Guqin master cheng yu [March 2002]

The purpose of my trip to London was to learn from Cheng Yu, pupil of Liu XiangTing, master GuQin practitioner.
Guqin master Cheng Yu and Shueh-li
Cheng Yu was to perform with the UK Chinese Ensemble at the Purcell Room and I was invited to the concert. The experience was totally mesmerising, especially Cheng Yu’s solos on the GuQin and Pipa. I was amazed at the range of techniques and tricks employed on both these instruments. The experienced was an eye-opener into the flamboyance of the Chinese and their music. It is of interest to note that the so-called Chinese Classical music commonly performed on stage is a very controlled almost staid version of the surreal and eccentric performance I was exposed to at the concert.

Guqin Tablature ~ by shueh-li ong

The study of the GuQin tablature for me has been an interesting and mind-boggling experience. This form of notation was created to assist the modern method of teaching, the former, being aural in nature. Pupils are still encouraged to look, listen and reproduce. Laid out in quadrants, the instructions for both hands are read either L-R, Top to Bottom or Across, I ended up crossed-eyed many times. To aid in explaining the complicated nature of GuQin technique, Western notation is utilised with a form of transcription using Chinese characters.

These transriptions denote such things as the position of the LH on the inlays (there are 13 of them laid from RH to LH on the top outer corner of the GuQin), type of stroke by the RH or LH etc.

Figure (1)

Reading Tips ~ assembled by shueh-li ong

Fig (1) demonstrates this form of notation. The 1st one is for the LH and requires the deployment of the thumb thumbon the 9th pearl inlay, gliding up to the inlay on the 6th string 6th stringwhile the RH middle finger flicks down.middle flick
This symbol means an open string pluck by the RH. open string
The next character is divided into kind of a quadrant.

The top of the “T” denotes 2 strings played simultaneously using the mid and index fingers of the RH. One is on the open 4th string (SW quadrant), the other on the 6th string, 9th inlay, sliding up (SE quadrant).

The LH range of techniques is much more complex than the RH in that it executes a wider variety of movements such as the production of the slide tone (portamento), picking harmonics, flick/plucking and even slapping (such as by the thumb).

Amongst the more “painful” techniques include the use of the ring finger bended at the 1st finger joint. This point of contact between the flesh and the string is employed in two ways; to shorten the string in pitching or sliding up and down the string for a portamento effect. Other fingers that are also called upon to execute the slide technique include the thumb and the middle finger.

xia ji
Figure (2) Xia Ji

ring finger-thumb flick Fig (2) top LH corner symbol denotes the bended ring finger and thumb flick combination. On the 10th inlay 10th inlay.

figure 3
Figure (3)

Between each inlay are 10 discrete intervals or markings. Fig(3) shows an instruction  for the LH placement on the 9th interval marking of the 7th inlay; counting towards the 8th inlay. Or in other words, the 7 + 9/10 inlay. 9/10 inlay

figure (4)
Fig (4)

Fig(4) shows the use of the water symbol to instruct the LH to glide down on the 1st string with the middle finger. water symbol

Figure (5) Da

FIG (5) This is the symbol for the LH thumb slap on the 6th string, 9th inlay.

More about the gugin and our alternative instruments here.