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Qin Poetry and Qin Songs 1 琴詩與琴歌
The Old Toper's Chant : enlarge 2    
As with painting and calligraphy, because qin music was generally created by the same class of people who created classical poetry, often their themes overlap. Such titles as Chu Ci and Hu Jia are important to all three: qin, painting/calligraphy and poetry/song.

"Qin Poetry" is divided here into two categories:

  1. Lyrics that mention qin, qin play or qin players.
    Qin is the musical instrument most often mentioned in classical poetry, including in such famous collections as the
    Book of Songs and the 300 Tang poems.3 On this site such poetry can most commonly be found here:

  2. Lyrics intended to be sung with qin, though there may not be surviving tablature
    This includes not only lyrics clearly intended to be sung but also lyrics attached to what otherwise seem to be instrumental melodies

"Qin Songs" can also be divided into two categories:

  1. Melodies clearly intended to be sung (e.g., see "short songs" under my repertoire), including:
            - Melodies for particular lyrics (or a text)
            - Melodies that can be applied to differing lyrics, e.g. ci lyrics or lyrics in lines of fixed length
  2. Primarily instrumental melodies with lyrics attached

As suggested above, in this way qin songs overlap with qin poetry. Many of these lyrics are not in a poetic form (such as the setting of Wang Xizhi's Lanting Preface). Beyond this Chinese poems might generally be divided into those with variable line lengths (not to mention unregulated verse) and fixed line length lyrics (such as "regulated verse").4

Other interests include creating qin songs out of existing poems or songs in other media. My own efforts along this line include:

  1. Songs of the Whitestone Daoist (Baishidaoren Gequ), all attributed to Jiang Kui (ca. 1155 - 1221)
    Only one of Jiang Kui's songs was set for qin but perhaps this song, and the early qin repertoire in general, can shed light on interpreting his other songs, or other early songs not written in qin tablature.
  2. Lanting Pavilion poems: make qin settings
    The melody Riverside Purification Ceremony, published in 1664, set Wang Xizhi's Lanting Preface for qin. It is interesting to set some of the poems from the Lanting Scroll for qin as well, perhaps using existing qin songs with similar word patterns.

Entries on this site that have commentary on various other aspects of qin poetry and song include:

  1. Qin Songs (includes "qin melodies with lyrics attached")
  2. Cipai and Qin Melodies (plus lines of regular length and further references)
  3. Xu Jian, Creators of Qin Songs (plus my footnote)
  4. Zha Fuxi, Differentiating qin songs.

My qin song repertoire:

Specific qin melodies with lyrics that I have reconstructed and played can be divided into at least four categories. My page has examples of the first two types. On these videos I play the melodies but do not sing the lyrics. Instead most videos show the original lyrics together with Romanization and translation, inviting the listeners themselves to sing or read along.

These four categories for the melodies with lyrics are:

  1. Qin songs I have personally reconstructed and sung from Ming handbooks (caveat; see also under my repertoire):

    1. Yu Ge Diao (<1491); read the transcription and sing along with the recording
    2. Yasheng Cao (1511; Proximate Sage Melody); unique in that it has a refrain repeated at the end of each section
    3. Gui Qu Lai Ci (1511); a famous poet enjoys being home
    4. Feng Ru Song Ge (1511); a qin song evoking Wind in the Pines
    5. Chun Jiang Qu (1511); song of rivers in spring
    6. Yanyi Ge (1525; Doorbar Song); a wife pleads after her husband leaves (unique in that the L occur only in the first half of each section)
    7. Boya Diao Ziqi (1525); an ardent lament for a lost friend
    8. Yangguan Sandie (1530); one of the most famous farewell songs
    9. Wenjun Cao (1539); like Feng Qiu Huang (below) an ardent love song
    10. Zui Weng Yin, (1539; The Old Toper's Chant); see calligraphy at right
    11. Jiu Kuang (1589); a serious drinking song
    12. Kongsheng Jing (1592); a musical setting of Confucius' Great Learning
    13. Qingjing Jing (1592); a Daoist morning chant
    14. Se Kong Jue (1625); a setting for Qin of the Heart Sutra
    15. Mei Hua (1676); can be sung as a prelude to Mei Shao Yue

  2. Qin songs I have personally reconstructed from Ming handbooks - recorded but not sung unless by double tracking (in some cases they may not be intended for singing; see "Singing qin songs: appropriate performance practice", which outlines four different ways to render the songs). In addition to those in the handbooks dated 1491 and 1511, discussed below):

    1. Huangzhong Diao (Yellow Bell Mode, 1511)
          Also other melodies from the 1511 Taigu Yiyin
    2. Shiba Xueshi Deng Yingzhou (Eighteen Scholars Ascend Yingzhou, 1530)
    3. Loushi Ming (Inscription on a Crude Dwelling, 1539)
    4. Dao Yi Qu (Pounding Cloth Melody, 1539)
    5. Gui Geng (Return to Ploughing, 1539)
    6. Da Ming Yi Tong (Unity of the Great Ming, 1539)
    7. Shi Yin (Intonation for Poetry [structured {7+7}x4], 1573)
          Preface says this melody can be used with any lyrics of this structure (also [7+7]x2)
    8. Xiang Si Qu (Melody of Mutual Love; but listen to six versions including 1618, 1676 and 1864 [Gu Qin Yin])
    9. Qin Shi (Qin Poem [also designed for use with other lyrics structured {7+7}x2]; 1590)
    10. Ting Qin Yin (set to a Han Yu's Listening to Reverend Ying Play the Qin, 1589)
    11. Qing Shang Diao (Qingshang Modal Prelude, 1589)
    12. Gong Yi (Essence from Gong Mode, 1597)
    13. Moshang Sang (Mulberry Lane, 1597)
    14. Si Si Ge (Song of Four Laments, 1597)
    15. Ba Jiu Wen Yue (Wine in Hand Asking the Moon, 1618)
    16. Lin He Xiuxi (set to Wang Xizhi's Lanting Preface, 1664)
    17. Qiu Feng Ci (Autumn Wind Ode, 1676)
    18. Qing Ping Yue (Clear and Even Music, 1676)
    19. Lang Tao Sha (Waves Scouring the Sands; 1676; qin only)
    20. Qiu Feng Ci (Autumn Wind Lyrics; 1676)
    21. Ziye Wu Ge (Ziye Song of Wu; 1676)
    22. You Jian Quan (Secluded Cascading Spring; 1676)
    23. Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao (On Phoenix Terrace....; 1676)
    24. Mei Hua (Plum Blossoms; 1676)
    25. Chang Xiang Si (Everlasting Longing; 1676; qin only)
    26. Qiu Feng Qu (1709; later Qiu Feng Ci Autumn Wind Lyrics)
    27. Tanpo Huan Xi Sha (Extended Washing at Creekside; ci setting with various lyrics available; 1682)
    28. Shui Diao Getou (Water Tune Prelude; ci setting with various lyrics available; 1687)

  3. Multi-section melodies I have reconstructed that have lyrics in only one or two sections or in parts of some or all sections. This type of melody seems to have been largely unique to Xilutang Qintong. The list here shows first the number of sections in each piece followed by which section numbers have lyrics. (The code is: #T = sections are titled; #L = has lyrics ([in brackets] only this section).

    1. Gujiao Xing (12 [8L]; Engaging with Old Friends); Guanzi and Bao Shuya
    2. Kang Qu Yao (7 [6L]; Ballad of the Highroad)
    3. Xing Tan (11 [10L]; Apricot Tree Pavilion)
    4. Jiang Yue Bai (9T [4 & 5L]; White Moon over the River)
    5. Qing Yun Ge (5L, from Shang Shu Dazhuan; Song of Auspicious Clouds);
    6. Han Gong Qiu (8 [5L, Autumn in the Han Palace]; particularly interesting as it does not have lyrics but related lyrics do fit one section)
    7. Zhaojun Yuan (9T [7L, not Yue Fu]; Zhao Jun's Lament)
    8. Chu Ge (10T [7L, from Yue Fu]; Song of Chu)
    9. Feng Qiu Huang (10 [3 & 8L, from YFSJ]; A Male Phoenix Searches for its Mate)

  4. Multi-section melodies that have lyrics throughout, but the pieces are basically instrumental, with no indication they were ever sung. These include, for example, almost all the melodies in Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (<1491) and many of the pieces in Taigu Yiyin (1511); these are mentioned further below.

All these types are also discussed further under Qin songs.

Singing qin songs
Issues of how to perform qin melodies with lyrics are discussed further under
Qin Songs (see in particular Appropriate Performance Practice) and Cipai and qin melodies (in particular Qin songs: pairing lyrics and music).

Early handbooks with significant numbers of qin "songs" include:

  1. Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (<1491; my cd and book) has music which for the most part was originally instrumental, but there are lyrics all the way through (they are linked through its ToC). The lyrics seem to be newly created; but although some of it can be sung, the pairing method means that often there are rather awkward passages, for example, the finger running across the seven strings and so there are seven syllables to be sung. Reading them while listening to the music may increase appreciation, but it is unlikely that they were intended actually to be sung. Most of the lyrics were apparently written by the 15th century prince who compiled the book.
  2. Taigu Yiyin (1511) has 38 qin songs. The pairing method is the same, but most of the lyrics are well-known old poems, especially from the famous collection Yuefu Shiji (including the 10 Qin Songs of Han Yu. From my understanding, having transcribed and played all of them, most were clearly intended to be sung. The music is less ornamented, and seems designed to be played more slowly.

For all the above I have written out transcriptions, but for many of those in the 1511 handbook need more work. I have also reconstructed songs from several later handbooks. One of the most interesting of these is Xilutang Qintong, the only handbook that seems to have songs where the lyrics don't continue from beginning to end.

Later handbooks that consist only of qin songs include,

  1. Chongxiu Zhenchuan Zhengzong (1585)
  2. Luqi Xinsheng (including Hujia Shibapai; 1589)
  3. Sanjiao Tongsheng (Daoist and Confucian hymns; Buddhist chant; 1592)
  4. Yang Lun Taigu Yiyin, part of Zhenchuan Zhengzong Qinpu (<1609)
  5. The Jiang Xingchou (Toko Etsu) qin song handbooks preserved in Japan

A comparison of qin songs that appear in the Ming and then Qing dynasties suggests that melodies emerging in the Qing dynasty tended to be shorter and less connected to the purely instrumental qin tradition.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Qin Poetry and Qin Songs
What is written here about qin songs in particular must be considered very tentative. See, in particular, further comment under Qin Songs.

2. Illustration
See further.

3. Classic collections
References in the Book of Songs are included on a page devoted to mention of qin in ancient records. Other collections such as the Chu Ci do not mention qin directly, but their poems have become the subject of several qin melodies. 300 Tang Poems is also worthy of mention:

300 Tang Poems (唐詩三百首; Wiki)
This might also be written 300 Poems of the Tang Dynasty or Three Hundred Poems of the Tang Dynasty. Poems in this collection that mention qin include the following:

Others do not mention qin but their lyrics have been used as lyrics for qin songs. Qin songs using such lyrics include:

In addition the melody Autumn River Night Anchorage says it was inspired in part by Zhang Ji's poem Maple Bridge Night Anchor.

4. Chinese poetic forms
It is beyond the scope of this website to go into great detail about this topic, though it may be important to a fuller understanding of specific old qin melodies. This is related to the fact that qin tablature describes finger positions and playing techniques but does not directly indicate note values (rhythms). Thus, reconstructing old qin melodies (dapu) begins with looking for structures within the musical phrases. If the melodies have lyrics the structures of those lyrics can give clues. Here the Wikipedia article Classical Chinese poetry forms shows something of the complexity of the whole issue of these structures (see, for example, the sections under old, new, regulated, unregulated]).

However, with qin melodies the musical analysis begins with the simple question of whether there are:

Then when reconstructing these old qin melodies trying to decide when poems with fixed or variable line length should similarly have melodic phrases that also have fixed or variable time length/rhythm.

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