The guzheng or zheng is a traditional Chinese musical instrument. It belongs to the zither family of string instruments. It is the parent instrument of the Japanese koto, the Mongolian yatga, the Korean gayageum, and the Vietnamese dan tranh.
The modern-day guzheng is a plucked, half-tube zither with movable bridges and 21 strings, although the number of strings can vary from 15 to 25. The guzheng strings were formerly made of twisted silk, though by the 20th century most zheng players used metal (mostly steel) strings. Since the mid-20th century most players have come to use steel strings wrapped with nylon.
The guzheng has a large resonant cavity made from wutong wood (firmiana simplex). The guzheng has existed since the Warring States Period, and became especially popular during the Qin Dynasty. That is why the guzheng is also sometimes known as the Qin Zheng. Until 1961, the common guzheng had 16 strings, although by the mid-20th century 18-string guzhengs were also in use.
In 1961, the first 21-string guzheng was introduced by Master Wang Xunzhi. He also invented the "S-shaped" left string rest, which was quickly adapted by all zheng makers and is still used today. Master Wang Xunzhi was also the founder of the Zhejiang Zheng School. The "S-shaped" curve allows for greater ease in tuning the strings and for broader pitch ranges by adding more strings to the instrument. The 21-string zheng is the most commonly used nowadays, but some traditional musicians still use the 16-steel-string zhengs, especially those who live along the southeastern coastal provinces of China and in Taiwan.
Playing Techniques and Styles of Guzheng
There are many techniques used in the playing of the guzheng, including basic plucking actions (right or both hands) at the right portion, and pressing actions at the left portion (by the left hand to produce pitch ornamentations and vibrations). These techniques of playing the guzheng can create sounds like those of a waterfall, thunder, wind howling and many more. Plucking is done mainly by the right hand with four plectra (picks) attached to fingers. Some players use picks on both hands. Plectra are used mostly on the right hand for the use of melodic purposes, in comparison to the left hand which is used mainly for ornamentation. Ancient picks were made of ivory, and later also from tortoise shells. Unlike the piano, 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.
The guzheng, like martial arts, has different styles or schools. As mentioned previously, Master Wang Xunzhi created the Zhejiang style in the 1960s. In addition, there are two broad playing styles that can be identified as Northern and Southern. Traditionally, the Northern styles have been associated with Henan and Shandong, while the Southern styles come from the Chaozhou and Hakka regions of eastern Guangdong.