How to Learn the Guzheng

By Contributing Writer

The guzheng is a Chinese instrument invented over 2,500 years ago. It is still commonly used today, and is responsible for creating the definitive sound of traditional Chinese music. A guzheng can have between 6 and 23 strings, and can be played using various techniques. With the proper playing style and diligent practice, you’ll find yourself adding the guzheng to your stable of musical instruments in no time.

Tune your guzheng. The guzheng is tuned in a similar fashion to a guitar or other stringed instrument. Guzheng strings are longer than what you’re probably accustomed to. Allow yourself plenty of time for tuning; 23 strings might take a while! New strings will quickly fall out of tune as they wear in, so be prepared to retune your guzheng often.

Familiarize yourself with the proper playing techniques. Traditional Chinese music requires the guzheng player to tape plectrums, or picks, to three or four of their fingers on one hand. These picks are used to pluck the strings, while the other hand presses the strings from the other side of the bridge in order to adjust the pitch and tones of the plucked strings. Some pieces may require the strings to be bowed. Other pieces, generally more modern, will require both hands to be plucking strings, with one hand providing bass or harmony.

Experiment with your instrument before trying to play any particular songs. Playing a stringed instrument with multiple picks will probably be an unfamiliar concept. Start by using only your right hand, and try various playing techniques: strumming, plucking individual strings in succession, and plucking multiple strings together to create chords. As you progress, add your left hand to modulate the pitch and tones of the strings.

Learn from more advanced guzheng players. Despite the age of the guzheng, plenty of resources are available online to aide in your playing. Simply searching for the word “guzheng” on Youtube will produce instructional videos, as well as taped performances of professional players performing traditional and modern Chinese music. Listen to recordings of Chinese music in order to understand the potential of the instrument.

Work slowly, and don’t get overwhelmed. Learning the guzheng may seem like a daunting task, due to its unique nature and play style. As with any new instrument, practice makes perfect.

Tip

As with any musical instrument, move slowly through each lesson to engrain the concepts learned.

Warning

Stop playing immediately if you begin to feel pain in your fingers or the tops of your hands. Continuign to play can cause complications and injuries.