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Finger Techniques

Header photo: "Guzheng" by Erwin Soo, used under CC-BY-2.0

Finger Techniques and Symbols 指法 Zhǐfǎ

Hundreds of guzheng finger techniques have been recorded in the last 50 years. This page is an effort to catalogue both the common techniques (around 40) and the more esoteric ones (around 100 so far). You can browse by category, below, or do an in-page search (command-f, ctrl-f) or a site search (Magnifying glass, top right of screen) to find the technique you are looking for. We will eventually make a quick reference sheet of the most common techniques.

These techniques are collected both from modern guzheng manuals published in Shanghai and Beijing as well as scholarly works from the past 50 years. Comments and advice are welcome. This is a big project and more perspectives will make it better. Send in an email with ideas on how to make this page more useful!

Categories

Plucks - Single Finger, Strings Unbent | Single Finger, String Bent | Multiple Fingers

Sweeps - Without Bends | With Bends | Multiple Fingers

Glissando | Arpeggios | Tremolo

Portamento - Single-Direction Bend | Multi-Direction Bend

Vibrato - Light | Hguzheavy

Dampening | Percussion | Borrowed Techniques | Special Techniques

Sequences - General | Yaozhi modifications

Notation, Meta Symbols

Plucks - Single Finger, Strings unbent

tuo.png

Tuō 托 (abr. 乇)

Use the thumb to pluck in a closing motion toward the palm. The strike is performed by the small knuckle, the joint by the tip of the thumb. If using own nail, both nail and pad contact the string.


mo.png

Mǒ 抹 (abr. 木)

Use the index finger to pluck in a closing motion, toward the of the palm.  If using own nail, both nail and pad contact the string.


gou.png

Gōu 勾 (abr. 勹)

Use the middle finger to pluck in a closing motion, toward the of the palm. If using own nail, both nail and pad contact the string.


da5x.png

Dǎ 打 (abr. 丁)

Use the ring finger to pluck in a closing motion, toward the palm. If using own nail, both nail (if long enough) and pad contact the string.

Ferguson’s historic sources disagree. Sources E and G say this is the ring finger pulling a string toward the performer. Sources A and F say this is the ring finger pushing a string away from the performer.


yin.png

Yin:

Use the fifth finger to pluck in a closing motion, toward the palm. If using own nail, the nail (if long enough) and pad contact the string.

“Yin” is a term offered by Kwok 1987. Cheng 1991 offers “rou zhi bo xian” and Ferguson 1979 Xiǎozhǐ nèi tán小指内彈, "little finger plucks inward".


pi.png

Pī or Bò 劈 or 擘 (abr. 尸)

Use the thumb to pluck in an opening motion, away from the palm. If using own nail, only the nail contacts the string, no other part of the thumb.


tiao.png

Tiāo 挑 (abr. 乚)

Use the index finger to pluck in an opening motion, away from the palm.   If using own nail, only the nail contacts the string, no other part of the finger.


ti.png

Tī 剔

Use the middle finger to pluck in an opening motion, away from the palm.   If using own nail, only the nail contacts the string, no other part of the finger.


zhai.png

Zhāi 摘, Kòu 扣

Use the ring (fourth) finger to pluck in an opening motion, away from the palm.   If using own nail, only the nail contacts the string, no other part of the finger. Taken from qin traditions.


Di

The fifth finger strokes outwards, nail only contacting a string.


shuang tuo.png

双托 Shuangtuo “Double Tuo”

Use the thumb to pluck two strings quickly, in a closing motion.


shuang pi.png

双劈 or 双擘 Shuangpi or Shuangbo “Double Pi or Bo”

Use the thumb to pluck two strings quickly, in an opening motion.


shuang mo.png

双抹 Shuangmo “Double Mo”

Use the index finger to pluck two strings quickly, in a closing motion.


shuang tiao.png

双挑 Shuang tiao “Double Tiao”

Use the index finger to pluck two strings quickly, in an opening motion.


shuang gou.png

双勾 Shuang gou “Double Gou”

Use the middle finger to pluck two strings quickly, in a closing motion.

Plucks - Single Finger, Strings Bent

anyin 1.png

Àn yīn 按音

Left hand presses a string silently milliseconds before the right hand plucks the string, producing a higher note than the string’s natural pitch. The left hand holds the string down until the end of the note, then relaxes, allowing the string to return to its natural pitch without an audible pitch slide.

This is a generic term for raising a string’s pitch by up to three half steps and does not refer to any specific string or pitch.

Anyin can be produced in a few ways:

A: Press and pluck the string at the same time.

B: Press the string, then pluck it without releasing it.

C: After the full duration of a note on an open string, press the string to the desired pitch level but do not pluck it again.

D: Same as C, but both press and release the string to match the rhythm of the music.

Ferguson also offers the names of Shí 实 (trad. 實) or Biāoshì àn 标示按 (trad. 標示按). Kwok offers the name dairou for when the string is bent all the way to the next note. Kao offers dingshihuayin 定时滑音 and attributes the name to Qiu Dacheng.


Anchan 按颤

The second on the pentatonic scale is raised by a semitone. Believed to be a specific term for anyin performed on that specific string.


banquanyin.png

Bàn quányīn 半全音 “half of a full tone”

The left hand presses a string to raise the pitch more than a half step higher but less than a whole step.

Plucks - Multiple Fingers

jian xian 1.png

Jiān xián 间弦 (trad: 間絃), "Gap String", 和弦 Héxián, and 和聲 Hé shēng

Several fingers pluck several strings with a closing motion. The strings are not adjacent to each other and are less than an octave apart. Sources disagree on the specifics.

Lee says He Xian is for two strings plucked while Jian Xian is three played as a chord.

Kwok says He Xian is for three or more strings while Jian Xian is for two.

Ferguson’s various sources agree two strings are plucked although the number of strings between the two strings can vary. His sources disagree as to which two fingers are used to pluck the two strings.


da cuo.png

Dà cuō 大撮 "Big Pinch" or just 撮 (abr. 早) “Pinch”

Use the thumb and the middle finger to pluck two strings that have four strings between them in a closing motion, fingers moving toward the palm. This sounds an octave when played on a pentatonic tuning. If using own nails, nail and pad of the fingers touch the strings.

Kao also offers the term “kou”.


xiao cuo.png

Xiǎo cuō, 小撮 "Small pinch"

Use the thumb and the index finger to pluck two strings in a closing motion, toward the palm. The plucked strings must have one string between them.


da fan cuo.png

Dà Fǎn cuō 反撮 "Pinch Opposite"

Use the thumb and the middle finger to pluck two strings in an opening motion, away from the palm. The plucked strings must have four strings between them. If using own nails, only the nails touch the strings.

Kao suggests that Chaozhou teachers may call this Fēi zhǐ 飞指 “Flying Finger”. Ferguson also offers the term Pēn zhǐ 喷指 “Puff Finger”.


fu zhi.png

Fù zhǐ 复指 (trad: 複指) “Repeated Finger”

A class of techniques where the same string is struck twice in quick succession. Either the same finger or two different fingers can be used.

The complete list offered by Ferguson and personal experience:

  • Thumb, closing then opening.

  • Middle finger, closing then opening.

  • Thumb then index, both closing.

  • Index then thumb, both closing.

  • Thumb closing, index opening

  • Index then thumb, both opening. Ferguson calls this Gǔn zhǐ 滚指, “Rolling Fingers”

  • Middle then index, both closing

  • Index then Middle, both closing

  • Middle then index, both opening.

  • Index then Middle, booth opening.

Sweeps without Bends

Sao xin

Use one or more fingers to sweep several strings outward rapidly. A general term.

Lián 连 “Connect, Join”

A category using the same finger to sweep across multiple strings in whatever rhythm is indicated by the music. These techniques are played over multiple beats and changing rhythms. They allow every note to be heard individually. This is different from glissando, which blend the sound of many strings together. Named examples are:


Lián tuō 连托 “Connected tuō”

lian tuo.png

Sweep the thumb across several strings moving away from the performer.

If using own nail, only the pad of the thumb touches the strings. Kwok goes on to say that the technique is usually found with a pitch bend and a slight vibrato; no other sources mention this.


Lián pī 连劈 “Connected Pī”

lian pi.png

Sweep the thumb across several strings moving toward the performer.


Lián mǒ 连抹 “Connected Mǒ”

lian mo.png

Sweep the index finger across several strings moving toward the performer.


Lián tiāo 连挑 “Connected Tiāo”

lian tiao.png

Sweep the index finger across several strings moving away from the performer.


Lián gōu 连勾 Connected Gōu”

lian gou.png

Sweep the middle finger across several strings moving toward the performer.


Lián Tī 连剔 Connected Tī”

lian ti.png

Sweep the middle finger across several strings moving away from the performer.


Sweeps with Bends

The following techniques involve playing two adjacent strings at the same time while bending the lower string to match the pitch of the higher string. The left hand's bend is audible, producing a slide.


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Shuāng yīn 双音 (trad. 雙音) “Double Note”

For two adjacent strings, bend the lower string so its pitch rises to match the higher string. Use the thumb or index finger to sweep across both strings, in a gesture away from the performer. Pressing the lower string after it is struck and creating an audible slide is a different technique called huayin shuangyin (Kwok).

This may be considered the name of the category. Ferguson’s source A adds that using the index finger is its own named technique: Qiè 切. Kao says the shandong school refers to using the thumb in this way as Lín Xián Tóngyīn 邻弦同音 “Adjacent Strings in Unison”.


chongyin.png

Chóngyīn 重音 “Repeated Note”

Use the thumb and index finger to pluck two adjacent strings in a closing motion, the lower bent to produce the same pitch as the higher. This may be related to Niǎn 捻, an alternating pattern.


chong pi.png

Chóng pī 重劈 “Repeated Pi”

Sweep the thumb across both strings in a gesture towards the performer.


chongtuo.png

Chóngtuō 重托 “Repeated Tuo”

Sweep the thumb across both strings in a gesture away from the performer..


shuang xian shy.png

Shuāng xián shàng huáyīn 双弦上滑音 (trad. 雙絃上滑音) “Two String Rising Slide”

Sweep the thumb across two open strings in a gesture away from the performer. Press the lower string to match the pitch after it is struck, creating an audible slide.

Ferguson lists this as equivalent to Chongtuo but the term huayin suggests a slide should be audible.


shuang xian qhy.png

Shuāng xián qián huáyīn 双弦前滑音 (trad. 雙絃前滑音)

Sweep the thumb across two strings in a gesture away from the performer. Just after the strings are struck the left hand releases the lower-pitched string for an audible downward slide.


nian.png

Niǎn 捻

There is some disagreement as to this term. Kwok says it is using the index finger and thumb to pluck two adjacent strings bent to the same pitch with a closing motion, seemingly similar to Chongyin 重音. If using own nails, Kwok says only the pads of the fingers should contact the strings.

Ferguson says this is using the thumb and index to pluck two adjacent strings in a gesture towards the performer.

A third source found copied around the internet (example:  http://www.yueqixuexi.com/guzheng/20170528174868.html) says this is the alternation on two adjacent strings, thumb and index in closing motions, to create an effect similar to a tremolo, but softer.


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Lún 轮 (trad. 輪)

Niǎn played several times in a row.


Multi-finger Sweeps:


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Pō cì zhǐ 泼刺指 (trad. 潑刺指) Or Pō lá zhǐ 泼剌指 (trad. 潑剌指)

Sweep the index, middle, and ring fingers across two strings, twice. The first sweep is played away from the performer. The second is played toward the performer. The three fingers are held tightly together so they strike the strings simultaneously. The strikes are often followed by a dampening of the strings with the palm of the right hand, called fú 伏. (2)


Shuāng pō zhǐ 双泼指 (trad. 雙潑指)

Two pō cì zhǐ played in sequence. The first three sweeps are soft, the fourth sweep is emphasized.


Sān pō zhǐ 三泼指(trad. 三潑指)

Three sweeps are played in sequence, towards, away, and then towards the performer. The first two are played softly, the third is played loudly.


Gun

Sweeps across one or two  strings with the thumb and index finger pinched together. Only one nail strikes the string(s) in each direction. If this is played across two strings then the lower string is bent to raise it to a matching pitch.

Kwok is the only source that mentions this and does not provide a character for it. It may be an outdated technique; pinching the fingers together adds rigidity to a performer’s natural fingernails. Playing with artificial nails on top of natural nails may also benefit from that pinch, but performers who use artificial nails on the pads of their finger likely won’t see much value in this, and the angle on the thumb’s artificial nail may complicate it.

Glissando

Another one of the iconic guzheng sounds.

huazhi.png

Huazhi 花指 “Flowering Finger”

A general term for glissandos played with the thumb swept away from the performer or the index finger swept toward the performer. These glissandos can be as short as 3 strings or as long as 10 strings, perhaps even more. If they are played with grown nails then the finger pad touches the strings as well as the nail.


fu 15x.png

Fú 拂 or Fú zhǐ 拂指 (abr. 弗) “Brushing Finger”

The term used by zheng master Liang T’sai Ping for Huazhi 花指, above. As Liang Tsai Ping was one of the first and most engaged teachers of zheng to westerners, early foreign language sources have a higher likelihood of using this term. Ferguson offers the following specific names, most likely taken from Liang Tsai Ping’s teachings. Alternatives:


chan fu 1.png

Chán fú 潺拂

A general term for cycles of glissandos played away from and toward the performer. Either direction can start. These glissando are typically traced in an oval pattern on the instrument and can be played with different pairs of fingers:

  • index then thumb

  • middle finger then thumb

  • middle then index fingers


zhuangshi 1.png
zhuangshi 2.png

Zhuāngshì fú 装饰拂 (trad. 裝飾拂), Wài fú 外拂

Run the thumb across about 3 or four strings. Gestures can be towards or away from the performer. Liang Tsai Ping used the term Duǎn fú 短拂 for this technique as reported by Kao.


Nei fu.png

Nèi fú 内拂

Run the index or middle finger over no more than four strings in a gesture toward the performer.


Li yin 1.png

Lì yīn 歷音 “Continuous sound” or 长拂 (trad. 長拂) Zhǎng fú

Run the thumb, index, or middle finger across 5 to 8 strings in a continuous, usually slow motion. Li yin can be played toward or away from the performer and is considered a subtype of Huazhi.
Kwok suggests some sources suggest using only 3 to 4 strings.


fu cuo.png

Fú cuō 拂撮 “Brushing Pinch”

Run the thumb across several strings in a gesture away from the performer. As the thumb strikes the last string, use the middle finger to pluck a string one octave deeper with a closing motion. The string plucked with the middle finger may be bent to a different pitch.  Essentially, this is a Fú followed by a Dà cuō, on one open and one bent string.


liushui fu 1.png

Liúshuǐ fú 流水拂 “Moving Water Fu”

A technique using both hands to create overlapping fú to mimic the sound of flowing water. Run the index finger of one hand over about 5 strings in a gesture toward the performer. While the first hand is still playing, run the index finger of the second hand over a similar set of strings. This overlapping pattern is repeated several times, typically progressing toward the performer.

The tempo and volume of the fú increase as they approach the middle pitch of the instrument, then decrease as they reach the higher strings. Lee offers the synonym Liúshuǐ shēng 流水声 “Moving water sound” and the following subtypes. Descriptions are from Lee:

Dān shŏu liú shuǐ fú

One-handed liu shui fu.

Hùn hé liú shuǐ fú

Mixed direction liushui fu, with hand movement in both directions.

Shàng xíng liú shuǐ fú

Upwards liu shui fu, hand movement is toward the player.

Shuāng shŏu liú shuǐ fú

Two-handed liu shui fu.

Xià xíng liú shuǐ fú:

Downwards liu shui fu, hand movement away from player.


hua fu.png

Huá fú 滑拂

Place the index and middle fingers on two strings separated by an untouched string. The middle finger is farther away from the player. Run both fingers quickly over many strings in a gesture toward the player. If own nails are used, both the pads of the fingers and the nails touch the strings.


fan hua fu.png

Fǎn Huá fú 反滑拂

A huá fú played away from the performer. Place the index and middle fingers on two strings separated by an untouched string. The middle finger is farther away from the player. Run both fingers quickly over many strings in a gesture away from the player.


sao fu.png

Sǎo fú 扫拂 (trad. 掃拂)

Run the thumb across many strings in a rapid gesture toward the player.


shan fu 1.png

Shān fú 搧拂

Use the left hand to play a glissando of three or more notes, typically while the right hand is playing other notes.


Gua zou

Run the thumb or middle finger across a complete pentatonic scale in a  rapid gesture either away from or toward the player.


Fú yīn 拂音 “Brushed sound”

A “short” type of hua zhi described concisely by Lee. It is supposed to sound like an acciaccatura or group of grace notes. Lee writes that Jin fu yin is a “Near” form and Yuăn fú yīn is a “Far” form. No further information is giving.

Arpeggios

pa yin.png

Pá yīn 琶音

Use two to eight fingers to pluck two to eight strings in a quick sequence, with all fingers moving in a  closing motion. Sequences can run from low to high or from high to low. If using own nails, the pad and nail both touch the strings.This is the general term for arpeggios.


wai pa yin.png

Wài pá yīn 外琶音

A pá yīn or arpeggio that plays from high notes to low notes starting with the thumb.


nei pa yin.png

Nèi pá yīn 內琶音

A pá yīn or arpeggio that plays from low notes to high notes but starts with the ring finger.

Tremolo (Yaozhi)

yaozhi 1.png

Yáo zhǐ 摇指 (trad. 搖指) “Shaking” or “Rocking Finger”

Use the index finger or the thumb of the right hand to pluck a single string in rapid succession by “shaking” the finger back and forth across the string. The physical motion is better described as a rolling of the wrist and forearm. This technique is very pronounced in the Henan school of music. It is used to extend the duration of a note at a controlled volume. It is also called Lúnzhǐ 轮指 in Shandong. Ferguson offers the additional name “Lùn 論” but is the only source who does so. Alternative notation:

Named variations of Yáo zhǐ include:


kouyao 1.png

KòuYáo 扣摇

Meant to invoke the sound of wind. While performing yaozhi with the right hand, pinch the string between the left hand thumb and index finger at the movable bridge. Slide the pinched left hand towards the right hand. This creates a muffled percussive sound that rises in pitch as the left hand moves closer to the right. The song “Fighting the Typhoon” has one of the most famous examples.

kouyao 2.png

shizhiyao.png

Shízhǐ yáo 食指摇 (trad. 食指搖)

Use the index finger to play Yáo zhǐ. The thumb pinches the index finger at the first joint. The wrist or heel of the hand rests on the wood to the right of the fixed bridge. The wrist rocks at the heel of the hand through a slight rotary action of the lower arm.


muzhiyao.png

Muzhiyao

Use the index finger to play Yáo zhǐ. The middle finger can support the hand by resting on another string. Cheng offers the synonym “da zhi yao”, probably 大指摇, “Thumb shake”.


Youyao

Use the right hand to play yaozhi, but hold the hand close to the movable bridge. Slide along the string toward the fixed bridge while continuing to play.

Portamento (Pitch Bends, Slides)

Portamentos, otherwise known as pitch bends or slides, are the technique of changing the pitch of strings while they are played. On guzheng this is accomplished by pressing the string on the left side of a movable bridge.

Pitch bending is an important part of Chinese music and its history. It reflects the importance of tones in Chinese languages, and traces its lineage to chanted poetry  and other vocal music. Each string can slide up to three half steps above its open pitch. For example, a string tuned to G can slide G -> G# -> A -> A#.

For the sake of these descriptions, every “press” means the left hand to the left of the movable bridges and a pluck is with the right hand to the right of the movable bridges.

Single-Direction Slides

These are slides that only go one direction - only upward or only downward.

Huáyīn 滑音 “Sliding Sound”

The general term for a pitch slide. Press a string with the left hand. Before or after that press, pluck the same string with the right hand.

The speed of the slide and its placement relative to the beat varry. To paraphrase from Kwok: If the slide comes before the principal pitch, the glide comes on the beat similar to a grace note. If the glide follows the principal pitch, it usually comes near or at the end of the indicated note duration.

Some combinations have their own terms:


xiahuayin 1.png

Xiàhuá yīn 下滑音 “Downward Slide”

Press a string to the required pitch, pluck the string, the relax the pressure to create a downward slide. May be abbreviated as Xiàhuá 下滑. Ferguson offers the variant Xiàhuá yǐ yīn 下滑倚音 (4) which translates to “Downward Appoggiatura” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appoggiatura. It is used for faster rhythms, often as a grace note.

Ferguson also offers Qián huáyīn 前滑音 from Source C but doesn’t offer a description.


shang hua yin 1.png

Shàng huáyīn 上滑音 “Upward Slide”

Pluck a string with the right hand then press it to create an upward slide to the desired pitch. May be abbreviated as Shàng huá  上滑. Ferguson offers the variant Shàng huá yǐ yīn 上滑倚音 “Upward Appoggiatura” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appoggiatura. It’s an upwards huáyīn used for faster rhythms, often as a grace note.

Ferguson also offers Hòu huáyīn 后滑音 from Source C but does not offer a description.


Fang yin

Offered by Kwok, this is another term for a downward slide. Unclear how different this is from xiàhuá yīn.

Multi-Direction Slides

These are slides that have audible slides in multiple directions - some combination of upward and downward slides.


huihuayin.png

Huí huáyīn 回滑音 “Returning Slide”

The general term for a slide from one pitch to a second and then back. Kao offers two with this name:

Huiyin 1: Pluck a string, press it in  with the left hand, and then relax the left hand, creating an up-down slide.

Huiyin 2: Pluck a string, press it in  with the left hand, relax the left hand, and then press it again, creating an up-down-up slide. May be abbreviated to just huí 回.


shang huihuayin.png

Shàng huí huáyīn上回滑音

Pluck then slowly press a string at the same time to slide to the next higher note,  then slowly relax the left hand for a returning downward slide. Ferguson offers two variants of this: Tèshū huáyīn 特殊滑音 “Extraordinary Slide”, a slow version, and gāo huízhuǎn huáyīn 髙回转滑音 (trad. 髙回轉滑音) “High Returning Slide”, A fast version played in half the time. Kao offers the Henan term Shuāng huáyīn 双滑音 “Double Slide”.


xia huihuayin 1.png
xia huihuayin 2.png

Xiàhuí huáyīn 下回滑音 “Downward Returning Slide”

The inverse of Shàng huí huáyīn. Press a string first. Pluck the string, relax the left hand at the same time,  then press the left hand for a returning, upward slide. Ferguson offers another name for this, Dī huízhuǎn huáyīn 低回转滑音 (trad. 低回轉滑音) “Low Returning Slide”. Kao offers the Henan term Sù huáyīn 速滑音 “Fast Slide”.


Àn huayin 按滑音 “Pressing Slide”

Pluck a string  then press it, varying the pitch in the rhythm shown on the music. Kao offers this as a Hakka technique which may be used in place of Huí huáyīn.


bo yin.png

Bō yīn 波音 “Mordent” or Lián yīn 漣音 “Rippling Sound”

Pluck a string then a moment later, press the string to raise the pitch 1-3 half steps and release it. This creates a rapid alternation around a target pitch, known is western music as a mordent. It is a fast technique performed on shorter notes such as eighth or sixteenth notes. Kwok considers it a vibratto, offers the synonym shuanq rouyin and says the strong should be pressed twice.


nao.png

Náo 猱 “Brisk and Nimble”

A type of returning portamento. Pluck a string then bend it to slide down-up-down or, bend a string then pluck it for an up-down-up series of slides. To quote Han 2013:  “Nao is very effective in expressing gentle, sad, or elegant emotions. Although it is used in all styles, southern styles are particularly famous for applying it.” It is meant to evoke the motions of a type of monkey, a secondary meaning of the character.

Light Vibrato

Different sources use different terms for heavy and light vibrato. Chanyin, can(yin), rouyin, and zhanyin could mean either. What SHOULD match is the symbol and the description. A light vibrato always has the same symbol regardless of what it is called. Your teacher or book may use a different name, but the symbol should still mean the technique captured below.

Yin.png

Yín 吟 (3)

A broad category of techniques we can think of as light vibratos played by pressing and releasing the strings to the left of the movable bridges, typically by the index, middle, and ring fingers held together. It is considered “light” because it does not cause the pitch to change very much, typically less than a half step. Yín 吟 is more than vibrato; it connotes “to sing” or “to sigh” in classical Chinese. Just as there are many ways to sing and sigh, there are many ways to customize yín based on the context of the music.

Yín can be short or long; it can be played at even speed, sped up or slowed down. Yín’s nuances are widely used in all styles and a strong command of yín is the mark of a skilled player. Unfortunately these descriptions cannot communicate those nuances; teachers and experience are the best source for expanding your understanding of these techniques and learning when to employ their subtleties.


Chan Yin.png

Chànyīn or Zhànyīn 颤音 (trad. 顫音) “Vibrato”

Sources disagree on whether this is light or strong; it appears to be a regional difference.In the south this is pinyin-ized “Chanyin” and is considered a light vibrato of moderate speed, sometimes also used as the generic term in place of yín.


Man yin.png

Màn yín 慢吟 “Slow Vibrato”

A slow, light vibrato.


ji yin.png

Jí yín 急吟 “Rapid Vibrato”

A fast, light vibrato that is faster than chànyīn.


zhong chanyin.png

Zhōng chànyīn 中颤音 “Medium Vibrato”

A vibrato that is stronger and faster than Chànyīn but not as strong as Róu 揉.


Huanyin

A light vibrato that is slower than chànyīn. Unclear how different this is from màn yín.


feiyin5x.png

Fēi yín 飞吟 “Flying Vibrato”

To quote Kwok: “A delicate touch of the string described as ‘like that of a dragonfly upon the water's surface.’ The fingers press the string once or twice lightly. It is sometimes used to stress the end of a note of relatively long duration or the last of two or more notes within a beat.

Ferguson’s Source A differs, saying fēiyín requires a large, not a delicate motion, and does not mention dragonflies, but sources E and F do.


Shuāng fēi yín 双飞吟

Two of the dragonfly-like fēi yín played in sequence. Source F is the only one with this term, so it is likely two quick, light presses of the string.


ya tan.png

Yā tán 压弹 (trad. 壓彈) or Yā náo 压猱 (trad. 壓猱)

A light vibrato performed on several strings at once. Place the palm of the left hand on the strings to the left of the movable bridges. Run the right hand across several strings to perform a glissando. Press and release the left hand into the strings quickly several times.

Heavy Vibrato


zhanyin.png

Zhàn or zhànyīn 颤音

A Shandong and Henan technique of heavy vibrato that is pressed strongly enough to produce audible pitch changes. This traces back to the vocal styles of operas and narrative singing from northern China.This character is the same as the one for “chàn” in the “chànyīn” technique of light vibrattos found in the south. It appears to be a regional difference. We’ll use Chàn for light vibrattos and Zhàn for heavy vibrattos.

Note: some linguistic sources say zhàn is a taiwanese pronunciation, which would make more sense applied to southern styles. Unfortunately I don’t have clear guidance on this.


xiao zhanyin.png

Xiăo zhànyīn 小颤音

A gentle and rapid vibrato, closer to Chanyin.


rouyin.png

Róuyīn 揉音

A category of deep vibratos that are pressed so strongly the string reaches the next highest note. They are played by pressing and releasing the strings to the left of the movable bridges, typically by the index, middle, and ring fingers held together. Two other possible terms for this are da zhanyin 大颤音 and rou xian yin. Ferguson’s Sources E and F say it is a slow rhythm, only pressing the string 2 or 3 times in the space of a quarter note. Also note: some sources say rouyin is a light vibrato whereas

Below are specific types of rouyin:

Jirou

Pluck a string then press it quickly several times with the left hand raising its pitch to the next note on each press. Kwok writes that Jirou is generally used on a note of one beat's duration, usually at a relatively slow tempo, and contains about three presses. Rhythm and number of presses vary according to personal taste.

Huanrou

Same as jirou but twice as long. Pluck a string then press it quickly several times with the left hand raising its pitch to the next note on each press. Kwok writes that huanrou is generally used on a note of two beat's duration, usually at a relatively slow tempo, and contains about three presses. Rhythm and number of presses vary according to personal taste.

Zourou / Zǒu yín 走吟

Combining a downward slide with vibrato. Press a string to the desired pitch. Pluck it. Relax the left hand to create a downward slide. As the left hand, relaxes, play a vibrato. There are two additional techniques: 1) The right hand may also play yaozhi (tremolo) at the same time, combining vibrato, portamento, and tremolo in one technique. 2) the left hand may move to the left while playing, modifying the sound of the vibrato and downward slide (portamento).


dou yin.png

Dǒu yín 抖吟 or dǒuróu 抖揉

Add a vibrato to a string that is already pressed. Press a string to a higher pitch, pluck it, then perform a vibrato, allowing the string to go both higher and lower than its initial pressed pitch.


Dampening

cuo.png

Cuò 挫

Silence two strings by pressing the thumb and middle finger against them with an opening motion. It is typically used to silence dà cuō, the octave pinch. So, thumb and middle finger play an octave with a closing motion, then reverse direction and press against the strings in an opening motion.


fan cuo.png

Fǎn cuò 反挫

Silence two strings by pressing the thumb and middle finger against them with a closing motion. It is typically used to silence fǎn cuō, the reverse octave pinch. So, thumb and middle finger play an octave with an opening motion, then reverse direction and press against the strings in a closing motion.


Duan

The left or right hand dampens the strings at the beginning of a rest or to create a staccato effect.


Fú 伏

Dampening strings with the palm of the right hand. This may not be a standalone technique, rather, it may be added to sequences as a final instruction. Do not confuse this with the identical-sounding “fú“ (拂) which means glissando.


Shāyīn 煞音 (abr. 刍)

Place the palm of either or both hands on the strings to silence them. Frequently used to clear the air when multiple strings are vibrating at once or to mark the end of a song.

Percussion

bu.png

Bǔ 卜

Wrap knuckles on a wooden surface of the instrument.


Daxian

Hit the left hand against the deepest bass string (string 21) to simulate a  drum beat.


Sháo yīn

An extended technique, created with the left hand simultaneously plucking and muting a string on the left side of the movable bridges. This produces a percussive sound.


saoyin.png

Sǎo yīn 扫音 (trad. 掃音)

Pluck four strings on the right side of the movable bridges with the left hand using a closing motion. Do not use the thumb. This produces a gong-like sound. Kwok offers the name Zhengsao.


Fansao

A reversed Sǎo yīn. Pluck four strings on the right side of the movable bridges with the left hand using an opening motion. Do not use the thumb. This produces a gong-like sound.


zhai, k yin.png

Zhai or K-yin

Press the middle or ring finger of the left hand into a string very close to a movable bridge. Use the index finger of the left hand to pluck that same string repeatedly. This creates a percussive effect that first gained prominence in the Chaozhou school.

“Borrowed” Techniques (pipa, qin)

Some guzheng techniques came directly from other instruments. Here are several.

Busheng

Borrowed from the pipa: Snap the nail of the index or middle finger of either hand on a wooden part of the instrument for a stacatto percussion. Common locations include the right fixed bridge, a side board, or on a movable bridge.


Bā yīn

Borrowed from the pipa: Literally “sound like pipa”. Perform an arpeggio-like action on multiple strings to mimic the sound a pipa makes when it plays a chord.


shaosheng

Borrowed from the pipa. Dampen a string with the middle finger while the index finger of the same hand strokes with the same string in a gesture away from the performer, in an opening motion. The nail produces a click sound. This technique is played within a few inches of a fixed or movable bridge.


lun.png

Lún 轮 (trad. 輪) (abr. 侖)

Borrowed from the pipa. Use all five fingers to continuously strike1 or two strings in a motion away from the performer, producing a sound similar that crosses between a tremolo (yaozhi) and a drum roll. Only one string is struck if it is the deepest bass string (21). All other strings are played in a pair, with the left hand pressing the lower string to raise the pitch to match. Presumably the thumb plays on the higher string.

Kwok offers names for two specific orders of finger strikes:
a. fanlun: fifth, fourth, middle, index, thumb.
b. zhenqlun: index, middle, fourth, fifth, thumb.

Kwok assumes the finger pick is on the nail-side of the finger, not the now more common pad side. No mention on if the fifth finger is used when picks are worn pad-side.


gunfu.png

Gǔn fú 滚拂 (trad. 滾拂)

Borrowed from the qin. Run the ring finger of the right hand across many strings in a motion away from the performer. Then run the index finger across many strings in a motion toward the performer. Repeat this pattern in a clockwise elliptical motion. The index finger always starts its run one string lower than the ring finger stopped on.

Special Techniques

Techniques that defy the other categories.

fanyin.png

Fànyīn 泛音

Tap a string halfway between the movable a straight fixed bridge with the middle or ring finger of the left hand. At the same time pluck that string with a finger from the right hand. The result is a delicate harmonic. The string plays a note one octave higher than its open note with a gentle and soft timbre.

Each string needs to be touched a different distance from the fixed bridge to produce its harmonic. Much like fretting an instrument, this shortens the length the string vibrates over, increasing the pitch of its sound.

If many fanyin will be played, the symbol is called Fàn qǐ 泛起, roughly meaning the starting point for the series of harmonics.


fanzhi 1.png
fanzhi 2.png

Fàn zhǐ 泛止

The symbol for stopping playing harmonics or fanyin.


zhuyin.png

Zhùyīn 柱音

Press a finger of the left hand on the tip of a movable bridge, pinching the string agains the bridge. Pluck the string with a finger of the right hand. It produces a vastly different sound from an open string, somewhat akin to a pitched drum. “柱” is the same character as the term for the movable bridge.


niu 1.png
niu 2.png

Niǔ 扭

Pinch a string between the index and thumb, pull it upwards, and release it to snap it downwards. Ferguson’s sources C and E says this is performed with the left hand while Source F says either.


Ji

Press the tip of the index finger into the first joint of the thumb. Flick the index finger against a string to hit it nail-first.


dun yin 1.png
dun yin 2.png

Dùn yín 顿吟, Shí dùn 實頓, Xū dùn 虛頓

Dùn yín was taught to JB as a fast press and release by the left hand designed to accentuate the half beat of a note. If a quarter note bears the marking for dùn yín, the Dùn yín is played at the 1/8th note mark. The only source that lists it is Ferguson’s Source E but Ferguson does not provide an explanation. It could be related to diăn. Ferguson’s Source E mentions Shi dun and Xu dun but offers no explanations.


dian.png

Diǎn 點 “To Touch Briefly”, Diǎnyin

Press and release a string with the left hand several times, bouncing off the string each time. Pluck it with the right hand at the same time. Kwok says it is commonly played in sets of three bounces that move towards the tail end of the guzheng and is popular in the Chaozhou style. Dr. Han says it is intended to convey a bright and spirited mood.


luan yin 1.png

Luàn yīn 乱音 (trad. 亂音) “The Sound of Disorder”

Stroke the strings to the left of the movable bridges with the left hand. These strings are not tuned and thus create a dissonant cacophony said to symbolize powerful, untamable forces like natural disasters, wind, waves, and death. The negative aspects can be muted by adding plucking from the right hand, turning the Luàn yīn into more of an embellishment.

Sequences - General

Sequences are several techniques played on after the other. All plucks are assumed to be with the right hand unless otherwise noted. The word “finger” is left out to keep descriptions shorter. (Index instead of index finger).


lun mo.png

lun mo

Alternate plucking strings with the left and right index finger.


da yuan 1.png

Dǎ yuán 打圆 (trad. 打圓) “Striking Round” or Lún zhǐ 論指 (trad. 輪指)

Alternate plucking two strings one octave apart with the thumb and middle finger with closing motions. Pluck with the thumb first on the higher-pitched string, then pluck with the middle finger on the lower-pitched string. The pattern is typically played as 16th notes. It has ties to the Chaozhou School style of music.

Kao suggests Shandong players may use the name Bā dù lún 八度轮 “Octave Round” to refer to this technique. Two other notation variants:


fan da yuan.png

Fǎn dǎ yuán 反打圆 (trad. 反打圓)

Dǎ yuán starting with the middle finger.Alternate plucking two strings one octave apart with the thumb and middle finger with closing motions. Pluck with the thumb first on the higher-pitched string, then pluck with the middle finger on the lower-pitched string. The pattern is typically played as 16th notes.


Suǒ yīn 锁音 (trad. 鎖音)

A category of 9 techniques Ferguson mentions where multiple fingers strike the same string in a specific rhythmic pattern. Unfortunately only 5 are names and explained:

suo yin.png

Suǒ yīn 锁音 (trad. 鎖音)

Same as category name. 3 strikes of the same string: Middle finger opening, index finger closing, index finger opening played in the rhythm of 1/16, 1/16, 1/8


xiao suo.png

Xiǎo suǒ 小锁 (trad. 小鎖)

3 strikes of the same string: Index finger closing, index finger opening, index finger closing played in the rhythm 1/16, 1/16, 1/8.


bei suo.png

Bèi suǒ 背锁 (trad. 背鎖)

4 strikes of the same string: Middle closing, middle opening, index closing, index opening played in the rhythm 1/8, 1/8, 1/16, 1/16.


duan suo.png

Duǎn suǒ 短锁 (trad. 短鎖)

5 strikes of the same string: Index closing, middle closing, middle opening, index closing, index opening played on the same string in the rhythm 1/8, 1/8, 1/16, 1/16, 1/8.


chang suo.png

Cháng suǒ 长锁 (trad. 長鎖)

9 strikes of the same string: Index closing, index opening, middle closing, middle opening,  index closing, index opening, middle opening, index closing, index opening (Mǒ, Tiāo, Gōu, Tī, Mǒ, Tiāo, Tī, Mǒ, Tiāo). The rhythm is 4 1/8th notes, 4 1/16th notes, then 1 1/8th note.


dailun.png

Dailun

Use the ring, middle, and index fingers to pluck the same string in the same spot in rapid succession, all with opening motions.


sizhilun.png

si Zhi lun 四指轮

Pluck the same string with the ring finger, middle finger, index finger, and thumb in sequence.


sanzhilun.png

san Zhi lun 三指轮

Pluck the same string with the middle, index, and thumb in sequence.


sidian.png

Sidian

Rapid alternation of middle, thumb, index, thumb, all in closing motions. No word on if this is on the same string or multiple strings.


Daoti Zhengda.png

Daoti Zhengda

A sequence of fancuo gou tuo gou: Thumb and middle finger pluck two strings with an opening motion simultaneously, then alternate with thumb, middle, and thumb in closing motions.


San dian yi cui

Described by Kwok as a modification of yaozhi played with the index finger (muzhiyao) but described as “the middle finger strokes inwards once; then the thumb strokes outwards, inwards, and outwards in succession.” Unfortunately I can’t offer more guidance on this.

Sequences - Yáo zhǐ 摇指 Modifications

sao yao.png

Sao Yao

The middle finger sweeps several strings as the thumb performs tremolo (yáo zhǐ) on a different string.


jianxian yaozhi.png

Jiān xián yáo zhǐ 间弦摇指 (trad. 間絃搖指)

Pluck several strings as in a chord (jiān xián) then play yáo zhǐ on one of the strings. Start the yáo zhǐ with the thumb moving toward the performer.


goudai yaozhi.png

Gōu dài yáo zhǐ 勾带摇指 (trad. 勾帶搖指)

Pluck a string with the middle finger in a closing motion, then play yáo zhǐ on the same string.


cuodai yaozhi.png

Cuō dài yáo zhǐ 撮带摇指 (trad. 撮帶搖指)

Pluck two strings with the thumb and index finger or thumb and middle at the same time (cuō) then play yáo zhǐ on the string the thumb plucked. Start the yáo zhǐ with the thumb moving toward the performer.


fucuo daiyao.png

Fú cuō dài yáo 拂撮带摇 (trad. 拂撮帶搖)

Play a fú or glissando across several strings, then play two strings with the thumb and index or middle finger (cuō), then play yáo zhǐ on the string the thumb plucked. Start the yáo zhǐ with the thumb moving toward the performer.


payin yaozhi.png

Pá yīn yáo zhǐ 琶音摇指 (trad. 琶音搖指)

Play an arpeggio, then play a yáo zhǐ on the same string the thumb just plucked. Start the yáo zhǐ with the thumb moving toward the performer.

Notation, Meta-Symbols

These are symbols you may encounter when reading jian pu / cypher notation sheet music. They are extra information for the performer.

kong.png

Kōng 空

This indicates a string should be played open, unbent.


yixiang

To move the right hand to different areas of the playable string. Different locations on the strings have different timbres.


biaoshifu.png

Biāo shì fú 䅺示拂

Placed above two notes, this indicates that a three-note fú (glissando) should be played, ending on the first written note.

Sources Used

Ferguson, D. L. (1979). Modern Performance Techniques for the Chinese Zither Cheng. University of California Los Angeles.
Kwok, T. J. (1987). Zheng: a Chinese Zither and its Music. University of Hawaii.
Kao, S. H. D. (2003). The Development of The Modern Zheng in Taiwan and Singapore. University of Durham.
Han, M. (2013). The emergence of the Chinese zheng: traditional context, contemporary evolution, and cultural identity. University of British of Columbia.
Han, M. (2000). Historical and Contemporary Development of the Chinese Zheng. University of British Columbia.
Gaywood, H. R. A. (1996). Guqin and Guzheng: the historical and contemporary development of two Chinese musical instruments. Durham University.
Cheng, T. (1991). Zheng, Tradition and Change. University of Maryland at Baltimore County.
Teaching Foreigners to Play Guzheng by Yao Ningxin. Anhui Literature and Art Publishing House, 2014
China National Orchestral Society Guzheng Grading Album, Vol 1, 2nd Edition, 2018

About Ferguson's Work and Sources

In 1979 Dr. Ferguson compiled a comparative list of techniques from seven sources:
A. Liang Tsai-Ping's 古箏獨奏曲及箏路歷程文集 (Gǔzhēng dúzòu qǔ jí zhēng lù lìchéng wénjí), a collection of his solo works and journal about his journey learning about the guzheng. (1978) Liang Tsai-Ping published the first manual of guzheng playing to have broad reach in China some 30 years prior.
B. Jiǎng Píng (蒋萍)'s 古筝演奏法 (Gǔzhēng yǎnzòu fǎ), "Guzheng Playing Methods". (1957)
C. Zhào Yùzhāi's 古筝曲集 (Gǔzhēng qǔ jí), a collection of guzheng music and information. (1963)
D. Liú Yìzhì's (劉毅志) 談筝瑟 (Tán zhēng sè), a discussion about zithers (1966)
E. Zhèngsuìyuān (鄭穗淵)'s 筝樂理論及演奏 (Zhēng yuè lǐlùn jí yǎnzòu), "The Theory and Performance of Guzhengs" (1977)
F. Xīn Zhúrén (辛竹仁)'s 古筝弹法 (Gǔzhēng tán fǎ), "Guzheng Plucking Methods" (1978)
G. Some description reference the traditional techniques used to play the 7-stringed zither, the guqin.
Dr. Ferguson's work was the original inspiration for early versions of this page. It was the most comprehensive source of English language information on fingering techniques that I could find, and he graciously sent me a high-quality electronic copy the he digitized himself. There are only five known physical copies of his work in the world.
I have since gotten access to a larger number of sources and integrated them into this list as well.

Notes

A few notes:
1st The descriptions are my own summaries. My intent is to give you the basics of a technique so that you can ask a teacher to show you the intricacies. Some of the finer distinctions are not represented here.
2nd I have rearranged the ordering of the fingerings. I have grouped techniques in categories to emphasize when groups of techniques relate to each other. I have also tried to put simpler techniques first and complicated techniques second, as informed by my own learning experiences.
3rd there are occasional character/romanization mismatches. I choose the character written and display the closest romanization I can find.
4th there are abbreviations offered by Ferguson for some of the techniques. I do not see them in modern usage but I have documented a few that could easily be confused for unrelated characters. I have not attempted to display all of the abbreviations.
5th: This list is built off of texts that are 40 to 60 years old. Names and their associated techniques have changed. Techniques have different names in different traditions. This list is heavily biased towards Beijing and Shanghai-based materials. If something in this list conflicts with your understanding, send me an email and we'll figure it out!
6th and lastly: This listing is not intended to act as a teaching guide. You will need a teacher to explain how to position your fingers and move your hands and arms.

Music Terms


As explained by the The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians:
Glissando: "The effect obtained... by sliding rapidly over the relevant keys or strings with the fingernails or the fingertips." I describe them as "runs".
Tremolo: "A term now most strictly used to denote a rapid reiteration of a single note or chord without regard to measured time values"
Vibrato: "A regular fluctuation of pitch or intensity (or both), either more or less pronounced and more or less rapid."
Mordent: "The rapid alternation of the main note with a subsidiary note a step below."
Portamento: a pitch sliding from one note to another.
Grace Notes: "Ornamental notes... [of] unmeasured duration which is not counted as part of the written bar length. Speed of execution [varies but]... grace notes are usually performed lightly and very quickly."