoneme of Guqin. The only extant script in China is Jieshi Diao Youlan <碣石调幽兰> (Solitary Orchid in Stone Tablet Mode), which was handed down by Qiu Ming in the Liang Dynasty of the Six Dynasties, and the original script is a manual copy of the Tang Dynasty. Due to the complexity and inconvenient use of character notation, Cao Rou, a Qin master in the Tang Dynasty, developed into a reduced character notation Jianzi Pu (减字谱).

In ancient times and today, we can see Guqin notation, also known as subtractive character notation. The reduced character score generally consists of four parts: the left hand fingering is recorded at the top, and the right hand fingering is recorded at the bottom. The upper left is the left hand pressing the string, the upper right is the emblem position, the lower part is the right hand fingering, and the inner part is the played and pressed string. In addition, there are also sequels and notes, which are usually used to indicate subtle changes in tone. However, due to the lack of recording the duration of each tone, a large number of Qin music were lost. There are more than 150 Guqin scores, including more than 3000 guqin music. Reduced character notation was a great advancement for recording qin pieces. It was so successful that from the Ming dynasty onwards, a great many qin tablature collections) appeared, the most famous and useful being “Shenqi Mipu” <神奇秘譜>, the Mysterious and Marvellous Tablature compiled by Zhu Quan, the 17th son of the founder of the Ming dynasty. In the 1960s, Zha Fuxi discovered more than 130 qinpu that contain well over 3360 pieces of written music. Sadly, many qinpu compiled before the Ming dynasty are now lost, and many pieces have remained unplayed for hundreds of years.


Gu Zheng – Chinese Zither

Gu Zheng 古筝 [gǔ zhēng] is a traditional Chinese musical instrument. It belongs to the zither family of string instruments. It spread very widely and already has been two thousand years of history.  The modern-day guzheng is a pluckedwith movable bridges and 21 strings. The guzheng’s strings were formerly made of twisted silk, though by the 20th century most players used metal strings. Since the mid-20th century most performers use steel strings  flatwound with nylon. The Guzheng should not to be confused with the Guqin–another ancient Chinese zither but without bridges.The guzheng has existed since the Warring States Period and became especially popular during the Qin dynasty.The ancient guzheng had 12 strings. Nowadays, the 21-string zheng is the most commonly used, but some traditional musicians still use the 16-string, especially along the southeastern coastal provinces of China and in Taiwan.

There are many techniques used in the playing of the guzheng, including basic plucking actions (right or both hands) at the right portion and pressing actions at the left portion (by the left hand)as well as tremolo. These techniques of playing the guzheng can create sounds that can In zither’s playing, rhyme skills of “chanting, kneading, pressing, sliding” of the left hand are where the rhythm of the zither music is, and have the unique aesthetic feature.  Plucking is done mainly by the right hand with four picks attached to the fingers. Advanced players may use picks attached to the fingers of both hands. Ancient picks were made of ivory and later also from tortoise shell. The guzheng’s pentatonic scale is tuned to Do, Re, Mi, So and La, but Fa and Ti can also be produced by pressing the strings to the left of the bridges. Well known pieces for the instrument include Yu Zhou Chang Wan (Singing at night on fishing boat), Gao Shan Liu Shui (High mountains flowing water) and Han Gong Qiu Yue (Han palace autumn moon).