Play Music Like Never Before Using a Guzheng

The guzheng (sometimes just zheng) is a stringed instrument from ancient China characterized by its hauntingly beautiful sound similar to that of a harp or the Japanese koto. While any fan of kung fu movies is sure to have heard one in soundtracks of their favorite films, few have taken the time to truly appreciate the wonder of this fantastic instrument. With centuries of history behind it, the guzheng and the people who play it are unlike anything else in music.

Parts of the guzheng
  • The body: Traditionally, the guzheng is made from a wood called wutong. Unlike many other instruments with a long history, the guzheng is rarely reproduced in alternative materials due to the fact that its construction is integral to its unique sound.
  • The strings: As for the strings, the earliest models used silk, though the most common material these days is nylon-coated steel like with guitars. This is a change that resulted in increased volume and a slight augmentation to timbre.
  • The picks: In order to play this instrument, performers typically wear finger picks which can be made from materials ranging from plastic to ivory to resin to any other hard material that can easily be shaped to fit human fingers.
How is the guzheng played?

The guzheng is a string instrument. This indicates that in order to produce sound a performer must strum a set of strings stretched across its body. As mentioned before, this is done by plucking them with the fingertips, which are commonly protected by picks that can be worn on one or both hands depending on the musician's preferred playing style. While the traditional style of play uses the right hand for plucking notes and the left for tuning, skilled players or alternative styles can switch things up.

Guzheng typically have a minimum of 16 strings though the average is 21. Each string produces a different note when plucked or strummed. The note can be adjusted by moving the instrument's bridge along its length to shorten or elongate the strings played. While the two major schools of play are known as the northern and southern style, numerous regional variations exist throughout China and the world with their own nuances.

What kind of notes can the guzheng produce?

As a highly adaptable musical instrument, the guzheng has a wide range of notes it can produce and a large amount of utility as both a major or supporting player in an ensemble. Most are commonly tuned in five note octaves in a major pentatonic scale. The large number of strings this instrument has given it a larger variety of possibilities compared to most instruments. Additionally, even the play style of the one using it can change how the instrument sounds as different schools or regional styles have their own way of producing notes through moving the bridge or plucking the instrument in certain ways. One means of accomplishing this is through left hand harmonizing, which is plucking notes in time with the right to allow for harmonic progression in songs.