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Chapter Five: Sui and Tang dynasties 1
Xu Jian, Introductory History of the Qin, pp.76-77 2
Part Three (Qin tablature and Qin making) :

1. Innovations in the style of tablature 3

The spread and development of the art of qin melodies and the inheritance and organization of many traditional melodies both put forward further requirements for methods of tablature. The simplification and alteration of the method of recording music then promotes the collection and circulation of qin tablature. The epochal revolution from longhand tablature (wenzipu) to shorthand tablature (jianzipu) was mainly completed during the Tang dynasty.4

The early Tang continued to use the old style of tablature; the handbook edited by Zhao Yeli still used the complicated wenzipu. As we see in Jieshi Diao: Youlan, (longhand tablature can be described) as follows: "its text is extremely convoluted as one can write over two lines without finishing a single phrase" (Taigu Yiyin5). A melody with only four sections used over four thousand characters to record in tablature. Take the first line of this tablature for example:6

Lay straight the (left) middle finger about half a cun above the 10th position on the second string,
    then the (right) index and middle finger do a "paired pull" on the (open) first and (stopped) second strings.

If written using the jianzipu of later generations this requires only one symbol:7 __ (not included here: see book or my transcription, m.1). The improvement from wenzipu to jianzipu is mainly attributed to Cao Rou. It was he who "constructed the simplified method in which the text is simple but comprehensive, succinct but inclusive of sounds. The accomplishment of Cao is thus quite great." This praise of Cao Rou is from Qin Jing (Yangchuntang Qinjing) by the Ming dynasty's Zhang Yougun (Zhang Daming).8 Unfortunately, further information regarding Cao Rou has not been found. That Chen Kangshi and Chen Zhuo of the late Tang dynasty could organize so much tablature work to be passed on to later generations owes thanks to the invention of jianzipu.

The method of jianzipu was not completed in one day; it was through the continuous improvements by successive generations that today's style formed. This is easily seen from literature regarding qin finger techniques. Surviving writings of this kind (describing finger techniques) can be divided into four types:9 the two types by Chen Kangshi and Chen Zhuo, found in Qinshu Daquan (see Folio 810); the one from Liu Ji's Qin Yi, found in the Ming dynasty edition of Taigu Yiyin (see QSCM, #7111); another type is that of "Wu Si Lan Zhifa Juanzi" by the Japanese Mononobe Noke (copied by Wang Mengshu12). These works all detailed the symbols used for ancient qin finger techniques. Yet some of these explanations contradict one another and sometimes one symbol would have two explanations in the same literature. Chen Kangshi, for example, included two different explanations for the symbols "li" and "du".13 Erroneous explanations obviously cause difficulties when using these symbols. The appearance of this phenomenon is due to the large number of schools that competed against one another, but it is also due to the style still being immature, requiring further improvement.

These sorts of imperfected jianzipu are retained mostly in the first folio of the early Ming dynasty Shen Qi Mi Pu. This is very useful as it not only provides real examples for the development process of tablature styles but also helps us identify the time period when the tablature originated. Integrated with the style, structure, and other characteristics of a melody, one can find the developmental patterns of the same melody through each historical era.

Imperfected jianzipu usually have the following characteristics:

  1. The symbols (clusters) used for writing down music are not standardized. The same finger technique is often recorded differently in the same melody. For example, the "注 zhu" (flow), meaning a downward slide, is sometimes written " 氵" , sometimes "主", and sometimes "从上注下 from up flow down", and so forth.
  2. The simplification is not quite complete. Some places where a symbol is needed, such as with the expression "from 「 do a repeat", the (original 「 ) is missing. And not a few symbols are written using trivial details of the complex forms, still retaining traces of the original wenzipu, or in some places even still using characters in explanation.
  3. Using symbols that represent set phrases and symbols for rare finger techniques. Examples of the former include: 大間勾 dajian'gou, 疊蠲 diejuan and 搯拂歷 taofuli. Examples of the latter include: 囗 with 婁 inside, 度 du and 摘 zhai. Tablature from later generations rarely use these symbols, but they are often kept in tablature from more ancient times.
  4. The focus on plucking rather than pressing. Set phrases for finger techniques and rare, ancient finger techniques are all variations on right-hand plucking, which (thus) forms the various ornamentation and rhythm changes in the (early) music; left-hand (finger techniques that involve) pressing down the string are much simpler. =Qin players call this "an abundance of sounds but with few nuances", (but such music) maintains the characteristics of ancient plucked instruments.14

Tablature with the above characteristics can generally be considered to have come before Northern Song dynasty. Xiao Hujia from Shen Qi Mi Pu, for example, belongs in this category.


Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. See footnote to the preface for details of the period covered (589 - 979).

2. Initial translation by 金秋雨 Jin Qiuyu

3. I do not yet have online explanations of finger techniques. Some explanations can be found on other websites such as that of Judy Chang.

4. 文字譜 wenzipu; 減字譜 jianzipu

5. 其文極緊,動越兩行,未成一句
See QQJC I/81 字譜 Zipu. This is from the supposedly Song dynasty Taigu Yiyin, also known as 太音大全集 Taiyin Daquanji (see complete passage).

6. The first character 耶 can also have the same meaning as 揶 ye: point a finger at. In the original the fifth and sixth characters are not clear. The position indicated for the middle finger is, as shown and discussed here, quite unclear. The interpretation as 十上半寸 came from Japan and it seems likely that other interpretations are possible.

7. One symbol to represent one note (or multiple notes)
Such symbols may also be referred to in English as "clusters", as they generally combine abbreviated characters (symbols) into one cluster. There are also multiple note clusters, where one symbol/cluster calls for more than one stroke or stroke technique (e.g., 撥刺 boci, also called 撥剌 bola).

8. Qin Jing: Origins of Shorthand Tablature
The specific passage quoted here can be found in 張右袞 Zhang Yougun (Zhang Daming) Qin Jing (陽春堂琴經 Yangchuntang Qinjing), Folio 3, first essay (see QQJC VII/244). The paragraph begins as follows,


After talking about longhand tablature (周趙諸公, perhaps means "Yongmen Zhou, Zhao Yeli, et. al."), the writer praises the work of Cao Rou. This seems to be an expansion of the account in Taiyin Daquanji, Folio 5 (see under Yongmen Zhou).

9. It is not clear to me what Xu Jian means by "four types". He mentions three sources, as discussed in the following three footnotes. Logically he means that there are up to four different descriptions of any particular finger technique. Or four ways of describing them. But this does not seem to be the case.

10. Finger technique explanations in Qinshu Daquan, Folio 8
Xu Jian writes that these include the finger techniques by Chen Kangshi and Chen Zhuo. However, from my reading Folio 8 has finger techniques by many people, including 陳居士 Chen Jushi (V/151; this evidently refers to 陳康士 Chen Kangshi, not 陳拙 Chen Zhuo), 楊祖雲 Yang Zuyun (V/153), 成玉石間 Cheng Yujian (V/155) and 諸家 various others (V/158) as well as 陳拙 Chen Zhuo (V/160).

11. Finger technique explanations in Taigu Yiyin (Taiyin Daquanji, Folio 5)
Xu Jian writes only that these include the finger techniques by 劉籍 Liu Ji from his 琴議 Qin Yi (see QSCM, #71). However, from my reading of Folio 5 (see ToC), in addition to those by Liu Ji (I/79), it also has others from unnamed sources, as well as the finger techniques of Chen Jushi (apparently Chen Kangshi; see I/81 and V/151, mentioned in the previous footnote).

12. Finger technique explanations in the Japanese Wusilan Zhifa Juanzi
See further details.

13. Here Xu Jian seems to be referring to the two sets of finger technique explanations attributed to 陳居士 Chen Jushi, i.e., Chen Kangshi. As mentioned above these can be found in Taiyin Daquanji, Folio 5 (I/81) and Qinshu Daquan, Folio 8 (V/151). As a shorthand for 歷 li I/82 has 厂 ; V/152 also has 厂 but the explanation is somewhat different. As shorthand for 度 du I/152 and V/152 both also have the same form (not available on computer) but again the explanations are somewhat different. Xu Jian does not consider the possibility that the differences are due to later editors.

14. It seems generally agreed that before the Song dynasty qin music emphasized the right hand more than the left. Xu Jian's comment suggests that qin players generally see the increase in left hand technque to be an improvement. However, one must also consider the possibility that in earlier times the left hand techniques were not written down in such detail because the precise execution of them was left up to the players. In addition one should note the criticism by the famous early 13th century qin expert Yelü Chucai (see in particular his two poems) of too much emphasis on the left hand.

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