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Chinese Music
Chinese Instruments


The guqin, is a fretless seven-stringed zither, and is China's oldest stringed instrument, with a history of some 7, 000 years. It is highly revered by the Chinese people who also view it as a cultural symbol.

First we will introduce some classical pieces of Guqin music, before going on to describe the instrument in greater detail. The Guqin is not an instrument that translates well into Western culture.

Jiu Kuang (1.41)
Wine fanatic
Recommend for first time listeners No.1



Ping Sha Luo Yan (6.45)
This tune is a representative of Guqin music.
Recommend for first time listeners No.2

Ping Sha Luo Yan describes the scene when the sky is dotted by a group of goose who is singing on-and-off, and about to land. The horizon is far away, and the sand in the desert is flat. The freely flying goose in the sky embodies the ambition and breadth of mind of the hermits.

Though this tune is relatively new, it’s been the most prevailing Guqin melody in the past 300 years. Its popularity owes much to its novel and unique expressive methods, which make the tune easier for common audience to understand.



Gao Shan Liu Shui (5.08)
High mountains and flowing water.
Recommend for first time listeners No.3

Top 10 Classical also

Legend goes that Guqin master Bo Ya was playing the instrument in the wilderness, and the woodman Zhong Ziqi understood that his music was describing the "high mountains and flowing water." Bo Ya was surprised, and said, "my heart echoes in yours," They became very good friends, and when Ziqi was dead later, Bo Ya was devastated of losing the one who can really understand what was in his mind by listening to his music. He broke the instrument, and never played again in his life. The Chinese word Zhi Yin (confidant), literally meaning knowing the voice, also originated from this story.

High mountains and flowing water. Usually known as a masterpiece of Guzheng music, this is the Guqin edition.

Note: We have been informed this piece may be a guzheng version - apologies. However it is our opinion this piece features the guqin being supported by a guzheng, as it would be impossible for one instrument to play some of the different notes at the same time.



Pei Lan (8.00)
Wearing orchid



Gao Shan (6.42)
High mountain



Gu Guan Yu Shen (7.06)
Encountering spirits in a lonely room



Kong Zi Du Yi (5.44)
Confucius reading Yi Jing (Book of Changes)



Chang Men Yuan (5.37)
Complaint of the long gate



Tao Yuan (2.36)
Peach garden



Zui Yu Chang Wan (1.27)
Drunk fisherman singing at night



You Lan (10.12)
Orchid in serenity



Yi Gu Ren (8.42)
Recalling an old friend



Xiao Xiang Shui Yun (7.53)
Water and cloud in Xiao and Xiang rivers



Tian Feng Huan Pei (2.28)
The tune was composed in the Ming Dynasty



Pu An Zhou (8.13)
This is a Buddhist sutra tune.



Long Shuo Cao (10.32)
Melody of Long Shuo. The tune concerns a famous Chinese story of which Zhu Quan gives only the bare bones.



Liu Shui (7.32)
Flowing water



Mei Hua San Nong
There are three overtones that are repeated on three different sections of the Guqin instrument, hence the name of Mei Hua San Nong (three overtones of clubs).

By singing the pureness, fragrance, pride and fortitude of clubs, this tune praises people of great nobility and high ethics. The first half is relatively slow and relaxed, demonstrating the composure and static beauty of the flower; while the latter half is more rapid and hurried, depicting the tenacity of the plant. The violent contrast between the two parts adds to the attractiveness of the tune.

This tune demonstrates the pride and fortitude of clubs in winter.

Top 10 Classical also



Da Hu Jia (14.53)
Long Version of Nomad Reed Pipe



Guang Ling San (22.31)
This tune was composed as early as in the Eastern Han Dynasty, and is known for its great momentum.

Top 10 Classical also

The name Guang Ling San means the tune prevailing in Guangling area (today's Yangzhou of Jiangsu Province).

The theme was based on a story during the Warring States Period of more than 2,000 years ago. A craftsman manufacturing sword was killed by Monarch Han, because he did not meet the due date of producing a desired sword by the emperor. Nie Zheng, the craftsman's son, first disguised to be a bricklayer to get into the palace for revenge, but his efforts came in vain. He then secluded himself in the mountains to practice Guqin, an ancient music instrument, and ten years later he became the best Guqin master in the country. The emperor summoned him to play in the palace. Nie killed the monarch while he was playing, and he himself was killed, too. This Guqin tune was composed by later generations based upon this story. Ji Kang, a famous scholar, who also plays this tune.



Guqin: History and General Information
Image: GuQin The guqin, is a fretless seven-stringed zither, and is China's oldest stringed instrument, with a history of some 7, 000 years. Historically, the guqin has been viewed as a symbol of Chinese high culture, but today only a few thousand people can play it, and it is rarely seen in China. It is also a very quiet instrument, and suited to solo performances, or sometimes played in concert with a few other compatible instruments, or accompanied by voice.

The guqin is a unique instrument which needs to be hand made by specialist craftsmen using special wood, lacquer and a high degree of skill. Most guqin's sold in general music stores, even in China, are virtually unplayable and are suitable only for hanging on the wall for decoration.

Professional qin players never buy such instruments or recommend them to their students. Not only are they unable to produce an acceptable sound, they can even cause injury to a student's hand.

Whilst traditionally the instrument is known simply as the 'Qin', this name came to mean a wide variety of instruments, so for clarification during the 12th Century, the prefix 'Gu' was added. 'Gu' means ancient, whilst 'Qin' means stringed instrument
Around this time a standard format was also introduced, which gave basic dimensions and set the number of strings at 7. Traditionally the GuQin had 5-strings. Records relate of ancient 12 stringed versions, and a 10-stringed one was unearthed in the 1970's. There also exists a full written description of a single stringed version. Today GuQin specifically means a fretless 7-stringed zither about 4-feet long, which lays flat and is played in similar fashion to an Hawaiian guitar, although its pitch is much lower
Image: Guqin Design Drawings - Click to Enlarge Originally Guqin's were carved from a single branch or piece of wood. This was accomplished via the small soundhole on the back of the instrument. Chinese people are highly skilled at this type of work.

Until the Cultural Revolution, all strings were made of silk. Since then nylon or flatwound steel strings have become popular, which offer greater loudness and durability.

Related Instruments:
1. Japanese 'ichigenkin', which is thought to be derived from the GuQin
2. Korean 'geomungo'
3. Chinese 'zhu', plucked with a stick and with 7 fretless strings, but with moveable bridges under each string
Guqin, literally meaning ancient ancient music instrument, is a seven-stringed zither without bridges. With a history of more than 3,000 years, Guqin music has been enlisted as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003.

Confucius was a master of this instrument. for thousands of years, Guqin has been regarded as a very important element for education for the purpose of enriching the heart and elevating human spirit. However, being considered as a high-class art form, it has never been very popular throughout history.

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