The spirit of Chinese music is deeply rooted in Confucian philosophy. Music is the harmony of Tian and Di (heaven and earth), and our ability and spiritual understanding. It explains that tones are the substance of music, whereas melody and rhythm are the appearance of tones. Thus, emphasis in Chinese music is on the single tones, articulation, timbre and inflection. This concept is demonstrated in the music of guzheng.

The guzheng is a plucked string instrument that is part of the zither family. It is the ancestor of all Asian zithers, including Japanese koto, Korean kayagum, Mongolian yatag and Vietnamese don tranh. The guzheng has been popular instrument ever since ancient times and is considered to be one main chamber as well as solo instruments of Chinese traditional music.

The guzheng is one of the most ancient Chinese musical instruments, according to the documents written in the Qin dynasty (before 206 BC). Due to it long history, the zheng has been called guzheng, where “gu” stands for “ancient” in Chinese. Since the mid-19th century, guzheng solo repertoire has been growing and evolving towards an increasing technical complexity, the guzheng is built with a special wooden sound body with strings arched across moveable bridges along the length of the instrument for the purpose of turning. In the early times, the zheng had five strings; it developed into 12 to 13 strings in the Tang Dynasty and 16 strings in the Song and Ming dynasty. The present-day zheng usually has 21 to 25 strings. Originally, silk strings were used, but there are now replaced with metal strings.

The pitch of a given string is determined by the position of the bridge; therefore, guzheng can be turned to any desired scales. The guzheng players attaches a little plectrum on each finger. Traditionally, the instrumentalist mostly uses three fingers of the right hand for plucking as the left hand is pressing the string from the other side of the bridge to create special tonalities. For some present day repertoires, both hands are needed to produce complicated harmonies using four fingers of each, which means that even the fingers of the left hand need to wear plectrums.

One can also use sticks to hit on the strings in the same manner as a percussion instrument.


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