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Wild Geese Descend on a Sandbank
Also: Yan Luo Pingsha;2 standard tuning, "jiao mode"3 ( 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 )
平沙落雁 1
Ping Sha Luoyan  
  Yan Luo Pingsha illustration from Kuian Qinpu 4        
Pingsha Luo Yan (also called Ping Sha, Pingsha Yan Luo and, in the first four published versions as well as later, Yan Luo Pingsha), is one of the most popular melodies in the current repertoire, actively played in several of the many versions from old handbooks and developing in many individual interpretations.5 Although this popularity is certainly related to the basic appeal of the melody itself, the popularity did not emerge until early in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), just after Manchu rulers had driven out a native one, the Ming (1368-1644). Both geese and sandbanks have long been associated with exile,6 and the earliest surviving version of the melody was published by a Ming prince about to go into exile, Zhu Changfang.7 Zhu published it in his 1634 handbook Guyin Zhengzong.8

Yan Luo Pingsha then quickly became popular during the ensuing Qing period. Presumably it was for political reasons that Qing dynasty publications did not mention the melody title's associations with exile. Some instead suggest that the melody expresses detachment from worldly matters, or admiration for the lofty aims of wild geese. More often, though, they discuss technical matters, dealing obscurely with such matters as mode and comparative versions.9

The subtle association of wild geese and sandbanks with separation and exile can be found much earlier in poetry and painting. Poetic references associating both wild geese and sandbanks with exile date back at least to the Tang dynasty,10 while in paintings the theme of wild geese descending on sandbanks dates back at least to the northern Song dynasty (960-1126).11 In Yuan (1271–1368) and Ming dynasty theater there are also references to melodies that mention geese on sandbanks.12 Then coming to the qin tradition, although the earliest surviving tablature for Pingsha Luoyan dates only from 1634, it seems to have been the most popular qin melody during the Qing dynasty, surviving in at least 67 handbooks from 1647 (the second surviving publication) to 1911, in other words in more than two thirds of the handbooks known to have been published during this period (#45 to #140). In addition, at least ten of the Qing dynasty handbooks include multiple versions of the melody:14 some have multiple tunings,15 others all have standard tuning but each is considered to be in a different mode.16 And handbooks published since 1911 have almost always included at least one version (see appendix below).13

The quick popularity and great variety among the surviving early Qing dynasty versions suggests that there were probably a number of versions that were never written down, and some of the earlier references in painting and other media to geese on sandbanks suggest that melodies of this title may have existed as early as the previous foreign dynasty, the Yuan. However, there is no evidence to suggest that such an earlier version of this title had any melodic connection to the surviving versions, which cannot be traced earlier than the above-mentioned 1634 handbook Guyin Zhengzong of Zhu Changfang, Prince of Lu. Although this handbook is said to include melodies copied from earlier sources, as yet I have not found any pieces in his book that copy the earliest published version of that particular melody. In addition, there are no melody titles directly on the wild geese - sandbank theme in any of the surviving early qin melody lists. So, once again, although a melody related to the present one might have existed earlier in the oral tradition or in some now-lost handcopied tablature, there is no direct evidence to support this.

Xu Jian discusses the various attributions of the origins of Pingsha Luoyan in his Qinshi Chubian, 7.A. (Ming dynasty qin melodies).17 He says attempts have been made to connect this melody with such people as Chen Zi'ang,18 Mao Minzhong,19 Tian Zhiweng 20 and Zhu Quan, 21 but adds that there is no reliable evidence supporting claims that it dates back before the Ming dynasty. Several later commentaries mention a version created or revised by Zheng Zhengshu; this would have been at the end of the Ming or in the early Qing dynasty.22 None attributes it to Zhu Changfang himself.23

In suggesting an earlier creation of this melody some commentators have pointed to the surviving references to geese on sandbanks in earlier qin handbooks, usually as section titles. The earliest of these seems to be Settling on the Distant Sandbank (Yuan Luo Pingsha),24 the title of Section 15 of the 1425 version of Wild Geese in Autumn (Qiu Hong). Perhaps this is the reason that the commentary in Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722), as well as in a number of later handbooks, states that Pingsha Luoyan was composed by Zhu Quan himself.25 Yuan Luo Pingsha is also the title of Section 10 of the earliest surviving version of Geese Fly over Hengyang (Yan Guo Hengyang, 1539). However, neither of these two pieces seems to have any melodic connection to the piece entitled Pingsha Luo Yan.

The earliest handbooks with multiple versions of this melody are Zhixinzhai Qinxue Lianyao (1739) and Chuncao Tang Qinpu (1744). Both have five. Each uses a different tuning, but all start with the same motif. The 1739 afterword to the first version, using lowered third string tuning, connects it to the famous Song dynasty qin player Mao Minzhong, mentioning the story that after the Song dynasty fell to the Yuan invaders he went into reclusion, i.e., self-imposed exile (like a goose).

The fact that there seems to be no melodic connections between surviving versions of Pingsha Luo Yan and any of the earlier melodies that concern geese, combined with the lack of suggestions that Zhu Changfang himself composed it, suggests that the melody arose some time towards the end of the Ming dynasty. Though quite possibly it had achieved a variety of forms before Zhu decided to write one down, the neat structure of the 1634 version suggests that some careful thought went into the creation of this version. And so, although this structure is somewhat hidden by the way the sections are divided (see "Music"), one must consider the possibility that it achieved a recognizable form only at the end of the Ming dynasty.

Contributing to its widespread later popularity were its pedagogical uses. Many handbooks published multiple versions, suggesting that the melody may have also been used to demonstrate modal or stylistic differences in the qin repertoire. And commentaries in Qing dynasty handbooks often refer to Pingsha as a beginner's melody.

As for mode, the first five surviving versions each has a different modal categorization. Nevertheless, for most if not all of the versions the tonal center is the note la (6), by earlier thinking giving them more the characteristic of yu mode melodies. Leaving aside the final note, how they all differ from the early yu melodies is the prominence given given to do (1) as a secondary tonal center.26 By the mid-17th century, though, the name of the final note seems to have become the basis of the modal categorization for new melodies, not the tonal centers throughout the entire melody. Thus, with the tuning considered as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 , and the corresponding string names being gong shang jiao zhi yu wen wu, the mode designations of the first four versions seems to be based on the final note, with the reason for the fifth uncertain, as follows:

  1. 1634: jiao mode. Do (1) is the name of the note played on the open 3rd string, called jiao; the final note of the coda is do (1), so the melody is categorized as a jiao mode melody. Note also that the closing coda of the 1634 Ping Sha does resembles the closing codas of some genuinely jiao mode melodies in that handbook.27
  2. 1647: zhi mode. The melody itself is modally similar to 1634, again ending on la, but this is followed by "end with the harmonics of the zhi mode closing coda". Zhi mode melodies themselves tend to have their tonal center on the equivalent note of the open fourth string, called zhi, with their codas commonly ending on the open second and fourth strings together; this sounds very strange here. As yet the only explanation I can imagine is that melody comes at the end of the zhi mode section, just before the yu mode section, and this confused someone.
  3. 1660: yu mode. Although again modally similar to 1634 throughout, this version has a different closing coda, ending on mi (3), the equivalent of the open 5th string, called yu!
  4. 1670: shang mode. This melody, though again modally similar throughout, ends its closing coda on la (6), the note of the second string, called "shang".
  5. 1673: zhiyu mode. The reason for this designation is unclear (melody and coda both end on la), but presumably because this handbook is important to the popular Yushan school, this designation became common later.28

The 1634 Yan Luo Pingsha is a relatively unornamented melody in five sections. There are some errors and inconsistencies in the finger positions prescribed by the 1634 tablature,29 perhaps due to the transition at the time from the old way of indicating finger positions to the new way. As mentioned above, the main tonal center is la, but this often changes to do, with several sections ending on do and the closing coda also ending on do; the handbook says it is in jiao mode; again as mentioned, this is presumably based on the final note, do, being the equivalent of open third string, jiao. Although the main tonal center on la suggests that in earlier terms it should be categorized as a yu mode melody, in fact this changing between la and do as the tonal center is more common in certain non-standard tuning modes than it is in standard tuning ones, though it can be found occasionally in other early yu mode melodies.30

None in 1634, so I have included here the preface to one of the versions published in 1876.

This version of Ping Sha, attributed to Tang Songxian, i.e., Tang Yiming, a teacher of Zhang Kongshan, is the only Pingsha in 1876 that has commentary. It has 8+1 sections (for the first three sections it is easy to follow the connection between the tablature for this version and for that of 1634), is said to be in yu mode (it ends on la = yu), and has the following preface (the original is not punctuated; note also that many websites blindly copying each other incorrectly state that this is the 1634 preface):

  原操為唐人陳子昂所作。 The original melody was created by the Tang dynasty's Chen Zi'ang.
  蓋取: It perhaps takes (poetic thoughts such as):
      秋高氣爽,風靜沙平,     The autumn sky is lofty and the air crisp, light breezes leave the sandbanks flat.
      雲程萬里,天際飛鳴。     Clouds stretch endlessly, birds in flight call out on the horizon.
  借鴻鴣之遠志, Then it draws on the soaring ambition of wild swans,
  寫逸士之心胸者也。 to convey what is in the heart of a scholar recluse.
  後之學者遂互相唱和, Following this scholars likewise serenade each other,
  分律變調, and while they can distinguish notes and change modes,
  操雖數種而音調皆同, the melodies, though of several types, all have comparable tonality,
  惟獨此操氣疏韻長。 and only this melody has a life force so broad that its sonority lingers on and on.
  通體節奏凡三起落。 The whole of it has a rhythm that altogether rises and falls thrice.
  初彈似鴻雁來賓, When beginning to play it resembles wild geese arriving as guests,
  極雲霄之縹緲。 then at the end it becomes lost in distant clouds.
  序雁: In the prelude the geese:
  行以和鳴, Line up and call out together,
  倏隱倏顯,若往若來。 suddenly disappering and re-appearing, whether coming or going.
  其欲落也, When they want to settle down,
  回環顧盼,空際盤旋。 they wind around looking everywhere, still in the air wheeling around.
  其將落也, When they are about to settle down,
  息聲斜掠,繞洲三匝。 they stop calling out and descend obliquely, circling the islet thrice.
  其既落也, When they have settled down,
  此呼彼應,三五成群。 here calling and responding, they form groups of 3 and 5.
  飛鳴宿食   得所適情。 Flying and calling out as they feed at night they get what they want,
  子母隨      而雌雄讓, So chicks and mothers follow along, while females and males are convivial.
  亦能品焉。 (Their morally correct interaction, like this melody,) is also a skilled work of art.

(Translation tentative.)

The 1634 melody is logically structured, with recurring motifs but little ornamentation.
32 Although the handbook arranges it in five untitled sections plus a harmonic coda, the musical structure is perhaps better revealed if sections two and three are combined. This also allows the music to form an interesting parallel with what is described in the second half of the preface translated above, suggesting the structure consists of an opening, three more sections, then a closing (the coda), as follows:

Section 1 (and 1.a; originally 1):   the prelude, with the octave motif representing the geese lining up in flight.
Section 2 (and 2.a; originally 2+3): the geese consider settling down, largely played above the 7th position (hui).
Section 3 (and 3.a; originally 4):   the geese come down, mostly played below the 7th position;
                - ends with "Stop the sound", representing the geese having landed.
Section 4 (originally 5): beginning with double stops, this gives the flavor of their activities on the ground
Coda: refers back to what is written earlier about at the end their becoming lost in distant clouds.

The original and revised sectioning for the 1634 Pingsha Luo Yan is as follows (timings from my recording 我的錄音):

00.00 1. (1. ) harmonics; octave leaps on la (6) predominate
00.26   (1.a.) stopped sounds, also emphasis on octave leaps on la (6)
01.11 2. (2.) begins 6 6 5 6 1...., a phrase much elaborated and repeated in later versions (notated example)
01.43 3. (2.a.) begins 6 6 5 6 1....
02.22 4. (3.) begins 5 6 5 3 5 5 6 1....
02.44   (3.a.) begins 5 6 5 3 5 6    1...., but an octave lower; near end: "無聲 stop the sound" (later ) then "推出"
03.12 5. (4.) begins 3 2 3 5 then has a passage in double stops; ends on la (6)
04.04 Coda   mostly harmonics; tonal center do (1)
04.20 End    

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Pingsha Luo Yan 平沙落雁 (IX/313)
The best references in English on this title (but not the melody) are in Alfreda Murck, The Subtle Art of Dissent, Harvard University Asia Center, 2000 (further below). 9371.138 平沙落雁 first says it is one of the Eight Views of Xiao and Xiang, then identifies it as a qin melody of unknown origin that can be played on other instruments. Its earliest reference is to 高士奇,蓮山密記 the essay Lianshan Miji by Qing dynasty writer Gao Shiqi (1645-1704).

2. 雁落平沙 Yan Luo Pingsha
42894.113 has only 雁落.

3. Jiao mode (角音 jiao yin)
Many qin melodies use non-pentatonic notes, and some use quite a few. However, as with most other Chinese music, all traditional qin music can be seen as based on the pentatonic scale do re me sol la (1 2 3 5 6). The best way to determine which note in any particular qin melody is do is to find a traditional musician able to sing solfeggio and have him/her listen to the melody then name the notes. By this method one will find that in earlier Ming dynasty handbooks all jiao mode melodies use standard tuning considered as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 . According to my research the main tonal center for these jiao mode melodies was always do (1, the note of the open third string, called jiao) with the secondary tonal center being mi (3, the note jiao). Presumably this is how the jiao mode got its name.

As for the present Ping Sha, perhaps it is said to be in jiao mode (角音 jiao yin, presumably the same as 角調 jiao diao) because at the end (and in several other places) the tonal center is on do, the note played by the string called jiao. However, for most of the melody the main tonal center is la (6), giving it more the character of yu mode melodies. Where it differs from most of the older la mode melodies is that do (1) is a more important tonal center than mi (3) (Yang Sheng Cao and perhaps other 1634 melodies said to be in jiao mode are also modally like this). And since in any case the note jiao is not at all emphasized, this Ping Sha is not like earlier jiao mode melodies. For standard tuning yu mode is closest, but perhaps even more it has characteristics of some melodies using non-standard tuning, such as Qiu Hong.

Some later modal designations of this melody are discussed further above. For more information these modes see both Shenpin Jiao Yi and Shenpin Yu Yi as well as Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

4. Kuian Qinpu illustration (QQJC XI/61)
To the right of the illustration is a name and seal saying 黃仕 Huang Shi (Mr. Huang; Wu Zhao's preface gives no further identification. Compare the illustration for Yan Guo Hengyang.

Perhaps the best known painting on this theme is 平沙落雁圖 Illustration of Pingsha Luoyan, one of the 瀟湘八景 Eight Scenes of Xiao Xiang by 王洪 Wang Hong (fl. mid-12th c.; see Murck, p.212, as well as below.

5. Modern versions of Pingsha Luo Yan
Guqin Quji, Volume 2, pp. 228-249, has transcriptions of six different versions. All use standard tuning and notate the first string as C, making the most common tonal center D, with F as the secondary tonal center and sometimes final note. My interpretation notates the first string as G (zhi, 5), emphasizing the yu mode characteristics. (On this see also Handbooks with multiple tuning versions, and be aware that in my staff notation "G" is not the modern fixed piano G, but the relative note usually referred to as sol.)

6. Geese and sandbanks as an exile theme
Regarding geese and sandbanks, see Murck, op. cit.. On p.80 she says that sandbanks were particularly associated with the long sandbanks in the 湘江 Xiang River as it goes through 長沙 Changsha (lit., "long sand"), a city traditionally associated with exile. As for geese, see also Qiu Hong. Murck also discusses the reasons why mention of exile would have only been by allusion and not specifically discussed in publications.

7. Zhu Changfang and Pingsha
At the time he published his handbook in 1634 朱常淓 Zhu Changfang (Chinese Wiki / Baidu), 潞王 Prince of Lu (in the border area of modern Shanxi and Henan provinces), was under already under threat. When the Ming collapsed he fled first to Wuxi, then Nanjing and finally Hangzhou. He made a name for himself in Hangzhou making qins, but because of continued opposition to the Qing he was apparently taken to Beijing and executed in May 1646 (but buried in Lu? see Chinese article).

Other melodies in his handbook Guyin Zhengzong (next) have sometimes been attributed to Zhu; it is not clear why no one has ever attributed Ping Sha to him.

8. Earliest published version: Guyin Zhengzong (QQJC, Vol. IX, p. 313)
Although this handbook was published in 1634 by Zhu Changfang, the Prince of Lu, other commentary suggests the melody was already in existence at that time and no sources suggest he composed it himself. However, because of his various qin activities one must consider the possibility he had some significant input into the form the melody took at that time.

Because this melody seldom uses the 1st string (in the 1634 version it is only used in the second half of Section 4, with the open first string played just three times), it is easy to play this melody in the guxian (jiazhong) tuning of Qiu Hong, simply transposing all the tablature down one string. Parts of the jiazhong version of Pingsha discussed below seem to have been created by doing this. However, it is also possible that Ping Sha originated as a melody in guxian. Guxian melodies often change the tonal center back and forth between 6 and 1, something that happens in Pingsha melodies more often than in other early yu mode melodies. In this regard it is perhaps notable that the 1634 version ends on do: later versions almost always end on la.

One difficulty that occurs in reconstructing the earliest version of Pingsha, the one in Guyin Zhengzong (1634), is related to the fact that it is one of the earliest surviving handbooks to use the new decimal system to indicate finger positions, and perhaps for this reason it is not consistent in applying this. There are also a number of clear errors in the tablature; these and the inconsistencies in the 1634 tablature suggest the piece perhaps was originally written in the old system, then transferred to the new. For example, the position 7.6 is sometimes written in the old manner 7 8, i.e., between 7 and 8, and sometimes written 7 ½; but 7 8 is also sometimes used for the position 7.9, which in the old system was written as 8.

9. Commentaries from other handbooks
Zha Guide (starting [489] 245) copies commentary from many versions of Pingsha, the earliest being the brief one in 1670. The version included here under "Preface" has a good poetic evocation, though there is no suggestion of exile. None of the versions gives reliable information on the source of the melody. Instead there are mostly technical discussions such as the following:

(Begins by saying, "High minded and imbued with autumn; vast yet fully true...." It then goes on to give various considerations of mode, all seeming quite obscure to me, but it could well be my own ignorance speaking.)

琴學初津》(1894, #1):
平沙,臞仙所作。乃琴學之正路,惟其各譜不同,是操原為祝氏之藏本,神意流麗,各盡其長,音古而繁簡得宜,有曰二三段中,雜有繁音,然作繁音,乃奏之者指法 未修,而流麗化化為繁音矣。大凡欲得妙音,必修妙指,否則兇猛偽似古勁,疏慵偽似淡蕩,繁縟偽似精細,淫哇偽似鮮麗,故指法,亦須細審。至於段法,或有六段、五段、四段、而又有十余段不等,然曲之分段,各有脈絡起止,而非任意分合也。殆用法,或取麗而失於繁瑣,或取淡蕩,而犯疏慵,或取簡淨,而神意不達, 種種不一,未能盡舉,再以切音取韻,均有定體,坊譜之中,切音不一,有謂角音者,有謂徵羽合音,有謂商角合音,溯其源,是黃鐘宮音曲也。余故以是操譯成五法,以下各均詳明,先須存熟是操之音,以後各均,點點皆周,所不同者,弦與徵位,俾學者,可知取音用位,自有一定之陳法也。曲義詳内篇。小侃陳聽松跋。
(Begins by saying, "Ping Sha: Zhu Quan created it. It has the correct path for studying qin, even though every tablature is different. This particular piece originates with the personal tablature of 祝氏 Mr. Zhu...." However, the ensuing discussion of different versions also seems rather obscure.)

Translation/explanation assistance would be appreciated.

10. Early references in poetry connecting geese and sandbanks to exile
Murck, op. cit. makes particular reference to the poetry of Du Fu (712 - 770) for both wild geese (p.52 and p.76ff) and sandbanks (level sand, p.80).

11. Early references in painting to geese on sandbanks
One of the eight views in the famous Song dynasty painting called Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers is 平沙雁落 Pingsha Yan Luo. Murck, op. cit., pp. 74-82, Geese Descending to Level Sand, discusses the political significance of this theme, quoting several poems. She says (p.61ff) the earliest version of 瀟湘八景 Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers, by 宋迪字復古 Song Di (ca. 1015 - ca. 1080), style name Fugu, already included Wild Geese Settling on a Sandbank. On p.203ff she discusses in greater detail the most famous Eight Views set, by 王洪 Wang Hong (fl. mid-12th c.).

12. Early references to geese on sandbanks in theater
See, for example, 雁起平沙 Yan Qi Pingsha in the Yuan dynasty opera Qiannü Lihun.

13. Tracing Ping Sha Luo Yan (see appendix below)
Although first appearing in 1634, more copies of versions of this melody survive than of any other qin melody. Zha's Guide 32/245/477 indexes the handbooks known to him in the 1950s. Most of the 60 versions in the appendix below are in his index, with the majority of Qing dynasty handbooks having at least one version. As can be seen from the list of surviving qin handbooks (search for niml), at least 25 more old handbooks have been found and re-published since then, so the actual number of versions of Ping Sha is certainly even greater. This outline of the first five appearances, discussed further above, shows that there was considerable disagreement about the name to give the mode:

  1. 1634; 5 sections; jiao yin; no commentary (IX/313; in chart)
  2. 1647; 5; zhi yin; no commentary (X/178; in chart)
  3. 1660; 6; yu yin; illustration but no commentary; omits most of the common opening harmonics (XI/61; in chart)
  4. 1670; 8; shang diao; preface says by Chen Zi'ang (XI/346; in chart)
  5. 1673; 4; zhiyu diao; no commentary; first to be called Pingsha Luo Yan (X/426; ; in chart)

This chronological listing of publications is not necessarily an accurate chronological listing of the earliest surviving tablature; and there were certainly more hand-copied versions that have not survived and performed versions that never got written down. Regarding the surviving tablature being chronological, note that the 1647 and 1670 tablatures use the old style of indicating fingering while the other three all use the new decimal style (further below). See also the comment on 1673, particularly the fact that it contains the repertoire of Xu Hong, who died in 1650; one should thus consider the possibility that this version is as old as any or all of the previously published ones.

14. Handbooks with multiple versions of Pingsha melodies
Handbooks with multiple versions of Pingsha Luoyan include the following:

  1. Zhixinzhai Qinxue Lianyao (1739; 5 versions; see in chart [details])
  2. Chuncao Tang Qinpu (1744; 5 versions; see in chart [details])
  3. Lantian Guan Qinpu (1755; 2 versions; see in chart)
  4. Qinpu Xiesheng (1820; 10 versions; see in chart [details])
  5. Qinxue Renduan (1828; 2 versions; see in chart)
  6. Qianxiangzhai Qinpu (~1866; 4 versions; see in chart)
  7. Tianwen'ge Qinpu (1876; 7 versions; see in chart)
  8. Shuangqin Shuwu Qinpu Jicheng (1884; 9 versions; see in chart)
  9. Qinxue Chujin (1894; 5 versions; see in chart)
  10. Yazhai Qinpu Zongji (end of Qing; 8 versions; see in chart).

As yet I have examined only a few of these..

15. Handbooks with versions of Pingsha Luoyan in multiple tunings
At least two of the handbooks listed above have five versions, each in a different tuning: Zhixinzhai Qinxue Lianyao (1739; chart) and Chuncao Tang Qinpu (1744; chart). The former are each included under the respective tuning, the latter groups the four non-standard tuning versions together. The five versions in each use the same five tunings, but the 1744 versions are all rather different from their respective versions in 1739. The original 1744 tablature is in Qin Fu, as follows. As can be seen, no matter what the tuning the tonal center is 6 (la), though all end on 1 (do). All have six sections.

  1. standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 ; tonal center open 2nd string; preface and afterword (QF/333)
  2. huangzhong: 1 2 3 5 6 1 2 ; tonal center open 5th (QF/379)
  3. jiazhong: 6 1 2 3 5 6 1; tonal center open 1st (comment; QF/380)
  4. yize: 3 5 6 1 2 3 6 ; tonal center open 3rd (QF/381)
  5. wuyi: 1 3 5 6 1 2 ; tonal center open 4th (QF/382)

The six versions in the facsimile edition of 1739 seem to have the same modal characterstics and tunings as 1744, though the melodies are somewhat different. If folios 3 and 4 were reversed they would be in the same order. All have 5+1 sections (+1 is a short harmonic coda, which in 1744 is always at the end of Section 6).

  1. huangzhong, as above; lyrics; notes named (Folio 3)
  2. jiazhong, as above; completely avoids 7th string (Folio 3)
  3. standard tuning, as above; coda again on do (Folio 4)
  4. yize, as above (Folio 5)
  5. wuyi, as above (Folio 5)

Besides these two handbooks, several of the other handbooks with multiple versions may also include versions using non-standard tuning, but those I have been able to examine all seem to be copies from here, the 1744 handbook in particular.

16. Handbooks with multiple versions of Pingsha Luoyan all in the same tuning
These all use standard tuning. One example is Qinpu Xiesheng (1820; chart), which has 10 versions. The first seven and the last seem to use standard tuning: 宮調,商調,角調,變徵調,徵調,羽調,變宮調,獨絃宮調 (a 1 string version),兩絃平沙 (a version with 2 strings a minor 3rd apart),宮調泛音. All have 釋調 modal explanations, some have afterwords.

17. Xu Jian's commentary
Xu Jian compares Ping Sha with Qiu Hong both in meaning and in its use of some musical phrases, which he does not specify. His second paragraph quotes the 1876 preface translated here below. After this his musical analysis does include a short transcription, but it has no tablature and, though it seems to reflect popular 19th century versions, comes from an unidentified source (not the tablature accompanying that 1876 preface). In his commentary he says the transcribed passage begins sections 3, 4 and 5 (of 6 or 7). The 1634 version has 5 sections, but two of these could naturally be subdivided, making seven (or as here divided into 4 sections in accord with the 1876 preface).

Xu Jian's original text (QSCB 139-140) is as follows:




(Inserts staff notation for Section 3, 4 or 5; compare 1634)


這首琴曲之所以流傳甚廣,除了曲調流暢動聽之外,還因為它在表現方法上比較成功,容易為聽眾理解。它把抒情性和情節的發展巧妙地結合起來,在情節的描繪中,又特別選取了雁群“欲落未落之時”。正如宋人劉改之在同名詩中所寫的:(a poem of the same title by someone in the Song dynasty surnamed 劉?)



Not yet fully translated.

18. Attribution to Chen Zi'ang (661-702)
The reason for this is perhaps an allusion to the political nature of the theme, although the following poem by him does mention both 雁 geese and 沙 sand:


More likely, though, the reference to Chen lies in the nature of his best known collection of poems, a set of 38 published under the title Stirred by My Experiences (感遇 Ganyu; see in Chinese Wiki). Although this collection has no mention geese it is famous for being filled with allegories criticizing the "usurper", Empress Wu (Wiki: perhaps associating Ping Sha with Chen was a way of suggesting that the qin melody also contained political allegory.

19. Attribution to Mao Minzhong
See 1739 and 1884. The reason for the attribution is not at all clear unless related to the story that Mao was said to have gone into a form of exile rather than serve the Yuan rules.

20. Attribution to Tian Zhiweng
See 1884. I have not found any mention of Ping Sha in Taigu Yiyin, and so the reason for this attribution is not at all clear.

21. Attribution to Zhu Quan
The reason for this common attribution is apparently his association with the Qiu Hong, a melody connected to exile as well as geese.

22. Zheng Zhengshu 鄭正叔 (style name of 鄭方 Zheng Fang)
See further under Youshengshe Qinpu.

23. Zhu Changfang as composer?
Some sources have attributed to him other melodies in Guyin Zhengzong (see further). To my mind and ears the 1634 Yan Luo Pingsha is well-formed enough that it could be considered a new composition, not simply the revision or copying of an old one. For its structure see further details.

24. Settling on the Distant Sandbank (遠落平沙 Yuan Luo Pingsha)
39908.xxx. 1525 calls this section Scattering while Settling on the Sandbank (散落平沙 San Luo Pingsha).

25. Commentary on Pingsha Luo Yan in Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722; 五知齋琴譜:平沙落雁前序、後序)
This handbook has both a forward and an afterword (see Qinqu Jicheng XII/543 and 545). The original texts are:

This was created by Zhu Quan; although a small piece its significance is profound. This is the correct path for beginning, yet for the Ping Shas in the qin repertoires each family has its own way of playing it, with many versions but none the same....

The afterword expands on the many versions. The complete afterword is:

Ping Sha has every sort of different playing method. The present tablature adds (more) after the 8th phrase of the fourth and fifth sections....

Neither is yet fully translated.

26. Tonal centers on la and do (6 and 1)
As can be seen from the introduction on this website to the yu mode, many melodies concerning birds are either in yu mode ("yu means "feather") or are in a non-standard tuning but still have the note yu as their tonal center (see also Saishang Hong). Yu mode melodies generally have their tonal center on la, secondarily on mi, but the earliest Wu Ye Ti also gives prominence to do, as do some later yu mode melodies. The shifting of tonal centers between la and do seems to be more common with melodies using non-standard tuning. Modality in Early Ming qin tablature has more information on this characteristic (the first chart there links to further commentary). Although the varied nature of early versions of Pingsha Luo Yan may help explain the different modal attributions in early surviving tablature, it is somewhat puzzling that the people who compiled the early handbooks often do not seem to have recognized these yu mode characteristics.

Mention has been made above that in the 1634 version the first string is not used very much and that this makes it easy to transpose the melody into jiazhong diao, which uses the same tuning as guxian, as in Qiu Hong. It should be noted that of the first two Ping Sha that use this tuning, dated 1739 and 1744 (see further), the first completely avoids the 7th string while 1744 uses it only at the beginning of Section 5. For more on this mode see Shenpin Guxian Yi as well as commentary on the transposition described under Yueshang Cao.

27. Jiao mode?
In fact the closing codas of the first five (of six) melodies grouped in 1634 under jiao mode all have a very similar coda. Not all seem to be genuinely jiao mode melodies by the traditional assessment. (Of these, in addition to Yan Luo Pingsha, I play the earliest published versions of #25 Liezi Yu Feng and #28 Cangwu Yuan.)

28. Zhiyu mode (徵羽調 zhiyudiao)
10483.17 徵羽之操 says zhi yu pieces "謂音調純正之琴曲,徵羽者五音之徵與羽也 are qin pieces with a pure and correct melody, with zhiyu being the pentatonic notes zhi and yu." It goes on to quote 淮南子,說林訓 Huainanzi (17.237) saying: "徵羽之操,不入鄙人之耳。(Music) in the zhi and yu modes is something ears of the vulgar cannot comprehend" (it goes on: But if it is [something with] a catchy consonance and quick tempo, they wil sit down and enjoy it.) If this is the source of the mode name, then it refers only to an opinion that the music is pure and refined (stately), saying nothing about the actual mode.

Although the designation zhiyu was commonly applied to Pingsha Luo Yan starting in 1673, its actual significance is unclear and I have not yet found it applied to any other melody, or have I found any descriptions of its characteristics. Presumably the designation "zhiyu" became common because the 1673 handbook is attributed to Xu Hong of the popular Yushan School, and so many later handbooks simply copied this. However, the 1673 version of Pingsha seems modally indistinguishable from the 1634 version, with yu (la, 6) as the primary tonal center and gong (do, 1) as the secondary center, but with the coda of 1673 ending on la instead of changing to do as in 1634. In both versions la is often approached from sol (zhi) below, so perhaps this is a possible explanation; but the most dramatic place in 1634 where the notes zhi and la are mixed, around a 滾拂 gunfu in the middle of Section 3, is not included in 1673 (or apparently any other version).

29. Errors and inconsistencies in the 1634 tablature
Since most of the apparently erroneous finger positions are still playable, there is some speculation involved in determining which are erroneous or inconsistent, or which may be calling for a specific non-pentatonic note or a specific intonation. The incomplete transition from the old system of indicating finger positions to the new system seems to have caused some of the problems.

Interpretation problems, with my solutions, include the following:

  1. "6 3" occurs 22 times: 19 times on the 7th string and once on the 5th, always meaning 6.2; twice on the 6th string, where I understand it to mean 6.4 (also written "6 half")
  2. "7 8" occurs 21 times; usually it means 7.6 (as in the old system) but sometimes it is either used for 7.9 or is a mistake for "8", the old system way of indicating 7.9. "7 half" is also used for 7.6, but the 7.6 of the new system is never used.
  3. A further problem with indicating the position 7.6 comes from the fact that in several places "8" is mistakenly used for "7 8" (7.6).
  4. The following errors seem to occur one time each: "5" for "5 6" (5.6), "6" for "5 6" (5.6), "6" for "6 7" (6.4), "6 half" for "below 6" (6.2), "9" for "8 9" (8.5), and "10" for "wai" (十 for 卜, 13.1).

In addition, in many places the phrasing indication (○) seems to have been omitted, and in one place I have changed it. And in another place I have moved an indication of ornamentation to the previous note.

Near the top of the second column of Section 2 the character 亘 is written in a margin; I do not know the significance of this.

30. Modes with tonal centers on la, secondarily do
See above as well as the chart in Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

31. Preface
There being none in 1634, I originally chose to translate the earliest surviving commentary, a short one in Qinyuan Xinchuan Quanbian (1670; XI/346). It says,

As for this piece, Chen Zi'ang created it. Perhaps it draws on the idea of clear autumns and solitude, with geese flying as they call out: a landscape during autumn. And so this was used to describe it.

Later handbooks connect this melody with various other people, often commenting on the number of versions available. However, the longer preface translated above also credits Chen.

32. Music of Pingsha
The clear structure and lack of ornamentation, at least in the original version, is perhaps why this was sometimes considered a beginners' melody, even though later versions became much more elaborate. Unfortunately, beginners playing this melody often overdo it, revealing what my teacher considered to be two common errors in particular: making and emphasizing too many similar long slides up into notes, and using the left thumb to make sounds that are too percussive. Regarding the slides (綽 chuo), these are rarely called for in early tablature and their constant emphasis quickly becomes tiresome. As for the left thumb percussive sounds, what the tablature actually calls for is a technique called 罨 yan, its literal meaning being "to cover", the image being "an echo from an empty valley"; instead many players like to turn this into a percussive slap.

The YouTube video of Pingsha by 陶筑生 Tao Chu-Sheng (e.g., at http://wn.com/Category:Guqin is a good example of someone avoiding these errors, even though it is the modern version with many of these slides.

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Appendix: Chart Tracing Pingsha Luo Yan
Based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide, 32/245/477.

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information (QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
YLPS = 雁落平沙 Yan Luo Pingsha
1. 古音正宗
      (1634; IX/319)
YLPS; 5 sections; jiao yin; no commentary; compiled by 潞國敬一道人朱常淓 Zhu Changfang, Prince of Lu. This is the version I play and the only one I have studied in detail, but it is not yet clear whether this is new tablature or old tablature adapted to the new decimal system. The newness of this system perhaps helps explain the finger position errors and inconsistencies. Tonal center la throughout, but coda on do. Last phrase in Section 1 begins 2 1 6 (compare 1660, etc.)
2. 徽言秘旨
      (1647; X/180)
YLPS; 5; zhi yin; no commentary. On 六絃 many 七徽上 and 十徽上 : G# and C#? (they seem to be played as G and C). Only this version has this: mistakes? Distinctive tuning or intonation? At end: "play zhi mode harmonics", but there is no zhi mode prelude. (Zhang Dai [陶庵夢憶] studied this version (?) in Shaoxing from Wang Benwu [teacher of Yin Ertao; QSCB7a3])
  .  徽言秘旨訂
      (1692; X/xxx)
YLPS; facsimile; identical to 1647
  .  友聲社琴譜
      (early Qing; XI/)
The version of this handbook in QQJC does not contain or list Pingsha (and this book is not indexed in the Zha Guide), but comments by or about 鄭正叔 Zheng Zhengshu suggest perhaps a complete original one did have it (as in 1677/82 below?).
  .  臣卉堂琴譜
      (early Qing; XI/)
Same comment about 鄭正叔 Zheng Zhengshu as with previous
3. 愧庵琴譜
      (1660; XI/63)
YLPS; 6+1; yu yin; illustration, no commentary; omits most of the common opening harmonics; first to use "伏 fu" ("hide") for "無聲 wusheng" ("stopped sound"). Section 2 begins 2 1 6 (compare last phrase of 1634 Section 1); melody ends on la, but the coda ends on mi, the note of the open 5th string, called la!
4. 琴苑新傳全編
      (1670; XI/354)
8; shang diao; preface says by Chen Zi'ang; afterword has some discussion of mode changes. Last phrase of Section 2 begins 2 1 6 (elaborated; compare 1634 and 1660); melody ends on la, the equivalent of the note played on the open second string (called shang).
5. 大還閣琴譜
      (1673; X/432)
4; 徵羽調 zhiyu diao; no commentary; Yushan School handbook; first version called Pingsha Luo Yan; it is quite similar to 1634 but somewhat more elaborate; also, its 2nd section begins 2 1 6 (like 1660; compare 1634), its 4th section combines 4 and 5 of 1634, and its coda is on la.
6. 松風閣琴譜
      (1677/82; XII/322)
Ping Sha; 8; jiao; afterword says 西泠鄭正叔...訂定 revised by Zheng Zhengshu of Xiling; melody very different: Section 1 opens 5 1 then harmonics centered on 5 1 before changing tonal center to 6; Section 2 resembles earlier Section 1 with tonal center 6; coda is back on do
7. 松風閣琴瑟譜
      (1677?; XII/434)
8; jiao; duet with se; "Zheng Zhengshu tablature"
music similar to 1677/82, including coda back on do
8. 澄鑒堂琴譜
      (1689; XIV/325)
5+1; zhiyu yin; elaboration of 1534, etc.; coda ends on la
Section 2 begins 2 1 6 (as 1673); coda on la
9. 德音堂琴譜
      (1691; XII/547)
Ping Sha; 6+1; jiao yin; ends on do
Section 3 begins 2 1 6 (as 1673 Section 2); coda on do
10. 琴瑟合璧
      (1691; XIII/12)
6+1; jiao yin; duet with se; has gongche; coda ends on do
Section 3 begins with elaboration of 2 1 6 (compare 1673 Section 2); coda on do
11. 琴譜析微
      (1692; XIII/130)
4; zhiyu diao; Section 3 begins 2 1 6 (as 1673 Section 2);
harmonic coda ends on la
12. 蓼懷堂琴譜
      (1702; XIII/293)
4; zhiyu; Last phrase of Section 1 begins 2 1 6 (as 1634); Section 4 should begin at top of second column of folio page 3, but this is not marked; melody seems to end on la with 4 note harmonic coda ending on do
13. 一峰園琴譜
      (1709; XIII/506)
5+1; mode not indicated; "by Zheng Zhengshu" but it is not at all like 1677, more like an elaboration of 1634 (Last phrase Section 1 begins 2 1 6); melody ends on do; coda on do; not indexed in Zha
14. 五知齋琴譜
      (1722; XIV/551)
7+1; zhiyu yin; the forward attributes it to Zhu Quan; the afterword begins by saying there are a number of versions of the melody. Last phrase Section 1 begins with elaboration of 2 1 6; melody and coda end on la
15. 臥雲樓琴譜
      (1722; XV/123)
4 sections; 徵羽調 zhiyu mode; Section 2 begins 2 1 6; melody and coda end on la; compare 1673
16. 存古堂琴譜
      (1726; XV/287)
7; zhiyu yin
17. 立雪齋琴譜
      (1730; XVIII/26)
6 titled sections plus coda; called 雁落平沙 Yan Luo Pingsha, 角調 jiao mode, "old tablature with new lyrics". Lyrics for Sec. 1 are, "雁落來也,楚江空,碧雲天淨。長空一色,萬里動微茫,江涵秋影。"
18. 琴書千古
      (1738; XV/369)
7; zhiyu yin; afterword; 熟派 Shu School
19. 東園琴譜
      (17??; XV/164)
6; jiao yin
20. 琴學練要
      (1739; XVIII/110 etc)
(治心齋琴譜); 5 pu in five different tunings (XVIII/110, 136, 145, 189, 197);
the first has subtitles and an afterword ("by Mao Minzhong"); also see next
21. 春草堂琴譜
      (1744; XVIII/244 & 287-91)
Also: QF/333 (standard tuning; afterword) & 379-83 (4 non-standard tunings; no commentary); all versions 6 sections; same five different tunings as 1739 above; melodies are in same style but not identical. The four in non-standard tuning are repeated in 1876: #121, #123, #133 & #139.
22. 穎陽琴譜
      (1751; XVI/111)
8+1; yu yin; preface; each phrase is written starting on a new line; coda ends on la
23. 蘭田館琴譜
      (1755; XVI/203)
4; gong yin;
should have 2nd pu, zhi yi, 8 sections, but it is missing (see Zha Guide 132 [174])
24. 琴香堂琴譜
      (1760; XVII/160)
5; zhiyu
Section 2 begins 2 1 6 (elaborated)
25. 研露樓琴譜
      (1766; XVI/491)
5; zhiyu
Section 2 begins 2 1 6
26. 龍吟閣秘本琴譜
      (n.d.; XVIII/344)
Longyin'ge Qinpu; not related to Longyin'guan Qinpu (see next); not indexed
6; zhiyu diao
27. 龍吟館琴譜
      (1799; XVIII/344)
facsimile; not indexed; like modern Mei'an version
huangzhong diao, gong yin
28. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/458)
10+1; yu yin; coda ends on la
Last phrase Section 1 begins 2 1 6 (elaborated)
29. 裛露軒琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/272)
10; zhi yu yin; 吳仕柏譜 tablature of Wu Shibo
30. 太和正音琴譜
      (n.d.; XIX/25)
31. 響雪山房琴譜
      (n.d.; XIX/399)
zhi yin; 4
32. 蕭立禮琴說
      (1807; XX/14)
7 (each with a comment); shangjiao; this is the only melody in the handbook, which says 蕭立禮 Xiao Lili revised it from a Yushan tradition; preface adds that Zhu Quan originally created it; afterword discusses studying Pingsha
33. 虞山李氏琴譜
      (n.d.; XX/28)
YLPS; jiao yin; 6
34. 琴譜諧聲
      (1820; XX/13347)
10 pu, each with 5 sections (details)
One uses only one string, one uses 2 strings; others all seem to use standard tuning
35. 指法匯參確解
      (1821; XX/88)
6; zhiyu yin
36. 峰抱樓琴譜
      (1825; XX/342)
5; zhiyu diao
37. 琴學軔端
      (1828; XX/405, 471)
2 pu: YLPS, 8 sections, shangyin
    Pingsha Luo Yan, 6 sections, zhiyin, lyrics
38. 鄰鶴齋琴譜
      (1830; XXI/40)
7 sections; mode not directly indicated
39. 樂山堂琴譜
      (n.d.; XXIII/15)
4; last section says "取音宜蒼老"
40. 二香琴譜
      (1833; XXIII/146)
5; yu yin; afterword
41. 悟雪山房琴譜
      (1836; XXII/368)
YLPS; 7; yu yin
afterword says many pu, this one selected from 孫鸞嘯 Sun Luanxiao (in turn from 陳世堂 Chen Shitang?)
42. 槐蔭書屋琴譜
      (1840; XXIII/356)
4; zhiyu; afterword; attributed to Zhu Quan
43. 梅花仙館琴譜
      (n.d.; XXII/15)
zhiyu yin; 5 sections
44. 行有恒堂錄存琴譜
      (1840; XXIII/192)
7; afterword
mode not mentioned?  
45. 張鞠田琴譜
      (1844; XXIII/266)
10; gong diao yu yin; gongche pu on side
"Ping Sha"; attributes it to Zhu Quan
46. 稚雲琴譜
      (1849; XXIII/458)
4; zhi yin (yu)
47. 琴學尊聞
      (1864; XXIV/225)
yu diao
preface says there are many different ones
48. 荻灰館琴譜
      (n.d.; XXIV/103)
7; zhiyu yin; attributed to Zhu Quan
49. 錢塘諸氏琴譜
      (n.d.; XXIV/192)
6; gongyin
50. 青箱齋琴譜
      (~1866; XXIV/401)
4 versions: jiaoyin (5), gongyin (4; lyrics), zhiyuyin (6; lyrics) and zhiyuyin again (4.)
51. 琴學入門
      (1864; XXIV/311)
6; gong yin; has gongche pu alongside
52. 蕉庵琴譜
      (1868; XXVI/83)
7; zhiyu yin"
preface same as 1722
53. 琴瑟合譜
      (1870; XXVI/157)
4; no mode mentioned; YLPS
also in 琴府/697
54. 以六正五之齋琴學秘書
      (1875; XXVI/255)
7; zhiyu yin, 熟派 Changshu school
preface says there are many different versions; has afterword
55. 天聞閣琴譜
      (1876; XXV/283etc)
7 versions in diff. modes: attrib: Zhang Kongshan (#48), Cao Zhiyun (#100), Tong Songxian (#118) and Chuncaotang Qinpu (#121, #123, #133 & #139) 4); only the one with the Tang Songxian version (Folio 10) has commentary
56. 響雪齋琴譜
      (1876; ???)
4; zhi yin; originally part of 1807?
57. 希韶閣琴譜
      (1878; XXVI/378)
6; zhiyu yin; commentary says by Zhu Quan
58. 雙琴書屋琴譜集成
      (1884; XXVII/279-85)
9 pu collected from various sources; four, all apparently from 1744, use non-standard tuning. One preface says 太古遺音中田芝翁翁纂譜,陳小扇譜,仲平之兄存者 (compiled in Taigu Yiyin by Tian Zhiweng, pu by Chen Xiaoshan)
59. 綠綺清韻
      (1884; XXVII/404)
5; zhi yin 
afterword: by Mao Minzhong
60. 養性堂琴譜
      (n.d.; XXVII/369)
8; yuyin
61. 友石山房琴譜
      (n.d.; XXVII/437)
4; gongyin; afterword
62. 希韶閣琴瑟合譜
      (1890; XXVI/456)
6+1 zhiyu yin; under title it says "鐵笛道人傳" as transmitted by the Iron Flute Daoist
afterword: many versions
63. 枯木禪琴譜
      (1893; XXVIII/93)
6; yuyin; lyrics
afterword: many versions; this one uses 1722
64. 琴學初津
      (1894; XXVIII/260 etc)
5 pu (XXVIII/260, 309, 347, 366, 376), each with afterword; first says by Zhu Quan; all are gong yin and seem to be standard tuning      
65. 鳴盛閣琴譜
      (1899; ???)
5; gong yin
afterword says there are many versions
66. 十一絃館琴譜
      (1907; XXIX/15)
1+7+1 sections; yu diao, gong yin; adds notation
67. 琴學管見
      (n.d.; XXIX/260)
6+1; huangzhong diao, gong yin; attributes Zhu Quan
68. 琴學叢書
      (1910; XXX/172)
6; gong diao, yu yin;
"from a handcopy", plus rhythmic indication)
69. 雅齋琴譜叢集
      (n.d.; ???)
L; 6+1; listed, with data, but not indexed; not in Qinqu Jicheng
8 pu, all identified by source, all apparently in standard tuning; afterword mentions Jinling (Nanjing) school
70. 詩夢齋琴譜
not indexed and not in Qinqu Jicheng
71. 梅庵琴譜
      (1931; XXIX/209)
7+1 sections; 1971 reprint (in Qin Fu) says huangzhong diao, gong yin, by Quxian (Zhu Quan); transcribed without tablature in Lieberman, which on p.112 translates the afterword
72. 夏一峰傳譜
QF/2074; commentary p.2065 (#3) says earliest surviving version is from 1647
not indexed and not in Qinqu Jicheng
73. 研易習琴齋琴譜
not indexed and not in Qinqu Jicheng
afterword says that since 1739, in spite of the variety of tunings usee, most are standard
74. 吳門琴譜
not indexed and not in Qinqu Jicheng
75. 愔愔室琴譜
not indexed and not in Qinqu Jicheng

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