Saturday, September 6, 2008


The ''guzheng'', also spelled ''gu zheng'' or ''gu-zheng'' or ''zheng'' is a traditional musical instrument. It belongs to the zither family of string instruments.

The ''guzheng'' is the parent instrument of the Japanese '''', the Mongolian ''yatga'', the Korean ''gayageum'', and the Vietnamese ''&''. The parent instrument of the ''guzheng'' is the ''''.

The ''guzheng'' should not to be confused with the ''guqin'' .


The modern-day ''guzheng'' is a plucked, half-tube zither with movable bridges and 21 strings, although it can have anywhere from 15 to 25 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'' has a large resonant cavity made from ''wu tong'' wood . Other components may be made from other woods, usually for structural and decorative purposes.


The ancestry of the ''guzheng'' can be traced back to two other Chinese plucked zithers, the '''' and the ''guqin''. The ''guzheng'' has existed since the Warring States Period and became especially popular during the Qin dynasty. The number of strings on the ''guzheng'' has always fluctuated, as we have as few as 6 to as many as 23 strings during the Tang dynasty. The earliest record of the ''guzheng'' in ''Shi Ji'' is attributed to the historian Sima Qian in 91 BC.

Until 1961, the common ''guzheng'' had 16 strings, although by the mid-20th century 18-string ''guzhengs'' were also in use. In 1961 Xu Zhengao together with Wang Xunzhi introduced the first 21-string ''guzheng'' after two years of research and development. In 1961, they also invented the "S-shaped" left string rest, which was quickly adopted by all ''guzheng'' makers and is still used today, whether in the shape of the letter "S", "C", etc. This curve allows for greater ease in tuning the strings and, combined with strings of varied thickness, allows for greater resonance in both the deeper and higher pitch ranges; this timbre was a result of simply adding more strings to the instrument, a problem encountered in the making of the "improved" gayageums of North Korea. 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.

The ''guzheng'' is tuned to a pentatonic scale, the 16-string zheng is tuned to give three complete octaves, while the 21-string zheng has four complete octaves.

Playing styles and performers

There are many techniques used in the playing of the ''guzheng'', including basic plucking actions at the right portion and pressing actions at the left portion as well as tremolo . These techniques of playing the ''guzheng'' can create sounds that can evoke the sense of a cascading waterfall, thunder, horses' hooves, and even the scenic countryside. Plucking is done mainly by the right hand with four attached to the fingers. Advanced players may use picks attached to the fingers of both hands. In more traditional performances however, plectra are used solely on the right hand, reflecting its use for melodic purposes and its relative importance in comparison to the left hand which is used solely for purposes of ornamentation. Ancient picks were made of ivory and later also from tortoise shell. Ornamentation includes a tremolo involving the right thumb and index finger rapidly and repeatedly plucking the same note. Another commonly used ornamentation is a wide vibrato, achieved by repeatedly pressing with the left hand on the left side of the bridge. This technique is used liberally in Chinese music, as well as in Korean ''gayageum'' music but is used only rarely in the music of the Japanese koto.

In arrangements of ''guqin'' pieces, harmonics are frequently used, along with single-string glissandi, evoking the sound of the ''guqin''. Harmonics are achieved by lightly placing the left hand in the middle of the string while plucking on the right end of string.

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'' , ''Gao Shan Liu Shui'' and ''Han Gong Qiu Yue'' .

Two broad playing styles can be identified as Northern and Southern, although many traditional regional styles still exist. The Northern styles is associated with Henan and Shandong while the Southern style is with the Chaozhou and Hakka regions of eastern Guangdong. Both ''Gao Shan Liu Shui'' and ''Han Gong Qiu Yue'' are from the Shandong school, while ''Han ya xi shui'' and
''Chu shui lian'' are major pieces of the Chaozhou and Hakka repertories respectively.

Important players and teachers in the 20th century include Wang Xunzhi who popularized the Wulin ''zheng'' school based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang; Lou Shuhua, who rearranged a traditional ''guzheng'' piece and named it ''Yu zhou chang wan''; Liang Tsai-Ping , who edited the first ''guzheng'' teaching manual, ''Nizheng pu'' in 1938; Cao Dongfu , from Henan; Gao Zicheng and Zhao Yuzhai , both from Shandong; Su Wenxian ; Guo Ying and Lin Maogen , both from Chaozhou; the Hakka Luo Jiuxiang ; and Cao Guifen and Cao Zheng , both of whom trained in the Henan school. The Cao family from Henan are known for being masters of the ''guzheng''.

Many new pieces have been composed since the 1950s which used new playing techniques such as the playing of harmony and counterpoint by the left hand. Pieces in this new style include ''Qing feng nian'' , ''Zhan tai feng'' and the ''guzheng'' concerto "Miluo River Fantasia" . Contemporary experimental atonal pieces have been composed since the 1980s.

A more modern playing technique is using the left hand to provide harmony and bass notes, heavily influenced by the theory of Western music. This allows for greater flexibility in the instruments musical range, allowing for harmonic progression. This however also has its limitations, as it prevents the subtle ornamentations provided by the left hand in more traditional music. Students of the guzheng who take the Beijing Conservatory examinations are required to learn a repertoire of pieces both traditional and modern.

Twelve Girls Band is a contemporary Chinese instrumental group that features the ''guzheng'' as well as other traditional Chinese instruments such as the ''erhu'' and ''pipa''. They perform traditional Chinese music as well as Western popular and classical music.

The guzheng in other genres

The ''guzheng'' has been used by the Chinese performer in the rock band of Cui Jian, as well as in free improvised music. Zhang Yan used it in a jazz context, performing and recording with Asian American jazz bandleader Jon Jang. Other zheng players who perform in non-traditional styles include Randy Raine-Reusch, Mei Han, Zi Lan Liao, Levi Chen, Andreas Vollenweider, Jaron Lanier, Mike Hovancsek, Chih-Lin Chou, and David Sait. The American composer Lou Harrison played and composed for the instrument. Jerusalem based multi-instrumentalist Bradley Fish is the most widely recorded artist of loops for the ''guzheng''. Fish is known for using the ''guzheng'' with a rock-influenced style and electronic effects on his 1996 collaboration "The Aquarium Conspiracy" with Sugarcubes/Bj& drummer Sigtryggur Baldursson. The virtual band Gorillaz used the ''guzheng'' in their song "Hong Kong" from the ''Help!: A Day in the Life'' compilation .

Contemporary works for ''guzheng'' have been written by such non-Chinese composers as Halim El-Dabh, Kevin Austin, and Jon Foreman.

In the television drama series , actress Ruby Lin's character plays the guzheng, although she mimes to the music.




* from Robert Garfias site
* by Bradley Fish, with steel-string acoustic guitar and ''guzheng''



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