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Guqin - The Scholar's Instrument



Said to help "cultivate character, understand morality, supplicate gods and demons, enhance life, and enrich learning," the guqin (古琴) is one of the most iconic traditional Chinese instruments and has over 3000 years of history. A symbol of high culture and source of self-enrichment that a well-educated person was expected to know alongside other forms of art like calligraphy and painting, the guqin was originally played in small, private settings rather than public performances. Its quiet tones favored these small performances as it would otherwise by most modern instruments, volume-wise. In fact, most modern concerts at large venues typically need some artificial means of amplifying the sound (like a microphone) in order to carry the sound throughout the hall. Although usually a solo instrument, you might see the guqin accompanied by other traditional Chinese instruments like the xiao (a vertical, end-blown bamboo flute) or by singing.


The instrument itself consists of seven silk strings stretched over a sound board usually made of paulownia wood whose underside is closed by a flat base with two sound holes. 13 marks on the instrument indicate pitch positions, and represent the 12 months of the year plus the extra month added every few years to match the lunar and solar calendars. Both the instrument's construction and playing are steeped in symbolism, with the sound board representing heaven while the base signifies the earth. Similarly, the three kinds of sounds a guqin produces: the 7 sanyin, open sounds (strings); 91 fanyin, harmonics; and 147 anyin, stopped sounds; represent earth, heaven, and humans, respectively. Put together, a guqin performance is meant to embody a union between heaven, earth, and humankind.



Today, there are relatively few well-trained guqin players (with UNESCO estimating fewer than 1000 musicians) and additionally, the original repertory of several thousand compositions has shrunk considerably.



Text by: Ambrose Cheung/Licha Stelaus Productions


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Disclaimer: We are fans of great sound and music. We are neither the agent nor presenter of the musicians featured on this post. We do not own the photos and videos in this blog - Licha Stelaus Productions


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