Archive for the ‘Guqin’ Category

When one is a qin player, other than having a qin in possession, there are certain other extras one must (or ideally should) have in the qin bag pocket. These items are mostly common-sense yet many only have one or two and are thus ill prepared for all eventualities that may arise. It is better to be prepared than not to be.

Most of these are good to have with you while some are optional (unless under certain conditions).

Strings (絃): obviously, for when one string fails/breaks. A full set of strings (that are the same type that are strung on the qin) makes perfect sense. Preferably, they should all be prepped beforehand by tying the fly knots, thus saves you time from fiddling about with the strings trying to figure/remember how you tie them.

Pads (墊): necessary when playing on a table (which is 9 times out of 10). These are either the sandbag or the non-slip pad type. Rubber pads would not do as they have a smooth, often powdery, surface which would not keep the qin in place.

Cloth (布): a cotton handkerchief would do. This would be used to wipe the dust off the qin (you wouldn’t believe the amount of dust gathers on the surface of the qin that is then transfered onto your fingers…) and to use in stringing traditionally (unless you want you fingers to be cut off like wire to cheese). Some might say the qin bag is sufficent enough for this but having a massive wad of fabric/stiff padded nylon in your hand is not going to make stringing easier… Can be used as an aid to turning the tuning pegs that have a ridiculously smooth surface designed to make turning them near nigh impossible (you might have to wet the cloth to create more adherence).

Silk thread (絲綫): this is for if the rongko breaks and you need to make another one. The rongko shouldn’t break if it is made of silk but you don’t know about other people’s qins’ rongko (which could be made of cotton and that does break very easily). Having a spool (10m of thick pure silk thread is enough for a short thin one) at the ready means you don’t have to fiddle about with having to harvest the remaining broken, knotted and tangled threads of the ex-rongko, trying to make a new one from inferior materials in a mad frustrating rush. Also useful for replacing defective rongko made of cotton, polyester, wool, rayon and pre-twisted cord. Indeed, even better if you make one or two rongko beforehand which would save time.

Tuning peg (軫): having a spare just in case one breaks (very unlikely if made of wood, but jade pegs will smash if they hit a hard floor). Also can be used to replace defective/badly-made pegs of others.

Metal wire (鐡綫): a medium gauge metal wire, around 10″ long, that is bendable (without it snapping) is used for stringing the rongko through the holes; an almost impossible task without.

Matchstick (柴): or toothpick: good for propping up the strings on the bridge as one solution to buzzing, etc.

Piece of silk (絲): or other thin fabric. Can be used to place under the strings at the wrapping end under the qin as one solution to wolf-tones.

Rosin (松香): the kind used by cellist and violinists (any quality would do). This can be applied to the wrapping end of (non-silk) strings to cut the chances of them slipping, especially when the goose feet legs are rounded rather than square.

Of course, if you have that tuning device contraption then you should add the zither wrench to the list (and also (this is very important) learn how to use it; and yes, someone did actually need my help for this would you believe which is beggar’s belief when the whole point of having said device is to not have to ask little old me to help with stringing every time a string breaks…)

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90 Day Café Guqin Recital

On the 22nd September 2011 I will be performing a guqin recital at The 90 Day Café in Birmingham at 5pm, the day before it closes for good. Here is the programme (which includes a new composition by me):

1. 《秋風詞》 Qiu Feng Ci – Ode of the Autumn Wind
From the Guqin Quji (1962), adapted from the Mei’an Qinpu (1912)
Autumn arrives and the leaves fall. The wind scatters them.

2. 《平沙落雁》 Pingsha Luoyan – Wild Geese Descending on the Sandbank
From the Jiao’an Qinpu (1868)
The wild geese fly through the air. Ascending and descending across the sandy shores.

3. 《湘妃怨》 Xiangfei Yuan – Lament of the Concubine
Transcribed by Wu Jinglue
Your soul mate passes on and you weep tears of grief that stain the bamboo red.

4. 《龝水》 Qiu Shui – Autumn Water
From the Tianwen Ge Qinpu (1876), transmitted by Zeng Chengwei
Transforming into the divine, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

5. 《碧澗流泉》 Bijian Liuquan – Flowing Spring of the Green Brook
From Wuxue Shanfung Qinpu (1836), transmitted by Dai Xiaolian
The spring flows through the valleys and ravines over the lush and green stones.

6. 《滄江夜雨》 Cangjiang Yeyu – Night Rain on the Azure River
From the Chengyi Tang Qinpu (1705)
The moon reflects upon the dark blue waters then the rain breaks the reflection into stars.

7. 《酒狂》 Jiu Kuang – Drunken Ecstasy
From the Shenqi Mipu (1425)
Taking of wine, in a scholarly way.

8. 《陽關三疉》 Yangguan Sandie – Three Refrains on the Yang Pass Theme
From the Guqin Quji (1962), adapted from the Qinxue Rumen (1864)
Exiled beyond the Yang Pass, you persuade your friend to take one more cup of wine before they depart.

9. 《良宵引》 Liangxiao Yin – Prelude to a Fine Evening
From the Guqin Quji (1962), adapted from the Wuzhi Zhai Qinpu (1722)
A fine and warm evening with a gentle breeze.

10. 《九旬》 Jiu Xun – 90 Days
Composed by Charles Rupert Tsua (2011)


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This review was prepared for submission to the Ethnomusicology Forum journal in April but was never submitted as some my colleagues in the qin word felt I was inaccurately criticising Lieberman’s book translation the Mei’an Qinpu (that it didn’t include the jianzipu for the melodies which makes it rather ‘insufficient’ as a beginners teaching manual given that means the beginner must first learn to read staff notation to be able to play the melodies in the book (which in itself requires skill and understanding of how to play the qin in the first place in order to work out the fingering rather than simply guessing haphazardly) rather than learn the notation already described in the book to play the melodies (as is the case in traditional and modern qinpu)). In any case, it was a very minor criticism in the whole scheme of things but alas, I’m yet again threatened with ‘excommunication’ if I publish it formally in a peer reviewed journal regardless of freedom of speech or whether my criticisms are valid or not and all that. I could, of course, not mentioned that but then that would remove the context and in turn I must also ignore any other relevant peoples’ works in the process, which is renders the review weak and that is why I didn’t bother submitting it afterwards.

I’m posting it here for you to make your own judgement…


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Past guqin concert program

Program notes on a concert I had a while back.


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I wrote this review for this book as published on Amazon.co.uk:


I had the (mis?)pleasure of examining the actual thing at a yaji which was bought by Julian Joseph off Amazon. I based my review on that examination.

I posted it on Amazon but they seemed to have censored it. Eitherway, here it is… (more…)

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The Band Wagon…

[MEME] Using only song names from one particular artist, cleverly answer these questions.

Pick Your Artist:
Thousands of years of Chinese guqin tradition – what else?

Are you male or female?
君子吟 (Ode of the Gentleman)

Your favorite colour?
赤壁賦 (Song of the Red Cliffs)

Describe yourself:
幽蘭 (Solitary Orchid)

How do you feel?
離騷 (On Encountering Sorrow)

Describe where you currently live:
玉樓春曉 (Spring Dawn in the Jade Tower)

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
四大景 (Four Great Views)

Your best friend is?
伯牙弔子期 (Bo Ya Mourns Ziqi)

What’s the weather like?
陽春 (Sunny Spring)

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called?
瀟湘水雲 (Water and Mists of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers)

What is life to you:
琴書樂道 (Qin Books and Delighting in The Way)

Your last relationship was:
無媒意 (No-intermediary Modal Prelude)

Your current relationship?
山中思友人 (Thinking of a Friend in the Mountains)

Your sex life, or lack thereof?
三癖操 (The Three Addictions)

Your greatest fear?
古怨 (Ancient Lament)

The best advice you have to give?
讀易 (Reading the Book of Changes)

If you could change your name, what would you change it to?
梅梢月 (Moon upon the Plum Blossom Top)

How would you like to die?
莊周夢蝶 (Zhuangzi Dreams He is a Butterfly)

Your motto?
列子御風 (Leizi Rides the Winds)

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Once you have your knots tied at the head of the string (https://chwolfenbloode.wordpress.com/2008/02/17/a-treatise-in-tying-knots/), it is time to assemble to tuning system.

Sometimes, the tuning systems on lesser qins are inferior in quality and this can have an effect on how well one can tune on said qin.

Firstly, the tuning peg (軫 ‘zhen’) must be made of a hardwood and must not have any damage to it. There are many types of tuning pegs but the best type have ridges and grooves carved onto the body of the peg that allows the fingers to grip it so you can turn the peg more easily. Some pegs are made plain and polished. These pegs are not good as for the above reason. If you require a cloth to help you turn the peg then you know that it is inferior. Also, the top surface at the top opening of the peg should be slightly concave. The reason for this is because if it is flat, there is not much force of tension with all the surface area being in contact with the peg pool so it is likely to slip. With the concave surface, only the edges are in contact with the peg pool and thus all the force is situated on the edges making the grip more substantial and also makes turning the peg easier at the same time. If the top is flat, one can sometimes rectify the slippage problems by using some rosin.

Jade tuning pegs look good but they could break easily if you’re not careful, plus they can slip more easily than wood. The literati also found them vulgar and thieves could steal them (with the whole qin) if not careful! Of course, nowadays, jade is not that expensive and is sometimes not real but made of soap stone or the like so no one would steal them. Another type of material used to make the pegs is horn. You can often by the pegs with matching goosefeet as well.

Secondly, the tuning cord (絨剅, more commonly written as 絨扣 ‘rong kou’) must be made of good quality pure silk (not rayon or artificial silk). Many inferior qins have polyester or cotton threads for the cord. Silk is best because it can stretch, is more flexible and makes tuning easier whilst polyester or cotton have limits to how much you can tune. Indeed, you can twist the silk cord more than a polyester or cotton cord. Another type of cord which is even worse is one made of plaited cords. The interlocking strands and threads would restrict the twisting action of the cord making it even more difficult to tune! A way to tell if it is silk is to buy some silk thread and compare. Silk is more soft and subtle. Polyester and rayon are coarse, harsh and feel ‘plasticy’. Cotton is fuzzy, not shiny and is slightly warm to the touch. Pure silk thread will have very fine soft strands when you untwist the cut ends.


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