10 Things You Should Know About the Guzheng

If you’re wondering what this harp-table looking instrument is, you’re in the right place. The Guzheng, also known as the Chinese zither, is a wood plucking instrument that can have 21 or more strings.

 

1. Guzheng players wear fake nails.

No, not the ones you can get from the nail salon. These fake nails are actually called finger picks and they’re usually made out of turtle shell. Guzheng players use a cloth tape that was made to tape the picks on the top of their right hand fingers. Not all of them, only the first four. As one increases in level, they would also wear the finger picks on their left hand too. These not only protect your fingers from blistering, but also make sure that the sound comes out bright and not muffled when the string is plucked.

 

2. The bridges that hold up the strings are moveable.

This is how the instrument stays in tune. Placing the bridge to the right will make the pitch higher and placing it to the left will make the pitch lower.

 

3. The sheet music looks like numbers.

Basically, the sheet music still has bars and rests, but it replaces the notes with numbers. To represent a higher note there will be dots on the top and for a lower note there will be dots on the bottom. Each dot on top or bottom represents the octave that should be played. For example, two dots on top would mean to play the note two octaves higher.

This is how numbered notation would be compared to notes.

(If there are two lines, the bottom line is for the left hand and the top line is for the right hand.)

4. Even though they’re numbers, don’t refer to them as 1 2 3’s.

Guzheng players refer to their notes in solfège. Instead of reading the music as 1 2 3 or C D E, they would refer to their music as do re mi.

(Learning tip: Reading the numbers with solfège helps with memorizing music a lot faster.)

5. There is no “4” or “7” string.

Also known as the F and B note. This is because the guzheng is tuned in a major pentatonic scale. So how would they play those notes if there’s no string for it? For “4,” they would bend down the “3” string until they hear the F note. For “7,” they would bend down the “6” string

 until they hear the B note. It takes a little practice to always reach the right pitch, but it will become muscle memory.

6. Not only do we hold down on the left side, but we can also pluck the strings.

It doesn’t sound pretty, but it’s mostly for dramatic effect. When plucking the left side strings, it can evoke the sense of thunder or horses’ hooves or terrible storms. 

7. It’s not that heavy!  

An average guzheng is around 20 to 30 pounds. It looks long and chunky, but many people are often surprised at how easily they can pick up the instrument and carry it for some distance.  

 

8. The wood piece to the right of the strings can open!

Guzheng players usually store their tuners, fingerpicks, extra strings, extra bridges, extra fingerpick tape, and basically anything that we would need in that compartment.

9. There are so many other techniques that are not just plucking the string. This video of Fighting Against Typhoon played on the guzheng shows many of them.

10. This instrument doesn’t only play traditional Chinese music, but also popular songs that you know! 


7 thoughts on “10 Things You Should Know About the Guzheng

  1. Christopher C Stube

    Thank you for this cogent introduction and exposition of the Guzheng. I will probably try the finger picks on my Paraguayan harp as they look like a good solution.
    It also makes it clear to me why this instrument is always discussed as an important predecessor of the Konghou which is a relatively new instrument.

    1. Vienna Yeung

      Hi Christopher. I could be wrong, but I *think the old Konghou also has a long history. The one we see nowadays have been modified, so it is different from the old ones. I have been learning Guzheng for four years. If you are interested, I have a bilingual blog about Guzheng (https://beyondthezheng.wordpress.com/). Cheers.

    2. Vienna Yeung

      My blog has moved to : https://beyondthezheng.com/

  2. ronnieneo

    Learning a GuZheng is a difficult task. The things you had shared are knowledgeable and definitely help those who are looking forward to learn GuZheng to know about it. Thank you for sharing!!

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  5. tpcloyes

    Thank you for this great introduction to the Guzheng. Enjoyed visiting the Music Store Street in Shanghai, and became enamored by this instrument, and wished I had purchased one while there. Once while touring Qiandeng, We came upon a young lady playing one outside, and I got a few shots of her and the instrument. I would be glad to share them if you would like.