Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Technique and Tone

Technique creates tone.

My years of playing musical instruments and taking lessons taught me the importance of tone.
I know the importance of correct technique--the way I hold my hands, the way I position my body, the way I touch and pluck and manipulate the strings.

The guzheng is a complicated instrument and a challenge to learn.

I learned to tune the guzheng. This is the easy part.
I use picks that I tape (with medical tape) to my fingers.

Yes, these are my fingers. I am holding my hand at a funny angle.

My ear is becoming used to the pentatonic scale.
I am learning a new musical notation. (This is not so easy.)
Every single black speck means something.
All those numbers and dots and lines and squiggles.
I can't read the Chinese, but I can read this music. I can't play this exercise yet--it is toward the back of the book.

If you click on the picture you will be able to see the music more clearly. (The link takes you to a larger photo.)

My guzheng teacher and Chinese teaching methods focus on technique. The first book contains exercises that teach me some (all?) of the ways of creating sound on the guzheng. I am learning rapidly. My teacher allows me to progress as fast as I can, after all I don't need to take the exams like everyone else.

My teacher doesn't speak English.
I don't speak Chinese.
She demonstrates and I imitate. She moves my hands and fingers into the correct positions. This is hard. She is constantly correcting my hand position and with my left hand holding it in the correct position for a whole exercise. And it is hard to keep the open fist position and use the correct plucking technique. Very hard.
I try to hold my hands too close to the strings--I'm supposed to hold them quite far away.

It is hard for my hands to get used to different positions--to get in the habit so it is automatic to move in certain ways.
My left hand struggles--and wants to be in a piano position. The left hand is used on both sides of the bridges--one side to play melody and harmony, and the other side to create vibrato, change the actual note value as in making an A an B or an F an F#, and create sound effects.

I've been taking lessons for over 3 months. I realize that it takes years to learn to play the guzheng well.

The guzheng sounds SO cool.
The songs are very diverse and fun to listen to.
I hope to post a music sample of me playing within the next few months.
I hope to learn to play songs while I live in China. Where else could I find a teacher?

Photo of my Guzheng

Technique and tone are also critical to writing--but I'll let you make the comparisons.


Anonymous said...

That looks amazing! I'd love to hear you play it one of these days (hint, hint)

Fandoria said...

So after reading your post, I had to go hear what a guzheng sounded like. It's got a beautiful sound but man does it look hard to play. I admire your determination to learn.

Mary Witzl said...

Sarah, this is deeply, DEEPLY cool! I love the way the guzheng sounds -- and the pentatonic scale (used in Scottish music too, right?) What a great thing to be able to do.

And I wish I could be there: I can read some of the Chinese (same characters as Japanese, though often more complex stroke order and number) or I could look them up, but I cannot read music, to my everlasting shame. We could help each other out!

Sarah Blake Johnson said...

Debi--I'll play for you when you come visit me. (hint, hint)

Fandoria--Thanks. I hope the songs I play sound good. I plan to post in a month or two.

Mary--The guzheng is very cool. It would be nice if you could read the titles of the songs for me. But the musical terms are tough--I asked the woman (who speaks English) who runs our apartment complex to translate something for me and she had no idea what the characters meant. She said they were technical and only used to describe music.

Melinda said...

Wow. What an amazing instrument. I'd be too intimidated to even try...

-be sure and post a video of it, when you get a chance.


Lisa said...

This is a fascinating post! Thank you for providing so many pix; it definitely aids my understanding. I am floored by the levels of translation you must navigate: english to chinese, scale to scale, notations... But that's what it means to be an artist, in any field, any language, right?

Best of luck in your lessons!

Rose Green said...

Okay, I had no idea that even musical notation was different in Chinese! You're right--where else could you ever learn that? I bet your lessons are interesting with no common language!

Sarah Blake Johnson said...

Melinda-- I don't know how to post a video, but I'll see what I can do. (I don't have a camera, except my webcam.) I can post a high quality sound clip. I think.

Lisa--Thanks. It does get pretty complicated--all the different language systems--music, notation etc --I have to learn. At times my brain is spinning, trying to keep up.

Rose-- The musical notation is a trick. This notation--I think is only used for some Chinese instruments. I searched and searched on the web and couldn't find any music with Western notation for the guzheng. I suspect I could transcribe it, but there are some advantages to their notation. There are some interesting Baroque improv techniques, plus some rhythmic techniques that push me, even with my background in jazz.