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Qin melodies that use only five strings 1 五絃琴曲調
5-string qin of Emperor Shun? 2  
Archaelogical founds have shown long zithers in China with various numbers of strings.
3 There is a story associating a 20 (or more) string qin with Fu Xi,4 but the most common tradition says that the modern qin descended from a five-string qin played over 4,000 years ago by Emperor Shun. A number of surviving melodies tell of Shun playing his his 5-string qin, singing of southern winds, and the world being regulated.

This tradition goes on to say that the qin continued to have five strings until about 3,000 years ago, when one each was added by Wen Wang and Wu Wang. Perhaps for this reason, until 1618,5 most five string qin melodies had titles or introductions connecting them to Emperor Shun. (The exceptions below are only Shenren Chang and most of the melodies included in the 1618 handbook.6)

As can be seen from the list below, there are quite a few surviving melodies designed for five string qin. However, there are no surviving old qins designed exclusively for use with five strings, and there is no musical evidence suggesting the melodies listed here were particularly ancient at the time of publication.7

The melodies listed here are arranged by handbook of first appearance: see linked explanations for tracing their later publications. Tuning is standard unless otherwise indicated.8

    Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (<1491)

  1. Nan Xun Ge (Song of Southern Breezes; 1 2 4 5 6 )

    Taigu Yiyin (1511)

  2. Nan Feng Ge (Song of Southern Winds; 1 2 4 5 6 )
  3. Si Qin Cao (Thinking of Parents Melody)
  4. Ju You Cao (Detained in Gloom; uses only strings 3 to 7, so in effect the tuning is 1 2 3 5 6)

    Xilutang Qintong (1525)

  5. Jiaozhiyu Yi (Jiaozhiyu Mode; 5 6 1 2 3)
  6. Nan Feng Chang
  7. Linzhong Yi; 5 6 1 2 3 )
  8. Shenren Chang (story concerns Yao)
  9. Fugu Yi (1 3 5 6 1 )

    Wugang Qinpu (1546)

    Fugu Diao (Return to Antiquity Mode; 1 3 5 6 1; related to 1525 Fugu Yi)

  10. Nan Feng Chang (Southern Winds Rhapsody; unrelated to the 1525 version)
  11. Lishan Yin (concerns Mount Li, where Shun lived; prelude to next)
    Yu Shun Si Qin (related to the 1546 Nan Feng Chang)

    Lixing Yuanya (1618; all have lyrics)

  12. Guan Ju (only here: seems unrelated to others)
  13. Lu E (only here)
  14. Xiangyang Ge (only here: unrelated to 1579 version [IV/233], which uses 7 strings)
  15. Bing Che Xing (only here)
  16. Feng Ru Song (only here: seems unrelated to others)
  17. Huo Lin Jie (only here: seems unrelated to others)
  18. Nan Xun Ge (only here: seems unrelated to others)
  19. Si Qin Cao (only here: seems unrelated to others)
  20. Ju You Cao (only here: seems unrelated to others)
  21. Xi Ming (only here)
  22. Lü Shuang Cao (only here: seems unrelated to others)
  23. Si Chou Shi (only here; 2 4 5 6 1 )
  24. Yu Fu Ci (only here; 1 4 5 6 1 )

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. References for Five String Qin 五絃琴
262.783 五絃琴﹕「(禮,樂記)昔舜五絃之琴以歌南風。(疏)無文武二絃。」 "wuxian qin" quotes the Account of Music in the Book of Rites as saying: formerly Shun played the five-string qin in order to sing Southern Winds (see Nanfeng Ge), with an undated (?) commentary adding that it did not have the two strings added by Wen Wang and Wu Wang. I have not yet found this commentary: the basic text (Yue Ji 17; see aso Qinshu Daquan, Folio 16, #4) mentions only the Shun story. The Shi Ji telling of the Shun story in its Book of Music (Yue Shu #19) also does not mention the later addition of the two strings. 262.783 also has a further quote from 宋史,樂志,五絃琴圖說 "Description of the five string qin" in the Music Annals of the History of the Song Dynasty.

1/377 五絃 wuxian (no 五絃琴), has no mention of 文王 Wen Wang or 武王 Wu Wang (also no mention at 1/156 七弦琴 qixian qin). In general, it seems that the story of Wen Wang and Wu Wang each adding a string is rather late. Earliest references elsewhere include Qin Cao and Huan Tan's Xin Lun. (See also Origins of the Qin.)

2. Five-string Qin of Yu Shun
The image above is from facing pages of a section called Famous Historical Qins in Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539; QQJC II/23/4); compare it with the image in Taiyin Daquanji, Chapter 2. It is not clear to me what the image on the left is supposed to depict.

3. Ancestors of the seven-string qin
Some music archaeologists, pointing to ancient instruments with more than seven strings, have argued that the qin originally had more than seven strings, but the number gradually decreased. However, these instruments were found only in the south, and this argument ignores Chinese tradition. It is just as likely that in pre-historic China there were a variety of long zithers. The true ancestor of the modern qin is a northern instrument, early models of which have not survived. The decrease in strings in southern instruments was perhaps due to the high regard for this northern instrument. See also Origins of the Qin and the following footnote.

4. Early 20-string qin?
The exception to stories of early qin having five strings comes in commentary accompanying the illustration of a qin associated with 伏羲 Fu Xi (bio in Qinshi Bu, see especially this footnote, where it is called a 離 li).

5. Melodies for 5-string qin in Lixing Yuanya (QQJC VIII; 1618)
Lixing Yuanya is a rather odd handbook. Altogether it has 72 melodies divided as follows:

All have lyrics and most seem to be new (at least in the published qin repertoire).

6. An almost 5-string melody
Note that the melody Long Ma Yin (1559) is played with five strings except for one note in the closing harmonics, which can easily be played on the 3rd string 9th position instead of as indicated on the 6th string 7th position. There may be other examples like this.

7. Playing 5-string qin melodies on a 7-string qin
The custom when playing a melody written for five-string qin is to use only the lower five of the seven strings. Presumably this is because these pieces are have the pretense of dating back more than 3000 years to before Zhou Wen Wang and Zhou Wu Wang supposedly added the sixth and seventh strings, whichin turn are named after them. Thus one might guess that a melody such as Ju You Cao, which uses strings 3 to 7, is set this way for reasons other than to indicate their antiquity.

8. Tracing individual melodies
The above list includes only the first occurrence of each melody, the exception being that if a melody occurs later with a different name there may be an entry above. Further information tracing further examples of each melody is found by following the links above; tracing information is usually in a footnote. In addition, a footnote under the earliest Nan Feng Ge traces various melodies with a similar theme. At time of writing my active repertoire includes only four of these, Nan Xun Ge, Nan Feng Ge, Si Qin Cao and Shenren Chang.

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