Guqin, also called "Seven-stringed Zither", was rendered as "Qin" in most ancient writings. The discovery of the remains of the Qin in ancient tombs (500 to 200 B.C.), together with the description of the Qin and its music in many ancient writings assured us of its long history. Today, Qin of the Tang Dynasty (700 A.D) up to the Qing Dynasty (19th Century) still exist in museums and in collections of modern Qin players.
The Qin consists of a long, narrow upper wooden board made from tong tree (or other trees of the pine family) and a lower board made from catalpa tree (or other hardwood). These two pieces of boards are stuck together and lacquered on the surface. There are 13 small dots (call hui) inlaid on the outside of the upper board, which mark the positions of the musical notes and their harmonics. Seven strings are fixed on the upper board, starting from the thickest one on the outside to the thinnest one on the inside. When played, the Qin is put on a table.
When compared with other instruments, the Qin is special in the following aspects:
1. The effective vibrating length of the strings of the Qin is longer than that of other instruments, resulting in a large vibrating amplitude and a tone rich in the lower register which fits in with the sounds of the nature.
2. The fingerboard of the Qin is the upper board which does not consist of any frets. Sound holes are opened on the lower board, which means that the sound is transmitted downwards.
3. Over 100 overtones (harmonics) can be played on the Qin. It is probably the instrument which has the largest number of overtones.
1500 years ago, music for the Qin was recorded by words, which were called "Literal scores". During the Tang Dynasty, "Simplified scores" were developed and used from then on instead of the "Literal scores". Over the centuries, Qin players published over 150 books on Qin music, which included over 3,000 pieces of music for the solo Qin or songs with Qin accompaniment, and also plenty of articles on theories about the Qin. The legacy of Qin music is so rich that it is now considered as the gem of Chinese traditional music and catches the attention of experts on music history and musicologists around the world.
Transcription of Qin Music
Transcription (dapu), in Qin music, means interpreting, arranging, examining, differentiating and re-creating, for performing purposes, the large number of pieces of music for the Qin recorded in ancient documents.
The person who does the transcription of a piece of Qin music must have an in-depth research on the period, composer, different versions of the piece, descriptions of the piece by Qin players over the centuries and the development of scoring methods of the Qin. He tries his best to be faithful to history and recovers the original sounds of the piece through performing it. It is a complicated and tedious task. It has been said that it took "three months for a small piece, and three years for a large piece".