Monday, March 31, 2014

Memorized 2 pages out of 9 pages of Autumn tune Qiu Sai Yin 秋塞吟

Sunday night. Memorized 2 out of 9 pages of Autumn tune Qiu Sai Yin 秋塞吟. When I played it, I was transported from my warm messy urban environment to a cool autumn scene in my mind. The magic happened. I could easily memorize the notes when I just let go, forget about the score symbols and just focused on re-creating the sounds in my mind on the fingerboard. Haha

Yes, I like to combine "non-productive" leisure activities such as watching TV and playing guqin together. haha

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Playing with nylon guqin strings in noisy environment

Friday night. Played guqin at home with nylon strings in living room with kids chatting noisily, neighbors from opposite block strumming guitar, and mrt trains plying on tracks just beside my block. But I could still hear my guqin sounds. Amazing! While I love playing with silk strings, nylon strings are also very useful for getting some practice in amidst the ambient noises at home. haha

iPad was used to check how to play some unfamiliar guqin score symbols.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Encountered a rare musical symbol in section 7 of guqin tune 秋塞吟

Encountered this symbol in section 7 of the 古琴 guqin tune 秋塞吟 Qiu Sai Yin (Autumn Scenery Beyond The Great Wall). Yes, I have tried to check some eBooks but due to my incompetence, I could not find it. haha

Thanks to Charles R. Tsua's help, now I know how to play this symbol. According to him, “豆 = 逗. Played as 立 but during the 乚.” Hooray!

Fyi, English language versions of ebooks that explain how to play guqin musical notation symbols can be purchased from

Friday, March 21, 2014

Memorized page 1 of 9: 秋塞吟 Qiu Sai Yin (Autumn scenery beyond the Great Wall)

Learning a new guqin 古琴 tune 秋塞吟 Qiu Sai Yin (Autumn scenery beyond the Great Wall). I taught myself how to play page 1 out of total of 9 pages. I only plan to memorize 1 page per week. Played the same tune on both my 2 guqins, one strung with nylon strings, the other with silk strings. The feeling I had when I was playing with nylon strings vis-a-vis silk strings was very different. Like day and night, or like writing Chinese calligraphy with fountain pen vs traditional calligraphy brush. Fyi, I am a big fan of fountain pens and I have used fountain pens to draw Chinese-style drawings and to write Chinese calligraphy. Haha... so... I have nothing against using fountain pens for writing Chinese calligraphy. haha

Honestly, I feel that silk strings are more suitable for playing in a small enclosed quiet room. Nylon guqin strings are a little too loud for playing in a small enclosed quiet room in the home, especially at night. Aural fatigue may set in quickly after playing with nylon strings in an enclosed quiet room for just a short time.

However, nylon guqin strings may be more suitable if one brings the guqin into an environment where there may be ambient noises, such in outdoor environments or in a very large room where people may be whispering among themselves or making other noises such as coughing, i.e., the typical concert hall environment. haha

This is my guqin which was strung with LongRen brand nylon strings. This guqin was made by JunTianFang.

This is my guqin which was strung with Tobaya silk strings. This guqin was made by master guqin maker ZhangYong 張勇, one of the young rising stars in the guqin-making world. It was purchased by me from in May 2013.

Here is what this guqin tune 秋塞吟 (Qiu Sai Yin) sounds like when played with silk strings (from this video I found on Youtube). 

Here is another video of the same tune Qiu Sai Yin, played on metal-nylon strings, by Maestro Li Xiang Ting.
[Special thanks to Charles Tsua for sharing this Youtube link.]

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Experiential case encounter with 龍人 LongRen brand nylon guqin strings

Did an "experiential case encounter" of using 龍人 LongRen brand nylon strings on my JunTianFang 均天坊 brand guqin; just to experience what it might feel like to be a LongRen guqin strings user. Being primarily a silk strings user, this was my first time mounting a set of nylon strings on a guqin. The nylon strings were very easy to pull to pitch using my gloved right hand. I was pleasantly surprised by how very little strength was needed to pull the nylon strings. Haha.. However, I was still not used to the "metallic" sound although I knew there was supposed to be no metal inside. I only temporarily removed the Tobaya silk strings and changed to LongRen brand nylon strings because my 8 year old daughter could not yet handle silk strings at her age. I might change back to silk strings at the first sign that divots start to develop because of the Longren nylon strings. Haha

To find out how I tuned the strings on the guqin once the thickest 1st string had been tuned to C pitch, click here.

On the left: 3 white colored Tobaya silk strings. On the right: 4 copper-colored LongRen brand nylon strings.

As I pulled each string to pitch, I used an electronic chromatic tuner to check the pitch so that I would not over-pull the strings.

Using a glove is essential for pulling guqin strings to pitch. Totally ouch-less.

After all the LongRen brand nylon strings were strung on the guqin, I tuned all 7 strings relative to C pitch on the thickest 1st string.

Yes, the entire guqin became very much louder and the bass sounds became much heavier (more gravitas). The sustain of each note also became much longer. However, the LongRen brand nylon strings were much stiffer to play, compared to silk strings. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Words of 岳飛 Yue Fei

I just watched this video which demonstrated how to write words in semi flowing script 行書 Xing Shu style by famed ancient Chinese general 岳飛 Yue Fei. It's impressive that in antiquity, a warrior like General Yue Fei was also very eloquent with words.  Indeed, he was 文武雙全 (translation: adept in both literati and warrior skills).

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Played silk strings guqin on my lap

Played the silk strings 丝弦 on my tong wood 桐木 guqin 古琴 placed on my lap on a warm hazy Sunday Singapore night. 丝桐合为琴,中有太古声。(translation: through the combination of silk and tong wood, it was as if I could hear the sounds heard by the people in high antiquity.) hahaha... Really very enjoyable.

This is an entry-level 幽蘭空谷 (You Lan Kong Gu) model 仲尼 ZhongNi-shaped guqin made by JunTianFang 均天坊.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Tobaya silk strings can be tuned relative to C pitch

Tuned guqin relative to my thickest 1st silk string at C (440Hz). After all 7 silk strings were tuned, the thinnest 7th silk string was at above C-sharp (almost at D pitch). The gravitas and overall tone color of the silk strings improved IMHO. 

I also played my guqin on my lap so the vibrations might have contributed to the overall tonal quality too. Haha.. Brand of silk strings was Tobaya, available from their online store at Guqin used was banana-leaf shaped made in 2012 by Zhang Yong 张勇 in Sichuan province PRC. 

Yes, Tobaya guqin silk strings can be tuned relative to C pitch on thickest 1st string without breaking. It also sounds louder and better when silk strings are tuned higher, in my humble opinion, as there seems to be more gravitas (more oomph) in the thicker bass strings. *smile* Of course, as with all things, YMMV.

The thickest 1st silk string was tuned to C pitch.

After all the 7 silk strings were tuned relative to the C pitch of the thickest 1st string, I measured the thinnest 7th string and it was sharper than C-sharp, which was almost D pitch. This was very similar to what metal-nylon strings were normal tuned to. This was excellent, because these Tobaya silk strings could actually be tuned to high without any problems.

Picture of my guqin with all 7 strings tuned relative to C pitch and ready to be played, with the guqin placed on my lap.

After playing several long tunes 流水 (liu shui),憶故人 (yi gu ten),平沙落雁 (ping aha luo yan), I loosened all the 7 silk strings and kept the guqin back into its bag.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Newly launched in 2014: Su Xin guqin silk strings 素心特级古琴丝弦

Hola, amigos! How's it going?

There's a newly launched brand of 古琴 guqin silk strings called Su Xin silk strings. There's a deluxe version 素心特级古琴丝弦 selling for RMB6000 (equivalent to about US$980 or about SGD$1243) per set and there's a more affordable standard set 素心标准古琴丝弦 selling at RMB2800 (equivalent to about US$457 or about SGD$580) per set. According to the manufacturer's webpages (written in Mandarin), the more expensive deluxe version has better tone color. However, the more expensive deluxe version seems to be more suitable for more stable humid environments, and the standard version seems to be more suitable for environments where the humidity varies between wet and dry seasons. Further, no artificial chemicals were used. Only traditional Chinese medical herbs were used in the production process of these guqin silk strings.

As far as I personally know, this is the highest priced guqin silk strings on planet Earth. I think it's only fair that the guqin silk string makers ask for a price that would help them to break even or at least make some profits for their research & development efforts. Nobody is being forced to buy it. I am sure any customer who is willing to pay the price for a very high quality set of guqin silk strings would very likely also deem it to be worth the price.

The last time I checked, Taigu silk strings (if you can even find them, that is) were selling for RMB1500 per set on Taobao. Price-sensitive customers can opt for more affordable guqin silk strings such as Jin Yu brand silk strings (about RMB340 per set) or Tobaya brand guqin silk strings (about US$232 per set) or Marusan Hashimoto brand silk strings (about US$200 per set). Guqin players who like to play with silk strings are spoilt for choice, as silk strings are readily available from online stores. This is unprecedented.

Customers outside PRC may consider using a taobao agent such as You may wish to consider using or if your location is Singapore.

Well, I believe that Su Xin silk strings must be superb. That might be why the silk string makers could justify asking for such a high price for it. No doubt about that. However, since I am only an amateur hobbyist guqin player, I don't think I'd take the plunge and splurge US$1000 for a new set of guqin silk strings. haha... I'd let the professional guqin master-teacher players go for it first. haha

I'd just play my Tobaya brand guqin silk strings until they wear out first. haha

If you happen to buy Su Xin silk strings or have played on Su Xin silk strings before, please do drop me a note and share about your experience? Thanks!

(Pictured above: Su Xin brand silk strings)

Treasures from Tang Dynasty in Singapore's ACM

Exhibition of Tang Dynasty treasures at Singapore's Asian Civilisations Museum. Details can be perused at

I wonder if any guqins from the Tang Dynasty are on display? Hmmm... there's only one way to find out. *smile*

There is also a festival at the museum. Bring your friends and family there!

Secrets of the Fallen Pagoda Weekend Festival
8 & 9 March 2014 (Saturday & Sunday), 1pm to 5pm
Asian Civilisations Museum
Free admission


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Played guqin held close to my body on my lap

Played my banana-leaf shaped 古琴 guqin on a cushioned stool by the window on a warm Sunday as dusk magically turned into night. 

Silk strings on 古琴 guqin might sound best when played held close to one's body (as 古琴 guqin was frequently depicted in traditional Chinese paintings) as I could feel every vibration with the 古琴 guqin on my lap. 

How to improve your memory for anything, not just guqin

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