Sound of China Guzheng Basic Tutorial
Sound of China Guzheng Basic Tutorial
ISBN: No ISBN, includes 2 CDs.
US Price: $19.50.
107 Pages, 8.5”x11”.
2011 Printing, Second Edition. Reviewed January 2019.
Listed as Volume 1, but no Volume 2 currently exists.
Sound of China Guzheng Basic Tutorial is an English-language book written by Carol Chang, owner and operator of Sound of China and ChineseZither.net. It is a frank overview of what you need to get started learning the guzheng. There is no fluff, no romanticism, and very little cultural context - just the straightforward basics. It’s intended for absolute beginners, providing everything you need to get started and using an instructional style that spaces out lessons and practices between greater challenges. This review is based on the edition that ChineseZither.net distributes online as part of their Resources section. I have not listened to the CDs but if you include them with the listed purchase price of $19.50 it is well worth it.
Historical Summary (1 page)
Tuning Diagrams (3 p)
Introduction to Jianpu Notation (1 p)
Picks and posture (2 p, with color photos)
String numbering diagram (1 p)
And the music:
13 Lessons Covering
32 practice songs
Most lessons contain 1-2 pages of guidance and information about technique.
12 named songs ranging from 1 to 6 pages in length.
Review of Content
The explanations are practical and to the point. They include the basics of finger positions, posture, and the mechanics of how you should execute each technique. One fantastic decision of this book is to include notation diagrams, calling out how each technique is represented on real series of notes. Most books either only show the symbol that indicates a technique should be used or buries notation within longer paragraphs. SOC Guzheng Basic Tutorial sets each sequence on its own line, providing enough white space to enable you to calmly focus on and contemplate them. The neighboring text connect that notation to the explanations to help you understand the material.
Chapters, Drills, and Practice Songs
Chapters start with brief explanations of the new techniques you will learn, longer discussion on posture and context. Several drills follow, often with further explanations and guidance. After every few drills come practice songs, shorter but melodic tunes from Chinese folk music or western tunes. The drills are short and formulaic, just long enough to get the premise of a technique across. Practice songs combine the skills from the drills into a more enjoyable piece. This pattern gives you a chance to learn, practice, and then re-contextualize what you have learned. Practice Songs have both an English and Chinese character title, a wonderful bonus for those interested in researching particular songs further.
Techniques are offered at a reasonable pace, and the variety of drills and practice songs keep the learning process interesting. As with all printed materials it is best to go through them with a teacher, but this is one of the best resources to use if you don’t have a teacher present.
The 12 songs included range in length from 1 to 6 pages and a re a mix of classic Chinese songs, a few I suspect are more modern pieces, and a few foreign tunes. They do require most of the techniques that you will learn, so think of them as the capstone to this miniature course. They range in difficulty and in which techniques are required. You can certainly play the parts you can earlier and work up to the whole things.
This is an excellent book that looks simplistic but contains a wealth of information in a well thought out arrangement. I assumed when I saw it that its lack of visual flair and the direct, no-nonsense nature of its language meant I would not get much out of it. How wrong I was. Some people learn best by working with a teacher, one-on-one. This book certainly can’t replace a human, but if you are looking for an instructional book and want to learn cypher notation, I highly recommend it. There are occasional grammatical issues but they are few and far between.
The only downside is that it is rather light on cultural context. The information in its pages simply is, take it or leave it. It would be nice if it had more context…. but then again, that’s why I made Guzheng Alive - so buy this book, learn the techniques, and get your fill of context by reading the latest posts on Guzheng Alive.