The guzheng or Gu Zheng, sometimes referred to as simply zheng, is a Chinese string instrument. The zheng functions as a plucked zither with 18 or more strings and movable bridges. Musicologists believe the instrument was inspired by early bamboo tube zithers. The modern instrument generally has 21 strings and bridges. Players use picks (called DaiMao) which are often made from hawksbill turtle shells. Ancient picks were often made of ivory or tortoise shells.
The modern zheng is quite different from the instruments made centuries ago. This is mainly due to natural evolution. However, the adoption of Western musical styles is reflected in a more modern playing technique whereby the left hand is used to provide harmony and bass notes. This technique allows for greater flexibility in the instrument’s musical range, allowing for harmonic progression. It does prevent the subtle ornamentations provided by the left hand in more traditional music. Students at the Beijing Conservatory are required to learn a repertoire of both traditional and modern pieces.
Centuries ago the strings were made from silk. Today they’re almost always metal-nylon, which increases the instrument’s capabilities, volume, and timbre. The strings can create graceful sounds that evoke the sense of a cascading waterfall, or stronger sounds like thunder and trotting horses.
Indeed, well known pieces for the instrument suggest a connection to nature. For example, Yu Zhou Chang Wan (Songs of Fishing Boats at Dusk), Gao Shan Liu Shui (High Mountains Flowing Water), and Han Gong Qiu Yue (Autumn Moon Over the Han Palace).
More Guzheng Facts
A person who performs on this string instrument is called a guzhengist or Chinese harpist.
Notable guzhengists include Bei Bei He, Shirley Wang, Melody Yan, and Wang Zhongshan.
Chinese Girl Playing Guzheng
Hand Painted Oil Painting on Canvas
Listen to the Guzheng
Performed by Wang Zhongshan
The musical piece is called “Fishermen’s Song at Eventide.”
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