Musical instrument
The zheng is a board zither with strings running along its length over individual movable bridges. It appears in different sizes with a varying number of strings. In ancient times, the instrument was small and portable, about three feet in length and with six to sixteen strings made of silk. The modern zheng, in contrast, may be as long as five feet and have from twenty-one to twenty-five strings made of either steel or silk wound with nylon.
In the traditional way of playing the instrument, plectra are attached to the thumb, index and third fingers of the right hand and these pluck the strings at the right of the bridges while three fingers of the left hand press the strings to their left, producing pitch glides and subtle tonal embellishments. In the 1950s, new techniques of playing were developed in an effort to expand the capabilities of the instrument and enable it to imitate the piano and the harp in musical effect. These involved the use of the left hand in plucking or strumming the strings and providing a kind of harmonic accompaniment to the melody played by the right hand.
Hand in hand with the development of new playing techniques was the development of bigger instruments, with a wider range, and capable of withstanding percussive techniques.
There are four traditional ‘schools’ of zhengplaying. These can be divided into the Northern and the Southern schools. The Northern schools consist of the zheng traditions of Henan and Shandong. The pieces in the repertoire of both schools are derived from the music of sung-narratives (quyi) and are often based on the ‘labelled melodies’ (qupai) called the ‘old six-beats’ (lao liuban, also known as ‘eight beats’ or baban). The Southern schools consist of the zheng traditions of the Chaozhou region and of the Hakka (Kejia) people, who are concentrated in Meixian in northeastern Guangdong. Their repertoires are derived from the instrumental interludes of the regional operas. Compared with the Northern styles, the Southern zheng styles are more lyrical and place greater emphasis on the ornamentation of individual notes.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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