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Website Glossary 1 網站詞彙解釋

This selected glossary, an ongoing project including lists, definitions and explanatory essays, is divided into three sections:

   1.   Some general terms used on this website
   2.   Music instrument categories and their Chinese translation
   3.   Music theory terminology

Here on this website I have tried to be consistent in using music terms as defined or described in this glossary. When reading other pages on this website it may be important to consult this page, since elsewhere many of these terms often have different definitions, descriptions or usages. One reason for this is that the meaning of many musical terms depends on the type of music to which they refer (see footnote). Some are here because either they are not common terms, or they are used here with a special meaning (e.g., rules of modality). Some have rarely been translated into Chinese (e.g., HIP) or into English (e.g., dapu). And some are here because, although they seem rather clear in one language, they can easily be ambiguous in translation (such as "notes" in English or "diao" in Chinese).

  1.    Some general terms used on this website

  2.    Music instrument categories and their Chinese translation (中文)
Musicologists have classified music instruments according to the way their sounds are produced. The system was originally developed by Erich von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs and published in 1914. The general public is often unfamiliar with this terminology, and so it is not used at all consistently in English. It is used even less consistently in Chinese. (Some translations here are from World Music Culture).

There are five basic categories (the fifth was added later):

  1. Chordophones (弦鳴樂器 see below)
  2. Membranophones (膜鳴樂器 such as drums)
  3. Idiophones (體鳴樂器 such as chimes)
  4. Aerophones (氣鳴樂器 such as organs and flutes)
  5. Mechanical and electrical instruments (機械樂器、電子樂器 such as musical clocks and synthesizers)

Stringed instruments (chordophones) were further divided into five sub-categories (the fifth was determined later):

  1. Zither (箏類): soundbox with strings across it; may also have a hollow fingerboard; includes 琴 qin (always?), 瑟 se, 箏 zheng
  2. Lute (魯特琴類): soundbox attached to a largely non-resonant fingerboard; strings go across both; includes 琵琶 pipa, 二胡 erhu, etc.
  3. Harp (豎琴類): two- or three-sided frame w/soundbox on one side; strings go obliquely from soundbox to one side; includes 箜篌 konghou
  4. Lyre (抱琴類): four-sided frame with a soundbox on one side; strings attached perpendicularly from the soundbox to the opposite side
  5. Musical bow (弓琴類): strings extend across a bent one-sided frame; a resonator (soundbox) may be attached to the frame.

Stringed instruments can be further subdivided according to the method of play. Mostly this is plucked, bowed or struck, but there have also been examples of stringed instruments that resound when the wind blows on them. Again, there is not always a standard term for translating these terms.

  1. Plucked instruments (撥彈樂器 botan yueqi) include the guqin and Eastern European zithers (plucked zithers 撥彈箏類樂器), and the guitar (plucked lute 撥彈魯特琴類樂器). (I have not yet seen compound terms such as "plucked zither" in Chinese.)
  2. Bowed instruments (擦絃樂器 caxian yueqi), occasionally called 拉絃樂器 laxian yueqi) such as the violin and erhu (擦絃魯特琴類?), and bowed zithers such as the Korean ajaeng (擦弦箏類).
  3. Struck (hammered) stringed instruments (打擊弦鳴樂器 ?) include the yangqin (揚琴; originally 洋琴) and the piano (struck/hammered zithers 打擊箏類樂器). This assumes that 打擊 daji can be applied to stringed instruments, not just types of drums. In this regard, note that the character "鼓 gu" is often used to mean "play" a qin (the Chinese article 古琴「鼓」與「彈」的技藝源流演變 cites occurrences from the Chinese classics). This gu originally referred to a kind of drum and is used to mean "beat". Does this mean that perhaps the guqin was originally beat like a drum? Since there is no evidence that a stick was ever used to strike the qin, it is difficult to evaluate how "striking" a qin might be different from otherwise "playing" one. The same might be said for such words as kan and pi as applied to harp and pipa; note also that 49321 鼓 includes expressions such as 鼓舌 gushe (sweet talk, shoot off one's mouth) that do not actually require drumming.
  4. Aeolian harp (風鳴琴); although called a "harp" this is actually a wind-blown zither (風力鳴響的箏類樂器 ?)

Lutes and zithers can be further subdivided according to whether or not they have frets (絃枕). They almost always have one or more bridge (絃馬、琴馬), but these can be subdivided according to whether or not the bridges are fixed or movable.

  1. Frets are thin strips on the 指板 fingerboards (頸 necks) of some lutes and on the soundboxes of some zithers. While a string is plucked, a finger of the other hand presses the string down into the fingerboard or soundbox of the instrument on the opposite side of the fret from which it is plucked. Frets are used to determine pitch, and are usually fixed. Chinese have many traditional terms for frets, such as 品 pin for the frets on a pipa.
  2. Bridges raise a string high enough that it usually cannot be pressed down onto the soundbox. The main function of some, such as the single bridges on most lutes, is to help transmit the sound between the strings and sound box (on lutes the fingers are pressed onto fingerboard, not the soundbox). On zithers most bridges help determine the pitch, there is often one for each string, and it is often movable. In Chinese there is a variety of terms for bridges. Xianma (絃馬) seems to be a modern term. Movable guzheng bridges are 雁柱 yanzhu (Bao Rong ref.) and the fixed bridge on a violin is 絃馬 xianma. The 岳 yue (mountain) that supports the strings on a guqin could be considered a type of fixed bridge.

Most lutes have a single bridge, but they may or may not have frets. Zithers almost always have bridges, but most do not have frets.

  3.    Music theory terminology (Chinese version)
Relevant terms as used on this website include:

  Scale on c (do, Ionian mode) :
Scale on d (re, Dorian mode) :
Scale on e (mi, Phrygian mode) :
Scale on f (fa, Lydian mode) :
Scale on g (sol, Mixolydian mode) :
Scale on a (la, Aeolian mode) :
Scale on b (ti, Locrian mode) :
W - W - H - W - W - W - H   ("major scale"/"major mode": compare "do - sol mode")
W - H - W - W - W - H - W
H - W - W - W - H - W - W
W - W - W - H - W - W - H   (Chinese 7-tone scale: gong-shang-jiao-bianzhi-zhi-yu-biangong)
W - W - H - W - W - H - W
W - H - W - W - H - W - W   ("minor scale"/"minor mode": compare "la - mi mode)
H - W - W - H - W - W - W

However, during the so-called Common practice period (ca. 1600 - 1900 CE), classical Western music theory considered only two of these seven-interval scales to be significant, equivalent to the white-note scales from going from c to c' and from a to a'. The importance of these two is underlined by the fact that they are the only ones with commonly known English names: "major scale" and "minor scale". Correspondingly, in Chinese these are called "big scale" and "little scale"; but although these two are modern Chinese terms, as I have pointed out elsewhere (e.g., under Modality) most early guqin melodies use one of these two modes/scales.

The word "key" emphasizes the important of the keyboard in Western music: the English term for music written using the major scale is "major key"; music using a minor scale is said to be in a "minor key". The other five diatonic scales mostly disappeared from use in Western music composed after about 1600. Today the common English term for music in these other scales is "modal". Correspondingly, when writing about early Western music or non-Western music one does not discuss "keys" but "modes". In Chinese this distinction may be made by using 調子 diaozi for this meaning of "key", and 調式 diaoshi for this meaning of mode. However, both of these are modern terms and are not always used consistently.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a
separate page)

1. Rationale for this glossary
I have written this webpage first to help me understand the relevant terminology,then to help me decide which terms to use and how to translate them. Should one use traditional Chinese terminology to explain traditional Chinese music to a modern reader? The first problem is that many basic terms, such as "interval", "scale" and "note" cannot be found in classical Chinese texts. Many such concepts were certainly discussed in old texts, but the terms they used are often used inconsistently today and can be very confusing. On the other hand, the most common Western terms were developed for analyzing Western classical music during what has been called the "Common practice period" (ca. 1600 - 1900 CE). These are not necessarily appropriate for discussing traditional Chinese music, or even early Western music.

Fortunately, the modern Western interest in early music and in non-Western music has led to the development of terminology that applies more broadly than either the traditional Chinese or traditional Western terms. Unfortunately, for many of these terms there are no generally accepted translations into Chinese: thus, for example, with such basic terms as historically informed performance (HIP) as well as with the terms used for describing music instruments of the world (English, Chinese).

Given these circumstances, the best I can do is explain here the terms as I use/translate them on this website, then try consistently to use them in this way.

律呂 Lülü, 工尺 gongche and 俗字 suzi 譜 notation systems
Suzi symbols and some commentary copied from
this page by Babelstone

These notation systems have little to do with qin music, particularly when dealing with Ming sources. However, some Qing dynasty handbooks utilize one of these systems alongside the qin tablature; and some people have tried adapting for qin songs that Jiang Kui apparently wrote for other instruments (q.v.). The following chart is part of an imperfect attempt to try to begin to understand such matters.

The three systems considered here are:

Throughout history many other systems of notation came to be used in China; the three below are included here because they are connected to matters covered elsewhere on this site. The chart has been modified from the referenced page by the addition of the seven figures added under "comments" (copied from Pian, p.59). They do not seem actually to occur in the Jiang Kui ci songs.

3' 姑清 (7)     Not used in suzi tablature/notation
2♯'/3♭'               Pian:
2' 太清 6   Same fingering as : blow harder
1♯'/2♭'               Pian:
1' 黃清 liù 5 ○●●●●● Same fingering as : blow harder
7 應(鐘) fán (4) ○●●○○●
6♯/7♭ 無(射)       Pian:
6 南(呂) gōng 3 ●○○●●●  
5♯/6♭ 夷(則)       Pian:
5 林(鐘) chě 2 ●●○○●●  
4# 蕤(賓) gōu   ●●○●●● Gōu and shàng do not usually appear in the same piece: which is used depends on the mode.
4 中(呂) shàng 1 ●●●○○●  
3 姑(洗) 7 ●●●●○○  
2♯/3♭ 夾(鐘)         Pian:
2 太(簇) 6 ●●●●●○  
1♯/2♭ 大(呂)         Pian:
1 黃(鐘} 5 ●●●●●●  

In addition there were a number of "secondary symbols" that apparently indicated holds or ornaments/deflections. Those listed in Pian, pp.67-8 are as follows:

Symbol Name Pinyin   Explanation
01 小住 xiao zhu   Pian: small pause
02 che   Pian: reduction
03 zhe   Pian: deflection
04 大住 da zhu   Pian: big pause
05 da   Pian: strike
06 none n/a   Pian: none; note similarity with first symbol on upper chart
07 none n/a   Pian: none; note similarity with #5 above
08 none n/a   Pian: none; note similarity with 4th figure on upper chart
09 none n/a   Pian: none; note similarity with #3 above
10 none n/a   Pian: none, but "occurs in combination with other symbols in the 17 ci"

These charts should not be considered as definitive: I am not a specialist in this area. One issue with the first chart is that it suggests that there would have been problems writing the names of notes not infrequently heard on qin: although qin music published in the Ming dynasty primarily used the pentatonic scale 1 2 3 5 6, non-pentatonic notes were also quite commonly used, primarily 3♭, 4, 4♯, 7♭ and 7. As can be seen from the chart above, neither the gongche nor the suzi systems seems to include two of the most important of these notes, 3♭ and 7♭.

As for the second chart, about the best that can be said is that (Pian, pp.67-8),

"according to various authors (they) stand for melodic and rhythmic modifications....Song treatises discussed these secondary symbols in terms of their descriptive names, and in recent years many writers have tried to correlate these verbal descriptions with some of the symbols in Jiang Kui's music. However, given the uncertainty of the forms of the symbols both in the music and in the treatises, which have gone through many printings, such correlations can remain only conjectural".

Nevertheless, some reconstructions have tried to be scientific in their use of these secondary symbols, as though they are the only clues to note values. In my own transcriptions of Jiang Kui songs I have tried to keep them under consideration, but generally treat them as flexible guidelines rather than presciptions.

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