The qin uses strings of silk or metal - nylon and is tuned in accordance to traditional principles. Ancient guqins were made of little more than wood and strings of twisted silk. Ornaments included inlaid dots of mother-of-pearl or other similar materials. Traditionally, the sound board was made of Chinese parasol wood firmiana simplex , its rounded shape symbolising the heavens.
The bottom was made of Chinese Catalpa, catalpa ovata , its flat shape symbolising earth. Modern instruments are most frequently made of Cunninghamia or other similar timbers. The traditional finish is of raw lacquer mixed with powdered deer horn, and the finishing process could take months of curing to complete.
The finish develops cracks over time, and these cracks are believed to improve the instrument's sound as the wood and lacquer release tension. According to tradition, the qin originally had five strings, representing the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth. His successor, Zhou Wu Wang , added a seventh string to motivate his troops into battle with the Shang. The thirteen hui  on the surface represent the 13 months of the year the extra 13th is the 'leap month' in the lunar calendar.
The surface board is round to represent Heaven and the bottom board flat to represent earth. The entire length of the qin in Chinese measurements is 3 chi , 6 cun and 5 fen ;  representing the days of the year though this is just a standard since qins can be shorter or longer depending on the period's measurement standard or the maker's preference. Each part of the qin has meaning, some more obvious, like "dragon pool"  and "phoenix pond".
Until recently, the guqin's strings were always made of various thicknesses of twisted silk , but since then most players use modern nylon-flatwound steel strings. This was partly due to the scarcity of high quality silk strings and partly due to the newer strings' greater durability and louder tone. Silk strings are made by gathering a prescribed number of strands of silk thread, then twisting them tightly together. The twisted cord of strings is then wrapped around a frame and immersed in a vat of liquid composed of a special mixture of natural glue that binds the strands together.
The strings is taken out and left to dry, before being cut into the appropriate length. The top thicker strings i. According to ancient manuals, there are three distinctive gauges of thickness that one can make the strings. The first is taigu  [Great Antiquity] which is the standard gauge, the zhongqing  [Middle Clarity] is thinner, whilst the jiazhong  [Added Thickness] is thicker.
According to the Yugu Zhai Qinpu , zhongqing is the best. Although most contemporary players use nylon-wrapped metal strings, some argue that nylon-wrapped metal strings cannot replace silk strings for their refinement of tone. Additionally, nylon-wrapped metal strings can cause damage to the wood of old qins. Many traditionalists feel that the sound of the fingers of the left hand sliding on the strings to be a distinctive feature of qin music. The modern nylon-wrapped metal strings were very smooth in the past, but are now slightly modified in order to capture these sliding sounds.
Around , a new type of strings were produced made of mostly a nylon core coiled with nylon like the metal-nylon strings, possibly in imitation of Western catgut strings. The nylon strings are able to be turned to standard pitch without breaking and can sustain their tuning whatever the climate unlike silk.
The strings have various names in China but they are advertised as sounding like silk strings prior to the s when silk string production stopped. Traditionally, the strings were wrapped around the goose feet,   but there has been a device that has been invented, which is a block of wood attached to the goose feet, with pins similar to those used to tune the guzheng protruding out at the sides, so one can string and tune the qin using a tuning wrench.
This is good for those who lack the physical strength to pull and add tension to the strings when wrapping the ends to the goose feet.
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However, the tuning device looks rather unsightly and thus many qin players prefer the traditional manner of tuning; many also feel that the strings should be firmly wrapped to the goose feet in order that the sound may be "grounded" into the qin and some feel that the device which covers the phoenix pond sound hole has a negative effect on the sound volume and quality.
To string a qin, one traditionally had to tie a fly's head knot yingtou jie  at one end of the string, and slip the string through the twisted cord rongkou  which goes into holes at the head of the qin and then out the bottom through the tuning pegs zhen . Afterwards, the strings are fine tuned using the tuning pegs sometimes, rosin is used on the part of the tuning peg that touches the qin body to stop it from slipping, especially if the qin is tuned to higher pitches.
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Today this is generally interpreted to mean C D F G A c d, but this should be considered sol la do re mi sol la, since historically the qin was not tuned to absolute pitch. Other tunings are achieved by adjusting the tension of the strings using the tuning pegs at the head end. Thus manjiao diao  "slackened third string" gives 1 2 3 5 6 1 2 and ruibin diao  "raised fifth string" gives 1 2 4 5 7 1 2, which is transposed to 2 3 5 6 1 2 3. The guqin is nearly always used a solo instrument, as its quietness of tone means that it cannot compete with the sounds of most other instruments or an ensemble.
It can, however, be played together with a xiao end-blown bamboo flute , with other qin, or played while singing.
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In old times, the se a long zither with movable bridges and 25 strings was frequently used in duets with the qin. Lately there has been a trend to use other instruments to accompany the qin, such as the xun ceramic ocarina , pipa four-stringed pear-shaped lute , dizi transverse bamboo flute , and others for more experimental purposes. In order for an instrument to accompany the qin, its sound must be mellow and not overwhelm the qin. If one sings to qin songs which is rare nowadays then one should not sing in an operatic or folk style as is common in China, but rather in a very low pitched and deep way; and the range in which one should sing should not exceed one and a half octaves.
The style of singing is similar to that used to recite Tang poetry. To enjoy qin songs, one must learn to become accustomed to the eccentric style some players may sing their songs to, like in the case of Zha Fuxi. Traditionally, the qin was played in a quiet studio or room by oneself, or with a few friends; or played outdoors in places of outstanding natural beauty. Nowadays, many qin players perform at concerts in large concert halls, almost always, out of necessity, using electronic pickups or microphones to amplify the sound. Many qin players attend yajis , at which a number of qin players, music lovers, or anyone with an interest in Chinese culture can come along to discuss and play the qin.
In fact, the yaji originated as a multi-media gathering involving the four arts : qin, Go , calligraphy , and painting. Being an instrument associated with scholars, the guqin was also played in a ritual context, especially in yayue in China, and aak in Korea.
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The Korean geum used in this context has evolved to be slightly different when compared to the normal qin in that there are 14 instead of 13 hui and that they are not placed correctly according to the harmonic positions besides other different construction features. The finger techniques are more closer to gayageum technique than it is to the complex ones of the qin. As the qin never gained a following in Korean society, the ritual geum became the fossilised form of it and to all intents and purposes unplayable for a qin player. In China, the qin was still in use in ritual ceremonies of the imperial court, such can be seen in the court paintings of imperial sacrifices of the Qing court e.
In Japan, the qin was never adopted into ritual music, but for a time in the late Edo period the qin was adopted by some scholars and Buddhist monks.
When the qin is played, a number of aesthetic elements are involved. The first is musicality. The average person trained in music may question whether this is really " music ".
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Normally, some players would pluck the string very lightly to create a very quiet sound. For some players, this plucking isn't necessary. Instead of trying to force a sound out of the string one should allow the natural sounds emit from the strings. Some players say that the sliding on the string even when the sound has disappeared is a distinctive feature in qin music.
It creates a "space" or "void" in a piece, playing without playing, sound without sound. In fact, when the viewer looks at the player sliding on the string without sounds, the viewer automatically "fills in the notes" with their minds. This creates a connection between player, instrument and listener.
This, of course, cannot happen when listening to a recording, as one cannot see the performer.
It can also be seen as impractical in recording, as the player would want to convey sound as much as possible towards a third audience. But in fact, there is sound, the sound coming from the fingers sliding on the string. With a really good qin, silk strings, and a perfectly quiet environment, all the tones can be sounded. With silk strings, the sliding sound might be called the qi or "life force" of the music. The really empty sounds are the pauses between notes. However, if one cannot create a sound that can be heard when sliding on a string, it is generally acceptable to lightly pluck the string to create a very quiet sound.