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Yazheng and Its Regional Variations

Last Updated on 2023/12/06

Ya Zheng’s Unique Sound: A Reflection of Chinese Musical Diversity.

Yazheng (轧筝), a traditional Chinese stringed instrument, is a descendant of the ancient bowed string instrument Zhu (筑) and belongs to the Zhu family (筑族) of instruments. Originating in the Tang Dynasty, Ya Zheng became widespread in both courtly and folk settings. Its design and playing style, as well as its name, vary by region. There are two main types based on size: larger and smaller versions, with string numbers ranging from 7 to 13. The playing styles include sitting (坐奏) and walking (行奏 or 立奏).

Regional Variations and History

Ya Zheng is popular in various regions of China, including Hebei, Henan, Fujian, Guangxi, Jilin, and the Yanbian area. Its long history is documented in the “Old Book of Tang – Music Records (旧唐书·音乐志)“, where it’s described as being played with bamboo pieces. The Tang poet Jiao Ran (皎然) vividly depicted its performance in his poem “Observing Li Zhongcheng’s Two Beauties Singing Ya Zheng Song (观李中丞洪二美人唱轧筝歌)“.

In the Song Dynasty, Chen Yang (陈旸) illustrated Ya Zheng in his “Book of Music (乐书)“, showing a similarity in design to the Zheng (筝) and Se (瑟) instruments, with a rectangular resonant box and several strings played with thin bamboo sticks. During the Song and Yuan periods, it was also known as “?”, and its depiction in Chen Yuanliang (陈元靓)‘s “Extensive Records of Matters (事林广记)” describes it as similar to the Se with seven strings and bamboo ends.

By the Qing Dynasty, the instrument’s design remained unchanged, but the number of strings increased to ten, as noted in “律吕正义后编“. In modern times, in Hebei, it’s used in local opera Wu’an Pingdiao (武安平调), known as Ya Qin (轧琴) or Ya Zheng Qin (轧筝琴). Made of paulownia wood, with ten strings and jujube wood bridges, it’s played with sorghum stalks rubbed with rosin, producing a gentle and melodious sound.

In Fujian’s Putian (莆田) and Xianyou (仙游) areas, it’s used in “Wen Shi Yin (文十音)” and known as Wen Zhen Qin (文枕琴) or Pillow Qin (枕头琴). In Jinjiang’s “Shi Fan (十番)“, it’s called “Chuang (床)”, with 9 to 11 silk strings, played with a reed stalk. This version is arch-shaped, with nine strings and two sound holes on the back. The performance involves holding the instrument with the left hand and playing the strings with a horsehair bow in the right hand, producing various tones. Solo pieces include “Da Kai Shou (大开首)” and “Gao Shan Liu Shui (高山流水)“. Recent improvements in Putian involve steel strings, up to 16, and techniques borrowed from the Erhu (二胡), Zheng (筝), and Pipa (琵琶).

In Guangxi, it’s known as the Seven-stringed Qin (七弦琴) or Wa Qin (瓦琴), with seven strings and seven bridges, played on a half-round paulownia body. Modern adaptations include different sizes for ensemble performances, with some versions having up to 16 strings.

In the Jilin Yanbian area, Ya Zheng, also called “Ya Zheng (牙筝)”, is primarily used for accompanying vocal music.

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