Anything you want to ask about guzheng, how to play, about Chinese music – ask and you will receive an advice from Lunlun Zou.
Q: Long Distance Lessons
I live in a remote area of the United States, far away from a city. Finding a guzheng teacher has been a big problem. Do you know of any teacher who offers long distance guzheng lessons using the internet?
A: Yes, I will soon be providing this service myself, as I receive many similar requests on regular basis. You will need the Skype software, microphone and a webcam. If you are ready, just let me know!
Q: Cracked Pipa
I was in Beijing this past winter and purchased a pipa. To my dismay, however, after about two months, and after returning home to the US, the pipa developed a crack starting at the very bottom tip and running directly up the middle, following the grain of the rosewood back, as well as the wood in the front piece. In addition to what sorts of woods are employed in construction, might you have any advice as to how I might stall the damage?
Frankly, it is not that easy to locate a high quality instrument from the huge selection of products that are manufactured in China. Most Chinese made instruments are well below the quality standard that western consumers are accustomed to. The root of the problem is that most Chinese instrument makers treat their business purely as a business and nothing more.
This is why my customers appreciate the effort I have made over the years by selecting only the best instrument makers and luthiers and made them aware that my quality requirements are higher.
Knowing something about wood I can say that it will not be possible to stall the damage of your pipa. The wood used probably wasn’t dry enough. No matter what you do, the wood will want to dry and adjust to ambient humidity and temperature, and will keep cracking. Another reason why this happened may be wrong choice of wood, a design flaw or a construction flaw.
Q: Aged Rosewood
I understand that you no longer offer guzhengs decorated with aged rosewood. I would like to get a real aged rosewood guzheng because I was told that it has “sweet and thick” tone. I am not concerned about appearance.
The sound of a guzheng is defined by the sound cavity, which is usually made of wu-tong wood. Most commercial guzhengs use wu-tong wood for the sound cavity, though some cheaper products use pine wood or plywood for the bottom of the soundboard.
It doesn’t matter whether a guzheng is decorated with rosewood, aged rosewood, zi-tan wood or any other wood. Decorations are only external and do not affect the instrument’s sound.
If you really must have a guzheng made of aged rosewood, come to my website’s shopping page periodically. The selection and available option may change in the future and aged rosewood may become available again.
Q: Sound Files are Misleading
I am considering buying one of the guzhengs listed on your website, but first I want to ask you a few questions. Do you have sound files for each guzheng and their corresponding sound pressure level?
There is a good reason why I do not provide sound files (of the sound of each guzheng) or the sound pressure level (loudness) data. None of the Italian violin makers do that either!
As any acoustical engineer could tell you, sound files and sound pressure level data are completely meaningless and misleading because:
- Quality of sound (including sound pressure level) depends on the quality of the recording setup, which can be greatly affected by the quality of the microphone, the recording equipment, frequency of the string, filters used in the measurement equipment (called weighing), and acoustic properties of the room. A quality microphone can easily cost between $1,000 to $50,000 USD and more, and very expensive associated measurement equipment must be calibrated by a certified laboratory.
- Quality of the sound also depends on how one plucks the string, in what location and what force one uses. These conditions are virtually impossible to quantify.
- Quality of recorded sound depends on the precise location of the microphone (such as under guzheng, above guzheng, and how far).
- Quality of the recorded sound can be further enhanced (artificially fudged) by any person with sound editing software.
- In order for these parameters to be meaningful, one must specify the exact conditions of the measurement (as described above). Yet still, these measurements and the precise condition are impossible to duplicate.
Q: Proper Posture
I have been attempting to learn the guzheng on my own through videos and books. I have a problem that I have been noticing and wish that you can offer some advice if possible. I find that when I play the basic form on my right hand tires my shoulder and my right arm does a clucking motion as I move up and down the strings. I take deep breaths to relax my shoulders and bring the energy to my wrist and fingers but in raising my wrist higher and applying the weight on my fingers I feel that it strains my shoulders even more so. Do you have any advice to correct this and stop me from using my shoulders all the time?
To play guzheng properly, one must keep natural and relaxed posture. You may use a mirror (or a video camera) to see whether you are relaxed, or ask a friend to watch you.
You should use a stool (chair) that is appropriately high for your guzheng.
Sit as far as possible to the right side of your guzheng, so you don’t have to lean to the right side.
Sit straight, be relaxed. Do not put your shoulders high. Do not put your arms high.
When playing, use the strength coming from your lower back. Do not use the strength from your shoulders, nor fingers nor your wrist.
When plucking strings, your hand as well as your fingers must be moving at the same time in order to create higher strength. By being very quick, the plucking force can be very high, if needed.
Q: Sore Fingertips
Is it common for one’s fingers to be sore after practicing or playing for a long period of time? Are there special exercises for the fingers to relive the soreness?
Yes, sore fingers and painful fingertips are the result of extended playing and/or practice. The good news, however, is that this problem eventually goes away as you keep playing and your fingers get adjusted.
As with everything else, we have to endure some pain in order to get something wonderful in return.
Q: It’s Time to Replace Strings
I bought my guzheng one year ago. Back then it sounded very nice. Over time, and especially now, the sound became dull and unpleasant. Do you know the reason?
The reason is strings. All strings eventually deteriorate due to corrosion and physical stress.
Corrosion is caused by ever-present moisture in the air (which is very high in Hong Kong) and even more so by perspiration from your fingers and hands.
Strings are physically stressed by being played. The more you play, the sooner the strings loose their sweet sound and eventually break.
The best solution to this problem is changing your strings frequently and before they break. Person who plays guzheng often shall change strings at least once every six months, others at least once per year.
Q: Guzheng Teacher in Germany
I am very interested in the Chinese culture and I want to learn playing guzheng. The problem is that I can’t find a guzheng teacher here in Hamburg. I would be happy if you could help me.
I don’t know of any guzheng teacher in the Hamburg area. However, it still is possible that you will find one. These teachers may not be advertising on internet, newspaper or phone book.
There are many Chinese people living in Germany, and I am sure that Hamburg is no exception. You may want to ask someone in your area who is Chinese. They will know!
Q: Where to Start
I love the sound of the guzheng instrument and I want to learn playing it. What teacher shall I choose? What instrument shall I buy? How often shall I practice? Can you give me some tips?
In order to learn playing guzheng correctly and in a time-efficient manner, follow these steps:
- Purchase a quality guzheng instrument. Quality instrument will have beautiful sound and will be stable with changes in temperature. Quality instrument has bridges which don’t move much and stays in pitch for longer periods of time. Playing a quality instrument is more fun and you will have stronger desire to play often. Usually, the higher the price, the better the instrument is, but if your budget is limited, you don’t have to buy an instrument made of expensive woods, such as nan-mu or zi-tan. Guzhengs made of wu-tong wood with rosewood decorations can be quite exceptional.
- Choose a professional, well-qualified teacher. Check the teacher’s education, professional experience and reputation. Observe the teacher’s teaching style. Make sure you feel comfortable with his/her approach. Take lessons at least once a week.
- If you can afford it, choose private lessons over group lessons. During private lessons, teacher can give you his/her undivided attention, correct your every mistake.
- While at home, practice for at least 1 hour or better, 2-3 hours each day. Listen to recordings of other respected guzheng masters in order to learn how to play.
- When playing guzheng, stay relaxed, don’t be tense. It’s all right to make mistakes, as long as you are aware of them and try to correct them. Only when you are relaxed you will learn faster and have more fun.
Q: Never too Late to Start
I have been playing piano and organ for more than 15 years and would like to try something new. A friend suggested that I try the guzheng. I found your website by accident and am intrigued by the information you provide. I have a few questions: Is it possible to start learning the guzheng as an older adult? Can you recommend a reputable teacher in Singapore?
As long as your aim is to have fun while learning and playing guzheng, it is never late to start. Some of my students are in their 40’s and late 50’s. You can still become quite good if you practice regularly and have a good teacher.
In Singapore there is an excellent teacher Mr. Simon Ho.
Q: I Want to Be a Guzheng Teacher
I am 15 years old and I live Texas, USA. I want to be a guzheng teacher. What kind of college to go to for that kind of job?
There are at least 2 ways to achieve your goal, all requiring hard work: study with an outstanding guzheng teacher and also study at a conservatory of music or similar tertiary educational institution. The latter will give you more options, better skill and chances to earn fair pay for your work.
However, the hardest, most difficult and time consuming will be daily practice. There are no shortcuts.
As far as tertiary-level music schools that offer a major in guzheng, the best ones may be in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. There are also universities in the US (and possibly in other countries) that offer a major in ethnomusicology. Alternatively, you may just learn to play guzheng and then study a second musical instrument (for example) at a conservatory of music in the US.
Q: Hongmu or Nanmu Guzheng
I am learning to play guzheng in Beijing and planning to buy one. I am unsure which one to choose, since there are lots of stores and prices vary greatly. I have heard that guzhengs made of hong-mu (rosewood) are quite good. Is that correct? Are they better than nan-mu (gold-thread wood) guzhengs? What is the suitable price range for a hong-mu guzheng? Please guide me to choose the right one.
The heart of all guzhengs – the sound cavity – is made from wu-tong wood. This is what defines the instrument’s musical qualities, along with the design and quality of construction. Most guzhengs also use other woods, mostly for decorative purposes.
A commonly used decorative wood is rosewood. Some of most popular but expensive woods are zi-tan and nan-mu.
If a guzheng is made using zi-tan wood, it may not necessarily be better sounding, but possibly a prettier one – to those who like dark colored wood. This very much depends on your personal taste.
As far as prices, they may vary greatly, depending on many other factors, including quality of design, workmanship, materials used, sound and your geographical location.
Q: Forced into Taking Level Exam
I am a guzheng student who has been learning guzheng for 8 months. My teacher wants me to take level 4 exam and I am worried that I might fail because it is a huge jump. She also says that my yaozhi is weak. Is there any way I can pass? I have been practicing a lot and really want to pass.
Unfortunately, many teachers exert high pressure on students, forcing them to undergo level exams too early. If you really feel that it is too early for an exam, it most likely is.
What is more important – to have a piece of paper that says you passed or to have realistic judgment of your skill?
I teach my students to love music and enjoy while learning and practicing, not collect papers.
As far as yaozhi, here are some tips:
First of all, you need to play yaozhi the right way, then practice it the right way. Your shoulders, arm, hand and fingers need to be in natural and relaxed position. The movement is centered around your wrist. Practice for at least 30 minutes each day.