Modality in early Ming qin tablature  
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Modality in early Ming qin tablature 1
 with Special Reference to Shen Qi Mi Pu (1425 CE) 2

There are several existing Song, Yuan and Ming dynasty publications of notable importance for examining contemporary attitudes towards mode.4 However, they seem mostly to rely almost totally on theory, while to understand how the modes actually worked at that time it is also necessary to have extensive reliable music examples. As a result, my focus in this area, as I have reconstructed about 300 melodies surviving in Ming dynasty publications5 (from the original tablature6 making transcriptions into staff notation7 as well as recordings8), has been to collect and organize the actual music in such as way as to facilitate analysis based on direct observation rather than theory. These observations do not necessarily correspond to Chinese classical texts concerning notes and modes,9 or their traditional modal theories.10 What they do suggest is that early qin modes can be defined largely in terms of their relative tuning and tonal centers (main note[s] and secondary [notes]), though some modes may also have non-musical associations.11 The following chart summarizes some of the most important such musical characteristics of the modes.

Chart of the tunings and modes in Shen Qi Mi Pu (1425; 中文) 12
Compare Xilutang Qintong

mode name tuning main note(s) Secondary note(s) Main string Tuning method
gong 5612356 1 (gong) 5 (zhi) 3rd (jue) standard
shang 1245612 1 (gong) 2, 5 (shang, zhi) 1st (gong) standard
jue 5612356 1 (gong) 3, 6 (jue, yu) 3rd (jue) standard
zhi 1245612 5 (zhi) 2 (shang) 4th (zhi) standard
yu 5612356 6 (yu) 3 (jue) 2nd (shang) standard
shangjue 1245612 1 (gong) 3, 6 (jue, yu) 1st (gong) standard
          Non-standard :  
manshang 1145612 1 (gong) 5 (zhi) 1 (gong) slacken 2nd
manjue 1235612 1 (gong) 5 (zhi) [3 (jue)] 1st (gong) slacken 3rd
ruibin 2356123 6 (yu) 3, 2, 1 (jue, shang, gong) 4th (zhi) tighten 5th
qiliang 2456123 2 (shang) 6 (yu) 1st (gong) tighten 2nd/5th
guxian 6123561' 1 (gong); 5 (zhi) 6 (yu); 3 (jue) 2nd (shang); 5th (yu) tighten 2nd/5th/7th
mangong 3561235 6 (yu); 1 (gong) 3 (jue) 3rd (jue); 4th (zhi) slacken 1st/3rd/6th
huangzhong 1356123 3, 6 (jue, yu) 1, 5 (gong, zhi) 2nd, 4th (shang, zhi) slacken 1, tighten 5

Regarding this chart, the first five modes are considered the most basic ones. Even for tunings where an open string is non-pentatonic, all modes are still centered on the basic collection of notes of the (relative pitch) pentatonic scale 1 2 3 5 6 (traditionally called gong, shang, jue, zhi, yu), corresponding to the Western do, re, mi, sol, la. For standard tuning modes the first string is always considered either 5 or 1. At times there apparently has been some controversy over which is more "correct"; the data here, however, is based almost purely on observation.13

  1. Mode names (column 1). Since at least the Tang dynasty qin melodies have been organized into qin modes such as those named in column 1; it is not clear, however, for what time periods the characteristics mentioned here can be applied.14
  2. Tuning method (column 6 [last]). This determines the relative relation between the notes played on the seven open strings. These are of two types:
    Standard: notes of the pentatonic scale arranged as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 , though this could also be considered as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6
    Non-standard: variations on the above, usually described in front of the relevant melody, as here in the last column
  3. Qin tuning (relative; column 2): Pitches are determined by the tuning method (column 6); notes are named in terms of which string is used as 1 (do). Early Chinese texts do not seem to discuss this, and often it is not clear whether "diao" is referring to a relative tuning or to its modal characteristics.
  4. Main note (or notes; column 3). This is determined by overall frequency of occurrence, frequency at the end of phrases and frequency at section endings; it is also usually the last note of a piece.15
  5. Secondary note (or notes; column 4). Determined by overall frequency and frequency at the end of phrases.
  6. Main string (column 5). Determining the relative tuning and the main note determines the main string. The string names are gong, shang, jue, zhi, yu, wen and wu. The first five also correspond to note names and mode names.16 However, the name of the main open string is not necessarily the same as note it plays.17

Further on column 6 (tuning method), it has been mentioned above that this refers to determining to what relative pitches the strings are tuned in relation to each other. Of course, "tuning method" also means the physical method of turning the tuning pegs so that the tassels are tightened and loosened. In this vein it might be said that the actual pitch is generally determined by how much one can tighten the strings without causing them regularly to break.18

The transcriptions of my Shen Qi Mi Pu reconstructions use staff notation as though C is 1 (gong, do) rather than a fixed pitch. Perhaps I first did this because of hearing that the first string should be considered as "C", even though it seemed that in fact with standard tuning the bottom string could be tuned anywhere from about C two octaves below middle C down to as low as A one and a half steps lower. Later I used relative pitch as a method of avoiding having to write accidentals. Eventually, though, I discovered the best reason: it provided a standard basis for comparing the modes.19

Using this transcription method, when standard tuning is considered 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 (gong, jue and yu mode transcriptions), then the lowest note is written in staff notation as G one octave plus a fourth below middle C. When standard tuning is considered 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 (shang, zhi and shangjue modes), then the lowest note is written in staff notation as C two octaves below middle C. With this as a basis, it is quite straightforward to figure out from the chart above the lowest notes in transcriptions for non-standard tunings.20


Further regarding the first column, it has been mentioned that in the qin context the Chinese word diao21 can mean both mode and relative tuning. The first column lists the 13 different modes in Shen Qi Mi Pu, but these represent only eight different qin tunings: the first six modes listed on the chart all use standard tuning, while the next seven each uses a different non-standard tuning. For non-standard tunings the tuning name and mode name are the same, but for standard tuning there are six different mode names (alternate arrangements are also possible22).

As for the second column of the chart, the notes of the Chinese pentatonic scale can be named according to their Western equivalents do re mi sol la. In Chinese writings these notes were traditionally called gong shang jue zhi yu. As was seen in column one, these are also the names of modes; and as can be seen in column five these are also the names of qin strings. In old notation the notes were sometimes written in a system called gongchepu; this then evolved into the modern Chinese number notation system, which uses Arabic numerals. In this modern system the same pentatonic scale is written 1 2 3 5 6. In my transcriptions into staff notation I have always made do or 1 = C. However, it must be emphasized that even though the music is written using staff notation, these are not absolute pitches but relative pitches (see comment).

Modal characteristics of the early qin modes are outlined in columns three and four. These specific structural details can be further elaborated as follows:

Further regarding flatted thirds and whole-tones thirds, it was a characteristic of melodies in certain modes to include both, usually taking place above tonal centers. This is not detailed in the above chart, but it does merit more detailed analysis, since it seems to be unique to surviving early qin tablature and is thus very intriguing. Although this characteristic can be found in any mode, it is particularly common in the shang mode. In Shen Qi Mi Pu shang mode has the largest number of melodies : 11 of the 22 melodies using standard tuning.28 Nevertheless, only three of these shang mode melodies continued in qin handbooks after 1600. These three are:29

The other eight shang mode melodies in Shen Qi Mi Pu are in this way similar to most of the Folio I pieces (the "most ancient spiritual pieces"), which also mostly have not survived, or if they did, survived in quite a different form. Before 1600 these usually were simply copied out as they occured in Shen Qi Mi Pu; after 1600 they are rarely found.

Is there a connection between the disappearance of most shang mode melodies and their unusual use of thirds? What can we learn from analyzing this characteristic in the three shang mode melodies from Shen Qi Mi Pu that did survive? In fact, one of these, Yi Lan, is one of the few of its shang mode pieces in which the flatted thirds might be considered ambiguous.30 As for the other two, Yin De survived in a different version, named Qiujiang Yebo,31 which had no flatted thirds. And later versions of Bai Xue also survived in versions which largely had no flatted thirds, beginning with the very much simpler version of Bai Xue in Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539).32

All this suggests that a shifting third was a characteristic of many ancient qin melodies, and is thus evidence that melodies found in Shen Qi Mi Pu are indeed relics of earlier times. A number of melodies in Xilutang Qintong (1525) also share this characteristic; so this, in turn, may suggest a similar antiquity for some of its melodies.33 The compiler, Wang Zhi, did write (as had Zhu Quan) of collecting old tablature and then reprinting it.

Another characteristic of some melodies, already mentioned above, is the inclusion of both flatted 7s and 7s. The earliest version of Dongting Qiu Si (Autumn Thoughts at Dongting), in Xilutang Qintong, has this characteristic.34 Dongting Qiusi is in the zhi mode (see chart above), which has zhi (5) as the main note.35 A third above 5 is 7, and here 7 is often flatted. This is thus comparable to the flatted thirds and whole-tones thirds of shang mode; and likewise, later versions of this melody soon changed the flatted sevens to non-flatted sevens.

Huangzhong mode (again see chart) offers different but still related examples. Here the main note is usually yu (la, 6). The third above 6 is 1; this interval being a minor third, sometimes 1 is sharpened to 1#, making a whole-tone third.36 Likewise in yu mode, where the main note is again 6, 1 is sometimes changed to 1#.37 In addition, the tonal center in both modes often shifts up a fifth from 6 to 3 (mi). When 3 becomes the tonal center, 4 is often played as 4#.

Within Shen Qi Mi Pu, the huangzhong tuning may in fact be sub-divided into two or three different modes. And if the examination of non-standard tunings is extended beyond Shen Qi Mi Pu the situation becomes still more complex.38

Modal preludes (調意 diao yi or diaoyi) 39

Ming dynasty qin handbooks usually group melodies according to diao, a word which as mentioned above can refer either to the relative tuning of the seven strings (the tuning is clearly indicated) or to the mode (though the modal characteristics are never directly described). At the beginning of each such group there is often a short modal prelude; as suggested by its name, diao yi ("yi" variously means "meaning", "definition", "significance"), it was supposed to convey something of its essence. Clearly the modes were important, but there is little writing that clearly explains their meaning or function.40 Qing dynasty handbooks, even when they group pieces by mode, almost never included modal preludes.41

R. H. Van Gulik42 considered the diaoyi very important. His comments are interesting, but some of what he wrote is rather questionable. For example, he said that they "contain all the main grips necessary for executing tunes set to this mode," and that "although the tunes themselves as given in the early Ming handbooks differ greatly, the diaoyi are practically uniform." Neither of these comments accords with my own observations.

Tang and Song dynasty lists of musical pieces often grouped them according to diao.43 In addition, two surviving Song or Yuan dynasty sources, Shilin Guangji and Taiyin Daquanji, each have a set of five standard tuning diaoyi, as follows:

Shen Qi Mi Pu has three folios (see its Table of Contents): the first folio, with what are thought to be the oldest melodies, have no diaoyi but they do have two kaizhi; the second and third, with what are thought to be later melodies, have 14 diaoyi.44

In Folios II and III each mode begins with a modal prelude called a Celestial Air (Shenpin). Earlier kaizhi are said to have filled the same function, but each of the two kaizhi in Folio One is specifically connected to one piece, Guangling San and Qiuyue Zhao Maoting. Also, the one surviving earlier kaizhi, Kaizhi Huangying Yin, found in the Song dynasty Shilin Guangji, also seems to have been connected to a specific piece, Huangying Yin, now lost.

Although many Shen Qi Mi Pu pieces end with the instructions "play again the harmonic ending of the diaoyi,"45 it is not certain whether any of these diaoyi was ever specifically connected to that piece. On the other hand, in later handbooks such as Xilutang Qintong common melodic themes between some of the diao yi and the pieces following them do seem to suggest they were created to go together.46

After the Ming dynasty, although pieces are rarely grouped by mode, an attempt is still made to identify the mode. It seems that often the attempt was to be more precise than during the Ming, for example, by giving separate indications for tuning and modal characteristics. There seem to be no detailed studies of the results (at least in English), but the analysis would probably have to be much more complex than what is shown here.

In my experience the diaoyi do convey some of the mood of the mode. I find them quite lovely and enjoy them as a form of psychological preparation for a tune in that mode. I also tend to associate them with the specific piece which follows, but this may very well be because I usually play these two together. The piece following the diaoyi in Shen Qi Mi Pu is often short, the longer pieces being put at the end of the section devoted to that mode.

Modal groupings ("trilogies")

As mentioned, almost all handbooks produced during the Ming dynasty group the melodies by mode; modal groupings usually begin with a modal prelude, but the relationship between the preludes and the pieces in that mode is not always clear. In addition, though, at one time melodies apparently were sometimes grouped into sets of three. Generally such groupings each consists only of the modal prelude itself followed by a short melody then a longer melody. This is most clear in the case of at least five such modal groupings in Shen Qi Mi Pu. Such groupings appear to be more common with non-standard tuning than with standard tuning. For example, in the Shen Qi Mi Pu there is only one such grouping in Folio 2, which has only standard tuning melodies (see #33 - 35) while there are four in Folio 3, which has mostly non-standard tuning melodies (see #51 - 53, #54, 56 - 57, #58 - 60, #62 - 64).

Were these all intended as integrated sets of three (musical trilogies)? Such trilogies, always consisting of modal prelude, melodic prelude and main piece, can also be found in certain later handbooks, in particular Xilutang Qintong (1525). This clearly seems to be the case for its #113 - 115, #122 - 124, #125 - 127, #128 - 130, and #153 - 155. In other cases, for example its #2 - #4 and #101 - #103 (where the third piece in the set appeared earlier, independent of the preludes) the connection between the three may be less integrated, suggesting that sometimes the pairing of preludes and melodies may have been somewhat ad.hoc..


In general, Chinese sources are indeed very much conflicting in their descriptions of modes. Shen Qi Mi Pu describes tuning, but does not discuss modes and so the initial impression is that mode may be determined by theme. There may be some truth in this.47 However, analysis of the notes shows that the modes can perhaps better be defined in terms of the relations between the actual notes played, in particular, which ones are emphasized. Certain modes also have more of a tendency to use non-pentatonic pitches.

It also seems likely that the performance characteristics within modes are in fact determined to a certain extent by which string has the important notes. Thus if the main string is the open first or open second, playing octaves between the first and sixth and/or second and seventh strings might be common, whereas if the main note is on the open third string, such octaves become less common. The diaoyi may indeed prepare one for this, and more specific research might eventually show systematic differences in finger technniques between the modes. However, so far I do not have much of a sense of how this might happen.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Modality in early Ming qin tablature
This analysis of mode is an expansion on Modality, a section of the paper Some Issues in Historically Informed Qin Performance. I originally presented that paper at the ACMR meeting in Detroit, October 2001.

Although the analysis here is based on observations of mode as found in qin zither tablature published during the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), much of the music, particularly what was published in Shen Qi Mi Pu, is thought actually to pre-date the Ming dynasty. As for how my understanding of mode in qin music during the Ming dynasty might relate either to qin music specifically or to other traditional Chinese music as played today, this is not a topic I have been able to study to the extent that it deserves.

The first issue with regard to studying the modes is assigning names to the actual notes. In this regard I should mention the interactions regarding mode that I have had over the years with Dr. Tong Kin-Woon about his use of solfeggio singing.

In the early days of the project I was encouraged by the way Dr. Tong used solfeggio when singing qin melodies I was reconstructing (唱名, a habit he originally used as an active performer of various traditional Cantonese vocal forms, such as operatic song and nanyin). When following along with my reconstructions the notes he independently sang (he didn't look at my transcriptions) as relative pitch do were invariably the ones I was transcribing into staff notation as C. Then in 2016, when I asked him about the modailty of the Cantonese music he sang, he told me that, although he had never studied their music theory, he had made some observations about mode. His basic observation was that there seemed to be four types of melodies in both traditional Cantonese music and modern qin music. Each of the four was distinguished by which three notes were the most important. This can be outlined as follows:

  1. "so - re mode": 5 as main, then 2, then 1
  2. "do - sol mode": 1 as main, then 5, then 3
  3. "la - mi mode": 6 as main, then 3, then 2
  4. "re - la mode": 2 as main, then 6, then 5

Other than the popularity of so - re over do - so, this corresponds very nicely with the data given here in the Chart of the tunings and modes. However, in that brief discussion the examples Dr. Tong gave me all came from the modern qin repertoire. In the future I hope to get some examples from traditional Cantonese music as well.

2. Shen Qi Mi Pu and other important musical sources
Shen Qi Mi Pu (SQMP), compiled in 1425 by Ming prince Zhu Quan as part of a conscious effort to reconstruct music from the Song dynasty and earlier, is the earliest surviving substantial collection of qin music. Most of my analysis of the music is online, linked through the SQMP Table of Contents. In addition, I have made a complete set of recordings of all 64 melodies, as well as a complete set of transcriptions. I have done similar work with other early handbooks (see footnote below). These include

4. Early sources for qin music theory
Of particular interest should be the Qin Tong by Xu Li (see also QSCB, Chapter 6a3); it seems to have been discussed in detail by Chen Minzi in his Qinlü Fawei (see in QSDQ, Folio 2; QQJC V/37-62). None of this has been translated into English and my own understanding of that work is minimal, since I have not been able to match the theories to actual musical examples.

5. Primary music sources
"Reconstructed" here means I have written out a transcription into staff notation (copying the tablature [next footnote] underneath the respective notes), found structures that I find pleasing and that allow me to memorize the melody, and made a recording. Although I have in this way reconstructed approximately 300 melodies, I have also studied a number of other melodies, but my understanding of them is much less complete - I don't really feel I have an instinct for their structure. My main work has been on (but not limited to) music in the following handbooks:

You Lan (7th c. CE)
Gu Yuan (12th c. CE)
Taiyin Daquanji / Taigu Yiyin (orig. Song dynasty)
Shen Qi Mi Pu (1425)
Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (<1491)
Taigu Yiyin (1511 and 1515)
Xilutang Qintong (1525)
Faming Qinpu (1530)
Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539)
Sanjiao Tongsheng (1592)
Songxianguan Qinpu (1614)

Melodies I have learned/studied from later handbooks seem to be showing changing modal characteristics.

6. Qin tablature
Qin tablature does not directly name the notes (though since the latter 19th century some attempt has been made to add this information); instead it tells the relative tuning, finger positions and stroke techniques; it does not directly indicate note values, as the actual melody was generally learned from a teacher, not directly from the tablature. It should also be remembered that tablature was not written as a composition, but as a description of how a certain player was playing that melody.

Music was not written in qin tablature as a composition but as a description of how a certain player was playing that melody. This is why the tablature does not directly indicate note values: the actual melody was generally learned from a teacher, not directly from the tablature. As with tablature in general, qin tablature does not directly name the notes (though since the latter 19th century some attempt has been made to add this information); instead it tells the relative tuning, finger positions and stroke techniques. And because qins are tuned to relative pitch the tablature also indicates relative pitch.

7. Staff notation: using it to indicate relative pitch (also see Absolute pitch and Connecting Chinese modal theory to actual qin practice).
Chinese traditional notation systems generally expressed relative pitch. Thus the notes of the Chinese pentatonic scale gong shang jue zhi yu, today generally expressed as 1 2 3 5 6 , can be seen as equivalent to the Western do re mi sol la. Qin tablature does not directly express either note value or pitch, whether relative or absolute: it only tells finger positions, stroke techniques and ornamentation. Transcribing qin music into staff notation thus requires assigning pitch as well as note values.

Staff notation expresses music through notes on music staves. This is often thought to represent absolute pitch: the note a' should be 440Hz (vibrations per second). However, historical research indicates that pitch has been rising over the centuries. Thus, during the Baroque period the actual pitch of a' varied regionally or from ensemble to ensemble. In fact, a study of the pitch of surviving Baroque organs shows that in the 18th century the pitch A could be less than 400 vibrations per second (approximately B flat).

For my analysis, relative pitch is much more important than absolute pitch, and so in writing out transcriptions for at least 200 melodies from the Ming dynasty I have used Western staff notation as though it was equivalent to the Chinese number notation system. Had I been familiar with the number notation I might have used it; its relative note values would be quite appropriate. However, by using Western staff notation I found that its visual aspect helped me perceive contours in the music. In addition, some Chinese analysis now seems to insist on treating 1 not as the relative pitch do but as the Western concert pitch "C".

What, then, should I do about the fact that using staff notation required at least tentatively assigning fixed pitches? In general, while writing out the notation I have always determined the actual notes by selecting the ones that to the greatest extent avoid accidentals (sharps and flats). In number notation terms this would mean trying to assign notes the relative pitches of the diatonic scale 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. The result of using this method has been that the actual notes have fallen overwhelmingly into the Chinese pentatonic scale 1 2 3 5 6. The most common non-pentatonic notes are 4 and 7; the most common non-diatonic notes are 3b and 7b. The implications of this are a major focus of the analysis on the present page.

To test the note assignments made here I have played the melodies for people who can name the relative notes while singing them (think of "Twinkle twinkle little star..." sung as "do do sol sol la la sol...."). Here I have discovered that the names they almost always assign to the notes of these melodies are the relative notes I had selected. In other words, they naturally sing do for my C, re for my D, etc.

It might be added here that, from earliest times one can find Chinese efforts to determine the "best" pitch for music (i.e., the best pitch for huangzhong, the yellow bell). Perhaps because of this some people have tried to assign a "best" pitch to qin strings; clearly, though, in actual music practice the pitch was relative. And although using staff notation to express relative note values may be confusing for someone familiar only with staff notation, it is this custom which has allowed me to make the discoveries described here about modality in early qin music. To my knowledge no one else uses this system, and perhaps this is the reason more has not been discovered about the principles of early qin modes.

8. My recordings
In addition to my CDs and transcriptions (including a 6 CD set of Shen Qi Mi Pu recordings and the Music Beyond Sound CD, with music from Zheyin Shizi Qinpu), I have over 60 .mp3 files linked on this website from Hear Qin.

9. Notes and modes in Chinese classical texts
Typical texts include the following from the Book of Music in the Records of the Grand Historian:

  1. 宮為君,商為臣,角為民,徵為事,羽為物。五者不亂,則無惉懘之音矣。宮亂則荒,其君驕;商亂則搥,其臣壞;角亂則憂,其民怨;徵亂則哀,其事勤;羽亂則危,其財匱。五者皆亂,迭相陵,謂之慢。
  2. 宮動脾而和正聖,商動肺而和正義,角動肝而和正仁,徵動心而和正禮,羽動腎而和正智。
  3. 聞宮音,使人溫舒而廣大;聞商音,使人方正而好義;聞角音,使人惻隱而愛人;聞徵音,使人樂善而好施;聞羽音,使人整齊而好禮。

The first concerns the consequences of notes not being tuned properly. The says the notes affect different parts of the body. The third describes ways each note (or mode?) affects people's spirits or character.

10. Connecting Chinese modal theory to actual qin practice
I have not studied traditional Chinese music theory in detail. One reason for this is that it doesn't seem to have any connection to the reality of what I have found in surviving qin tablature that I have studied, mostly from the early Ming dynasty.

As of early 2006 I have transcribed about 200 qin melodies into staff notation. Since the original tablature does not indicate note values, determining these is at the core of this work, which in Chinese is called dapu (for more on this see Dapu: Bringing old music to life ).

Determining the notes is much less of a problem, though it must be emphasized that, as the original tablature does not indicate absolute pitch, neither do my transcriptions, even though they are written in staff notation. Thus, when looking at my transcriptions, it is important realize (as described above) that I treat staff notation as though it is Chinese number notation. This number notation in the past used various Chinese terms but today usually uses Arabic numerals. Thus the notes of the Chinese pentatonic scale (traditionally called "gong shang jue zhi yu") are written 1 2 3 5 6. This may sometimes mean the (relatively) absolute pitches C D E G A, but traditionally these numbers refer to the relative pitches that Western systems call do re mi sol la. ("Relatively absolute" refers to the fact that although today the pitch "A" may be 440 vibrations per second, in the past it was much lower: 400 v/s or perhaps even lower.)

Thus, in my staff notation what is written as the note "C" actually means "do" or, as in the number Chinese system, "1" (traditionally: "gong"). When doing my transcriptions, I determine which note is to be called "1" (and thus notated as "C") by first trying to arrange the notation so that the only notes are notes that fit the Chinese pentatonic scale 1 2 3 5 6. Once I have done this I have almost invariably found that most of the other notes in that piece are 4 and 7, and there are no sharps or flats unless it is a characteristic of the mode (e.g., a characteristic of the shang made in early Ming tablature is that it includes a flatted 3 as well as the whole-tones 3.)

The best test of this system is to play the melody for someone who can sing naming the notes (usually they sing solfeggio: "do re mi"). The result is that they almost always sing "do" for what I have written as "C". The exceptions usually occur if they start in the middle of a piece, at a section where the tonal center has changed.

Having done this, several major problems arise in connecting qin practice to traditional Chinese modal theory.

The first major problem is the fact that in qin music there is no absolute pitch. The actual pitch depends at a minimum on the size of the instrument, and you can see that instruments vary a lot in size. Other factors include the quality of the instrument, the quality of the strings, the temperature and other factors, including presumably the taste of the player.

The second major problem is that, for some reason I don't understand, the standard tuning of the seven qin strings is not 1 2 3 5 6 1 2, but 1 2 4 5 6 1 2; the third string is thus the non-pentatonic note fa (some people have written that gong should be fa not do, but there the same problem remains, just the names are different). Tuning the qin this way means that to make the open strings fit the traditional Chinese pentatonic system you have to make the third string play the note "gong". The tuning then becomes 5 6 1 2 3 5 6. Since from ancient times the 7 strings have been called gong shang jue zhi yu Wen Wu, it seems that there will always be confusion. In other words, whether the tuning is seen as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 or 5 6 1 2 3 5 6, the names of the notes do not correspond to the names of the strings. (N.B.: According to tradition the qin originally had five strings, the sixth and seventh being added by Wen Wang and Wu Wang; in most tunings the 1st and 6th string form octaves, as do the 2nd and 7th.)

Because of this, it would seem that the most logical standard tuning should be 1 2 3 5 6 1 2. In fact this is quite an uncommon tuning, its lack of importance emphasized by the fact that it is sometimes called "lowered third string" tuning. (For more on this tuning see Shenpin Biyu Yi.) If this were standard tuning it would probably be much easier to apply the traditional Chinese theory to qin music. In this regard, I can only suggest that the reason this tuning is not so common is not a theoretical reason, but because of the third main problem, to be discussed next.

The third main problem in aligning actual qin practice to traditional theory is the fact that the qin can use many different tunings, and these developed naturally, not according to any theory. These tunings can be divided into two types (here "diao" means "tuning").

正調 zheng diao (standard tuning)
外調 wai diao (non-standard tunings)

As mentioned above, to fit the theory most easily standard tuning should be 1 2 3 5 6 1 2. Perhaps originally it was, and perhaps it became in fact a rather uncommon tuning because, through acual qin play, it turned out that it was easier to play with the third string used for the note gong (do, 1), and this was true even if the first string was actually played as the note gong, meaning the tuning had to be considered 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 (treating the tuning this way often means trying to avoid playing the open third string). Whatever the reason, the standard qin tuning has made it very difficult to fit traditional Chinese music theory into qin practice.

A fourth problem in aligning actual qin practice to traditional theory is the fact that qin music does not include the variety of modes that some interpretations of the theory seem to require. Thus it has been written that gong (1), shang (2), jue (3), zhi (5), and yu (6) modes should (as with the old Western church modes) have as their main notes (in order) 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 within the scale 1 2 3 5 6. However, no matter what the name of the mode, surviving early qin music (and this includes You Lan, which dates from the 7th century or earlier) almost always has as the main notes 1 or 6 (with the secondary notes almost always a fifth above this). Sometimes (see zhi mode in the chart above) the main note can be 5 (again the secondary note is a fifth above) but, if the scale is to remain 1 2 3 5 6, the main note is never 2 or 3. So does this mean there is no shang or jue mode in qin music?

The actual situation with qin modes (again see the chart above) looks quite complex, but everything seems to revolve around the main note (tonic or fundamental) being either 1 (with 5 as the secondary note) or 6 (with 3 as the secondary note), corresponding interestingly with the Western major and minor modes. Still, there is quite a bit of variety and fairly clear distinctions within the modes. Again, the characteristics outlined in the chart are based on examining only the 64 melodies in one handbook (1425). A study of later handbooks suggests that the system holds up for a while, but then there are changes. For an example of one such change, see the discussion of the modal differences between Qiu Jiang Ye Bo (1614) and Yin De (1425).

11. Non-musical associations with mode
Perhaps the most obvious example of this is that melodies about birds are often in the yu (literally, "feather") mode. Other associations seem to be less obvious. Thus many melodies in huangzhong mode are connected to Central Asian/nomad themes. Melodies associated with the old region of Chu often use one of the raised fifth tunings.

There seems to be no connection between such associations and the non-musical associations with strings and notes such as can be found in Taiyin Daquanji, Folio 1, Discussion of Strings (QQJC I/38).

12. Chart of Shen Qi Mi Pu modes
More detailed analysis of individual tunings and tuning methods is on a separate page, while analysis of individual modes can be found linked to the chart above. The number of tunings here in Shen Qi Mi Pu (one standard and seven non-standard) is exceeded only by the number in Xilutang Qintong (1525), which has an additional six non-standard tunings, making a total of 14 different tunings.

Summarizing my observations from reconstructing melodies in Shen Qi Mi Pu, standard tuning modes seem to a large extent to be determined by musical relationships such as the relative tuning and the tonal centers (primary and secondary); non-standard tuning modes seem categorized simply by the tuning (see further comment suggesting this may not always be/have been the case). It should be emphasized that these are my own observations: I have not seen any comments on tonal centers in original Chinese sources. Even non-technical modal associations mentioned with modal preludes (such as bird themes with yu [feather] mode) are often my own observation rather than specific comments from the original sources. And although in some handbooks, but separate from the melodies, one can find extensive original essays on the mathematics and cosmology of the modes, I have never been able to apply these comments to the facts of the music as I hear it.

Comment on later modal categorization
It should be emphasized that my analysis is based almost exclusively on tablature published during the Ming dynasty. Some of the music is clearly older than that, but details are not such as to allow one at present to separate Ming modal characteristics from earlier ones.

Comments on the modern repertoire rarely speak of "diao". My focus being the Ming dynasty I am not in a position to connect analysis of the modern repertoire with the early repertoire. Here, though, are some preliminary comments.

A few Ming handbooks, though grouping melodies by mode, seem to avoid using the word diao. This situation seems to have continued at least until the 19th century, as can be seen from the following highlights:

  1. Taiyin Buyi (1557)
    This handbook groups melodies by mode, but does not mention diao. At the beginning of each "mode" there is a modal prelude said to be a 考 kao (examination) of the modal 意 yi (meaning). As with some earlier commentary there is a statement, for example, under 宮意考 gong yi kao, of gong mode being associated with the first string ("宮,一絃之正聲").
  2. Lixing Yuanya (1618)
    Here the melodies are first split into standard tuning (本調 bendiao and non-standard tuning (別調 biediao. Then within these the standard tuning modes are called 音 yin (e.g., 本調宮音 bendiao gongyin for gong mode, while the non-standard tunings are called simply by their name (e.g., 黃鐘 huangzhong for huangzhong mode).
  3. Huiyan Mizhi (1647)
    Here no mention is made of bendiao or biediao, but the standard tuning modes are called 音 yin while the non-standard tunings are called 調 diao.
  4. Lü Hua (1833)
    This may be the earliest qin handbook to use the word "均 jun" to mean mode (2/1059 says jun can mean 調和 or 調節, quoting Mao's commentary to the 詩經 Shi Jing as saying "均,調也 jun is the same as diao"). The principles seem to be set out in a chart and section called 五子圖解 Wu zi tu jie), starting in QQJC XXI/279. There is also extensive commentary with each melody that may also clarify the system. However, as yet I have not figured out what the texts mean. The word "jun" is not used with all the melodies in the handbook.
  5. Wuxueshanfang Qinpu (1836)
    This handbook, sometimes said to be the earliest surviving handbook of the Lingnan School, may be the first to classify all its melody by 均 jun, subdivided into 音 yin. The categorization seems to be the same as in Lü Hua, just mentioned above.

    This handbook categorizes melodies within each jun according to 音 yin. Here is some data on the jun it uses:

    • 黃鐘均 huangzhong jun: standard tuning; 1st string as gong (XXII/228-269)
      11 pieces: 10 宮音 gongyin, 1 商音 shangyin (but it is "played using zhongl&uum; jun")
    • 太簇均 taicou jun: lower 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th strings; 7th string as gong (equivalent to next; XXII/270-274)
      1 piece: 宮音 gongyin (Dao Yi)
    • 夾鐘均 jiazhong jun: tighten 2nd, 5th and 7th strings; 7th string as gong (XXII/275-284)
      2 pieces: 1 宮音 gongyin, 1 羽音 yuyin
    • 中呂均 zhonglü jun: standard tuning; 3rd string as gong (XXII/285-393)
      29 pieces: 11 宮音 gongyin, 8 商音 shangyin, 3 角音 jueyin, 2 徵音 zhiyin, 5 羽音 yuyin
    • 夷則均 yize jun: loosen 1st, 3rd and 6th strings; 4th string as gong (equivalent to next; XXII/394-395)
      1 piece: 宮音 gongyin (Dongting Qiu Si)
    • 南呂均 nanlü jun: tighten 2nd, 5th, 4th and 7th; 4th string as gong (XXII/396-398)
      1 piece: 宮音 gongyin (Xie Xian You)
    • 無射均 wuyi jun: tighten 5th, loosen 1st; 5th string as gong (XXII/398-421)
      5 pieces: 2 宮音 gongyin, 2 商音 shangyin, 1 羽音 yuyin

    Note the distinction between standard tuning with first string or third string as gong. Beyond this, I do not yet know the significance of the various yin within the jun.

  6. Tianwen'ge Qinpu (1876)
    This handbook generally follows the system described with 1618 above, but it then subdivides the groups into diao or juna. I have not worked out this system either, but with 145 entries copied from a number of different sources over time one might expect some inconsistencies.

The system of jun and yin can also be found in later handbooks, but I have also not made a study of that. (Note one apparently inconsistent usage)

13. Standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 and 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
Melodies with tuning considered as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 often avoid playing the open third string. Further regarding the third string, James Watt has written that Zhao Mengfu "criticised Yang Zuan for regarding the third string in the standard tuning of the qin as the fundamental of the scale (thus depriving the first string of its rightful place). The same criticism was voiced by Song Lian." An interesting sidelight to the argument that the rightful rôle of the gong string is to play the note gong is to point to the fact that if standard tuning were considered as 1 2 3 5 6 1 2 (i.e., what we call manjue ["lowered third string tuning"]) instead of 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 this "problem" would go away. However, I have not yet seen an argument to this effect.

14. One of the reasons for this analysis is in hopes that it can help determine the ages of surviving early qin melodies.

15. Sometimes the last notes (or note) of a melody seem(s) to be in a mode completely different from the rest of the piece. When this happens, for example Huaxu Yin, the reason is usually not clear: interpretation of theory? mistake? enjoyment of special effect?

16. Similarity of mode, note and string names
Note names : 宮音 gongyin, 商音 shangyin, 角音 jueyin, 徵音 zhiyin, 羽音 yuyin
Mode names: 宮調 gongdiao, 商調 shangdiao, 角調 juediao, 徵調 zhidiao, 羽調 yudiao
String names: 宮 gong, 商 shang, 角 jue, 徵 zhi, 羽 yu, 文 wen, 武 wu.
See further above as well as next.

17. String names and the notes they play
The seven open qin string names can be confusing because, although the first five of these are also note (and mode) names (see previous comment), only in the manjue tuning (also called Biyu Diao) do the names of the notes correspond closely with the names of the strings.

There is at least one instance in which it seems to be the name of the main string that determines the mode rather than the names of the main note and/or secondary note. Thus, the jue mode and shangjue mode both have 1 as the main note, with the secondary notes 3 and 6. However, whereas jue uses the third string as 1, shangjue uses the first string as 1. Thus perhaps "shangjue" is considered as a cross between jue and shang mode, which also uses the first string as 1.

18. One reason for the popularity of metal (nylon-metal) strings is apparently that if the first string is tuned up to C a metal string is less likely to break than a silk one. This, of course, is a very Western bias. On the other hand tuning to C can be a great convenience when playing with instruments that use Western pitch standard.

19. For more on relative notes see further comments above.

20. This may be important when trying to find a way to play with instruments tuned to A=440. If the first string cannot be tuned to C, for fear of breakage, one can instead tune it down to A. This is particularly useful with guxian tuning, which already lowers the first string. In guxian with A as the lowest string the relative tuning becomes A' C D E G A c , an easy tuning to use with fixed pitch instruments tuned to A=440.

21. Meanings of 調: diao or tiao
Besides "mode" and "qin tuning", the Chinese word "調 diao" has many other meanings including "melody" and (pronounced "tiao") "play" or "tune" (i.e., the physical act of tuning the instrument). See also Qin Tunings, Some Theoretical Concepts

22. Qin tunings: alternate arrangement (see chart)
This following organization of the one standard and seven non-standard Shen Qi Mi Pu tunings shows how they can be divided into five pentatonic scale tunings, then also into other tunings.

Pentatonic scale tunings in Shen Qi Mi Pu:
5 6 1 2 3 5 6 gong, jue, yu: standard tuning
6 1 2 3 5 6 1' guxian: transposed from 1 3b 4 5 7 1 3b, which was obtained by raising the second, fifth and seventh from 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
1 2 3 5 6 1 2 man'jue: obtained by lowering the third string from standard tuning 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
2 3 5 6 1 2 3 ruibin: transposed from 1 2 4 5 7b 1 2, obtained by raising the fifth string from 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
3 5 6 1 2 3 5 mangong: transposed from 1 2# 4 5# 6# 1 2#, obtained by raising the second, fourth, fifth and seventh from 1 2 4 5 6 1 2.
or more commonly from 7 2 3 5 6 7 2', obtained by lowering the first, third and sixth from 1 2 4 5 6 1 2.

Non-pentatonic scale tunings in Shen Qi Mi Pu
1 2 4 5 6 1 2 shang, zhi, shangjue: standard tuning but with third string as fa
1 1 4 5 6 1 2 manshang: standard tuning with third string as fa and second string lower a whole tone
2 4 5 6 1 2 3 qiliang: transposed from 1 3b 4 5 7b 1 2, obtained by raising the second and fifth from 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
1 3 5 6 1 2 3 huangzhong: transposed from 7b 2 4 5 7b 1' 2', obtained by lowering the first (a whole tone) and raising the fifth from 1 2 4 5 6 1 2.

Huangzhong is pentatonic but not pentatonic scale because it skips the lower 2 (re)

As mentioned above, some later handbooks have still other non-pentatonic scale tunings; in particular, Xilutang Qintong has an additional six, totalling 14 different tunings.

23. Transposition (see glossary)
Transposition is generally defined as writing or performing a melody in a key other than the stated one. Stated another way, it usually means either modifying pitch by moving it up or down, or to moving written notes up or down so that they indicate higher or lower pitch. Thus a singer might transpose a melody upwards to fit her vocal range; she may or may not transpose the written notes upwards so that they reflect the change in pitch.

These two examples assume the notation reflects absolute pitch. If the song instead had been written in relative pitch notation, then when transposing the melody it would be incorrect to tranpose the written notes. It might, however, be said that the notation itself has been transposed. Likewise, some qin melodies with 1 as the main tonal center play this note on the open first string. Other melodies with 1 as the main tonal center play this note on the open third string. If these are to be written in relative pitch notation then what must be tranposed is not the pitches or the written notes but the notation itself.

Such transpositions are reflected in column two (tuning) in the chart above. The above explanation covers the tranpositions for standard tunings, considered as the relative pitches 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 and 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 but having the same absolute pitches. It is a little more complicated for some of the non-standard tunings. Thus the ruibin tuning method requires tightening the fifth string. This means that the relative tuning 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 becomes 1 2 4 5 7 1 2. However, in ruibin the main note is 6, played on the open 4th string. Thus the notation itself must be transposed one (relative) note upwards from 1 2 4 5 7 1 2 to 2 3 5 6 1 2 3.

24. Modulation vs. tone center change: 1 - 5
The change of tonal centers in early qin music are not the same as modulation, though they may share some characteristics. Thus the most common modulation is up or down a fifth; this is also the most common tone center change. For true modulation from C to G the note F becomes F#. A comparable change in pentatonic music would have the scale 1 2 3 5 6 change to 5 6 7 1 2. In other words 3 is replaced by 7. This may explain some of the occurrences of 7s in qin music, but to my knowledge no one has done research into this aspect. (See also next.)

25. Modulation vs. tone center change: 1 - 6
Melodies using Huangzhong tuning mode are perhaps those that most commonly use a change in tonal centers between 1 and 5 and 6 and 3. Some of this can be seen, for example, in the Shen Qi Mi Pu melodies, Shanzhong Si Youren and Xiao Hujia. However, it is even stronger in some later melodies in this tuning, such as the Han Jie Cao as published in 1525.

This might be compared to the second most common modulation (after the 1 - 5 modulaton mentioned in the previous footnote): relative major and minor. In a diatonic system the set of notes is the same for both keys. Generally with qin music the notes do not change: 1 2 3 5 6 becomes 6 1 2 3 5 rather than 6 7 1 2 4. However, melodies using 6 as their tonal center do seem to have 7s more often than melodies with 1 as their tonal center. Again, to my knowledge no one has done research into this aspect.

26. Occurrences of 4 and 7
Occurrences of 7 are discussed in the previous two footnotes. As with 7, in some cases 4 also seems to occur as a result of a tonal center change, in this case particularly to 3. Once again, to my knowledge no one has done research into this aspect of early qin modes.

27. Flatted third and whole-tones third (see glossary; 中文)
Although there is some discussion here of flatted thirds and whole-tones thirds as a characteristic of qin melodies published in the Ming dynasty, the antiquity of this characteristic is problematic. It is found in the Shang Diao and Shang Yi apparently published in the Song dynasty, but it is not found very often in Shen Qi Mi Pu Folio I, which presumably has the oldest melodies. In fact, Folio I does not include any pieces in the shang mode, and so its best examples of this characteristic are perhaps those in the first two melodies, Dunshi Cao (see mm.77, 183 and 188 in my SQMP transcriptions and Guangling San (numerous places, but mostly in the opening sections, thought by some to have been Tang dynasty additions to an earlier piece). Many people are not aware of this because in his Dunshi Cao reconstruction Cheng Gongliang changed all the flatted thirds to whole-tones thirds, and in his Guangling San reconstruction Guan Pinghu also changed all the flatted thirds to whole-tones thirds.

28. Two of the eight modal preludes are also in shang mode. Qinshi Chubian, page 89, says Yang Zan (see Yang Zuan above) was particularly fond of pieces in the shang mode, as played by Liu Zhifang. Perhaps this helps to reinforce claims for connections between Shen Qi Mi Pu and Yang Zuan's Zixiadong Pu.

29. Although many of the shang mode melodies do appear in 琴苑新傳全編 Qinyuan Xinchuan Quanbian, dated 1670, that handbook mainly copied out earlier pieces without change. (One of these, Shen You Liu He, also occurs in 1876, but again it is simply a copy of 1670, thus provides no evidence it was actively played at that time.)

30. Indication of flatted thirds in Yi Lan
In four places (mm. 56 and 181-2 of my transcription) the Shen Qi Mi Pu tablature for Yi Lan indicates that one should play "between 7 and 8 on the third string". The open third string is F in my transcription and, according to the standard positions, "between 7 and 8" should be the same as the modern 7.6; thus the note should be E flat. In the early 1990s I began writing about the use in shang mode melodies of flatted thirds alongside unflatted thirds, but Yi Lan was one of the first melodies I had reconstructed and, at that time (1980) being unaware of this characteristic of shang melodies, in these four places I interpreted "between 7 and 8" as "below 7" (7.3), thus in each case changing the flatted E to a non-flatted E. In 2009 a comment by Tse Chun-Yan brought this to my attention. Although I think that "between 7 and 8" was in some cases used for 7.3, in retrospect I think that here the minor third was probably intended. I have not examined carefully these passages in the later surviving tablature (see chart).

31. 隱德 Yin De becomes 秋江夜泊 Qiujiang Yebo
A comparison of these two melodies illustrates well the change in treatment of the flatted thirds in shang mode melodies by the end of the Ming dynasty. Did such changes also make shang mode melodies less popular?

After 1585 Yin De appears only once, in 1670. However, in 1614 Songxianguan Qinpu published Qiujiang Yebo as though it was a new melody, but it was actually a revised version of Yin De; one of the major changes is the dropping of the flatted thirds. This latter version, also called Qiujiang Wan Diao 秋江晚釣 and Qiujiang Wan Bo 秋江晚波, was subsequently quite popular. There are several modern recordings of Qiujiang Yebo. (Note that my own recordings of both Yin De and Qiujiang Yebo are now online here.)

32. Ancestry of later versions of Bai Xue
My assumption at the time of writing this paper was that the 白雪 Bai Xue in 風宣玄品 Fengxuan Xuanpin (published in 1539 by another Ming prince, 朱厚爝 Zhu Houjiao) represented a new Bai Xue tradition: someone not being able to accept the many non-pentatonic notes in the Shen Qi Mi Pu version developed a very much modified and simplified (shorter) new version. Later versions developed from this. Since then Tse Chun-yan has done a much more detailed analysis than my own of the 30-odd later versions, concluding that the later Bai Xue came from a different source or sources.

All these later versions were published over 100 years after Shen Qi Mi Pu. Many are said to come from the Xu tradition (Xu family orthodox tradition), which traces its origins to the Song dynasty. An important difference here is that, whereas the intention with Shen Qi Mi Pu was apparently to copy earlier tablature, it is not at all clear to what extent tablature published in the mid-16th century but said to be in the original Xu tradition did in fact reflect the Xu style of the Song dynasty, and to what extent it reflected a style modified through over two centuries of oral tradition. Qin players throughout the ages have often consulted old tablature to ensure that the versions they play are "correct". Presumably Xu family tablature before 1546 was only handcopied and hence lost, so there is no documentation of change or lack thereof.

Thus, although it is quite possible that the Xu tradition for a long time included a more pentatonic Bai Xue, one must also consider the possibility that the Fengxuan Xuanpin version reflected the earliest rejection of the non-pentatonic sounds, and that the other versions resulted from players hearing that version (or similar ones) but, wishing also to preserve what they thought was a more antique style, modified the Fengxuan Xuanpin version in part by consulting Shen Qi Mi Pu tablature, but then playing the melody without many of its non-pentatonic notes.

33. 西麓堂琴統 Xilutang Qintong was compiled by Wang Zhi 汪芝 .

34. 洞庭秋思 Dongting Qiusi was reconstructed in the 1950s by 查阜西 Zha Fuxi, who changed all the flatted thirds.

35. Zhi mode (see chart and Shenpin Zhi Yi)
This mode seems to have the most exceptions to the modal characteristics I have been finding in early Ming qin tablature. The main note in zhi mode is always played on the open fourth string, called zhi, but the relative pitch names assigned to this string is open to debate. My selection of 5 as the relative pitch name of the open fourth string is based on my research into modes in Shen Qi Mi Pu; this makes the relative tuning 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 . However, in some cases it seems better to select 6 as the relative pitch name for the zhi string, making the relative tuning 2 3 5 6 7 2 3 (in these cases the mode seems to function rather like yu mode, see below). 丁承運 Ding Chengyun thinks 1 should be the relative pitch name for the zhi string, making the relative tuning 4 5 7 1 2 4 5 (this emphasizes its similarity to shang mode). All these understandings are possible; but although such different interpretation suggest different understandings of zhi mode, they do not change the general conclusions made here about mode.

36. Huangzhong mode (see chart)
In this mode when the relative scale is 6 1 2 3 5, with 6 as the main note, 1 is sometimes changed to 1# (a whole-tones third); in addition, the tonal centers may change from 6-3 to 1-5. In Shen Qi Mi Pu the best example of the former seems to be in 大雅 Da Ya from Folio III. However, both of these characteristics seem to be more common in some of the later Ming dynasty handbooks.

37. Yu mode (see chart)
In this mode the relative scale is 6 1 2 3 5, with 6 as the main tonal center and 3 secondary. In some 6-3 modes it is common for 1 sometimes to be changed to 1# (a whole-tones third), and the tonal center to change between 6-3 and 1-5. In Shen Qi Mi Pu it is quite rare for the yu mode pieces to do either; for a good example of a later yu mode piece where the 1# does occur see 佩蘭 Pei Lan in Fengxuan Xuanpin; later versions drop the 1#.

38. Complexity in non-standard tunings
Although in Shen Qi Mi Pu it is rare to find non-standard tunings that can be subdivided into different modes, several of the non-standard tunings in Xilutang Qintong (1525) can perhaps be so subdivided. For example, as can be seen in its tuning chart, several non-standard tunings have more than one name, and some of these names seem to denote modal differences within the tuning.

39. Modal preludes (調意 diaoyi)
Diaoyi (mode-significance) were supposed to convey something of the essence of the mode. They are sometimes compared to "opening fingerings" (開指 kaizhi). It is possible that at one time kaizhi were modal preludes to individual melodies while diaoyi were modal preludes for any piece in its mode, but the evidence for this distinction is rather sketchy.

40. See Pian, Rulan Chao, Sonq Dynasty Musical Sources, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1967, p.56; she gives no examples.

41. Modal preludes
Until about 1600 there would almost always be a modal prelude for every tuning used. The number of modal preludes gradually decreased at first because the number of different tunings decreased. For a list of the handbooks that had standard tuning modal preludes see the chart with Shenpin Gong Yi: the other standard tuning modal preludes appeared in the same set of handbooks.

After the end of the Ming dynasty some handbooks continued to group pieces by mode but modal preludes were rarely included. In fact the only Qing dynasty handbooks in which up to now I have found modal preludes are:

There may be others in obscure handbooks, but I have not found them.

42. R. H. Van Gulik, Lore of the Chinese Lute, pp.86-7.

43. See for example the list of melodies at the back of the long-hand tablature for You Lan.

44. The 64 Shen Qi Mi Pu (SQMP) melodies are organized as follows:

Folio I has pieces for which the compiler, Zhu Quan, said he could find no players. These are grouped under six different "modes". All seven standard tuning pieces are said to be in gong mode. However, according to the criteria used here, one of them (Gufeng Cao) actually uses yu mode.

Shen Qi Mi Pu Folios II and II consist of pieces for which Zhu Quan could find players. Folio II has those in standard tuning, grouped into five different modes; Folio III has those in five different non-standard tunings as well as one using standard tuning.

Gufeng Cao is the first melody listed under gong mode in the Shen Qi Mi Pu Table of Contents. "Gong mode" is also written under its title next to the tablature itself. However, since Zhu Quan could find no players for these melodies, it is not clear how he assigned the mode names.

45. For example, 入商泛曲終 means "Play the harmonic (ending) of the shang mode, then the melody ends". The following melodies have such instructions at the end. Only the initials of the Romanized Chinese title and its number within Shen Qi Mi Pu are given here:

Gong: 18.GHY
Shang: 22.KG, 25.GHQ, 32.YL
Jiao: 34.LXY, 35.LZYF
Zhi: 38.SJY, 39.YHTS
Yu: 42.ZZF, 43.WYT
Wuyi: 45.HYQS (writes it out), 46.LSC, 48.DY
Biyu: 50.BJY;
Ruibin: 52.FCL (writes it out)
Qiliang: 56.ZPY, 57.LS
Shangjue: none (and neither melody ends with harmonics!)
Chushang: 61.CG
Guxian: none.

46. A good example of a modal prelude that seems specifically designed for the melody that follows in is Yingzhong Yi.

47. See Non-musical associations with mode.

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