“琴 曲原具有自然之節，初試照譜彈，未易得成奏，習熟乃合節，漸至於神妙，此則存乎人。節即是板拍，《國語》所謂，“木以節之”也。琴曲譜不定板拍者，恐因定 固執而失入神化，非為初學者之但得其節奏而己也。然至入神化，亦莫不由於節奏而致矣。夫琴曲之音，因分長短緩急之度而成奏，拍即節其度之所以分也。有於音 初出之際即拍，曰頭板。於音已出未歇，適其中際而拍之，曰腰板。於音剛歇之際即拍，曰底板。是則於一音而分初中末三者之拍法也。又有於音已歇後再拍，曰閒板，須待其板聲已過，再接出其下之音，此無音而有拍也。曲中句末多一二閒板者，免緊接下音，而急促其奏，俾得展頭板，以舒其呼吸。更有於音宜舒轉而放慢拍 之，曰慢板；於音宜結束，而催緊拍之，曰緊板。皆由曲奏至此際，必爾而以成，亦自然而然者矣。其緊慢之板，均必得勻拍，總謂之節奏。
The Qing Dynasty Qin Handbook [YuGuZhai Qinpu Buyi] has talked about the Guqin Tempo:
Qin music has a natural "Jie" (Literally means knot or joint, in here it means the beat). When starting to play a new piece by looking at its tablature, one might not feel that it is easy to have the melody sound good. After much practicing and becoming very familiar with the melody, the tempo will then fit in. Gradually, one will then find how wonderful it is, and will understand the tempo.
"Jie" is the beat. Ancient people used wood to make the beating sound. Qin tablature does not indicate beats. That is because qin tablature is made to enable the player’s free mind. A beginner might not be able to get the tempo right, but once one gets it, a wonderful music will come out.
A piece of music has a combination of different degrees of long, short, slow and fast sounds. The beating system is to control all those degrees. There are different kinds of beats:
Head Beat: When a sound just comes out on the beat, called the Head Beat.
Waist Beat: The beat happens right at the middle of a sound coming out and not yet finished.
Bottom Beat: The beat happens right at a sound just finishing.
These three beats are located at the beginning, middle, and the end of a sound.
Other than that, there is the “Idle Beat” which happens between two sounds, that the first sound has ended, then the beat happens, and then the next sound comes out. It also means there are beat(s) but no sound. An Idle Beat happens often at the end of a phrase in order not to have the next phrase come out too soon and create a rushing energy, and also to give room to breath.There are also Slow Beat and Tight Beat.
Slow Beat : is to smooth out the music and transition to a slower tempo.
Tight Beat: To hasten the sound from the previously ended sound.
Both Slow Beat and Tight Beat still need to be balanced within the music. And all the beats have to occur naturally. All of that is called tempo.
A good music is based on the tempo, no matter if it is one or two notes, three to five notes, in one string, or in several strings. The sound might be complicated, but based on the tempo, it can accumulate the energy through to the end. One must distinguish where to slow down, or hurry up and how many notes to stop or to continue by careful listening and analysis. Then using it flexibly in connection and combination. After all, the best is to have a natural breathing tempo through the music.
取音要合節拍. 節拍要均勻的銜接. 就好像茶漏滴出水時, 雨延著屋簷滴下來時, 都是滴滴無參差, 這就是有節奏, 誰也不搶先誰. 一首樂曲如果沒有節(拍子), 就不成奏(完成表現), 就會沒有情感也沒有精神. 如何能夠做出節奏? 最初是跟著老師學習. 然後去瞭解在哪要停頓, 承接, 怎樣是在一個呼吸之間的連接音與音. 就好像唱歌, 哪兒要停頓, 換氣, 承接下一句. 彈琴時的"吟猱"就好像唱歌時的把尾音拉長產生一種韻味. "逗"就好像是短而快的從喉嚨喊出一個聲音哪樣快速的出音後就停止. "撞"則是重複那一個音. "喚" 則是先明重後暗輕的重複那一個音. (撞逗喚都是左手在出音的同時, 或出音之後的快速上下或下上地揉絃產生複音). 另外像連續彈好幾條絃的滾弗或索玲, 都要把首尾的兩音算在一個拍子內. 進復, 退復, 上下, 則是每一個音位都要按像唱歌那樣的把節奏做出來. 通常一首曲子一開始都是比較慢的. 結尾也是漸慢. 如果能夠把音按照節拍唱出來,精神情緒 就可以很容易進入狀況. 並超越感官進入更深一層的精神層次. 不要求彈快曲. 而是在慢曲中,自有其鬆緊, 有快慢. 並合節拍. 慢的時候情緒仍然是連貫的而不會讓人覺得鬆散. 緊湊的時候也是守住意念, 不一瀉而出. 這樣才好.
To make sound out of a piece of music, it has to match the beat. The beat should be connected smoothly. It is like when a bronze water clock(*1) leaks out of water, and when the rain drips down the eaves, there are no overlapped drops. That is the tempo, and no single beat is rushed out to take the place of the next beat. If a piece of music is performed without proper tempo, it won't be a complete performance, and there will be no emotion and spirit. How to make the proper tempo? At the beginning, learn from a teacher and then one will understand where to make a pause, and how to connect to the next note smoothly, and how to connect notes in one breath.
The guqin vibrato "yin" and "nao" is like elongating a note as vocal prolongation while singing. "Dou" technique in the guqin is like creating a second sound by the left hand, after the plucking sound is done, and that is like a short and quick vibrato sound coming out from a singer's throat while singing. "Zhuang" technique in the guqin is similar to "Dou" but different moving direction of the left hand. "Huan" technique in the guqin is also similar to "Dou" but happens simultaneously with the right hand plucking sound. "Huan" creates a brighter and stronger tone followed by a darker and lighter tone.
For techniques like "gunfu" and "suoling" where the right hand strums several strings, the first and the last notes in one strum should be all on the beat. Techniques like "Jinfu" (up and down), "Tuifu" (down and up) and "Shangxia" (up and down) , each single move up or move down should be counted as one note, and should follow the tempo.
Usually when starting a piece, the beginning tempo is like a slow entering. And the ending is also slowing down (like the Italian music term "Ritardando"). If a qin player can sing the melody with tempo, his or her spirit and emotion will easily enter the proper feeling, and move beyond to a higher level of mind.
It is not required to play a fast tempo melody, but it is required to play a slow tempo melody with a variety of slow beats, and tight beats, and either faster or slower beats should still be within the proper tempo. When you are playing slowly, your emotions are still coherent and you don't feel loose. When you are playing fast, you are keeping your mind concentrated without suddenly coming out of control. Then that is good.
Mr. Yao Bing-yian (1921-1983) edited the Tang Dynasty, Chen Zhuo Guqin Fingerings which has chapter about tempo:
3 ways of tempo for 2 notes as a phrase:
5 ways of tempo for 3 notes as a phrase:
The 1st note is slow, then the next two notes are connected.
The 1st two notes are connected, then the last note is slow.
Three notes are fast making
Three notes are slow making
Three notes are making all together.
7 ways of tempo for 4 notes as a phrase:
The 1st note is slow, then the next three notes are connected.
The first three notes are fast, then the last note is slow.
The first two notes are connected, then the last two notes are slow.
The first two notes are slow, then the last two notes are fast.
All the 4 notes are even and slow.
All the 4 notes are even and fast.
4 notes are making all together
5 ways of tempo for 5 notes as a phrase:
The first 3 notes are slow, then the last 2 notes are connected.
The first note is slow, then the last 4 notes are connected.
The first 3 notes are slow, then the last 2 notes are slow too.
All the 5 notes are even.
All the 5 notes are making all together.
Short length phrases: one note to 5 notes
Medium length phrase: 5 notes to 7 notes
Long length phrases: 7 notes and more
The tempo for medium length phrases and long length phrases is the accumulation of the tempos of several short length phrases.
Mr. Yao's footnote on Tempo:
Jiezo (Tempo): The decision to make the meaning of each phrase of a qin music is related to Chinese culture and has its specific tradition. [Li, Yueji]: "Music has up and down melody, simple and complicated notes, loudness and softness, and tempo, those are enough to touch human's kind heart. " The small footnotes have an explanation of tempo, which means where the music should stop or should continue. To make it simple, "Jiezo" includes the combination of fast and slow speeds, heavy and light tones, tight and loose notes, long notes and short notes, strong and soft notes. Much like Chinese poetry has 3 or 4 characters in a phrase, 7 or 9 characters in a phrase, Qin music is like that also. Phrasing is important. If using the western tempo method to limit it, that can be contradictory.
闋 音卻 止息的意思 cease, end
(*1) Bronze water clock: on 2018-12-12, facebook friend Yanchen Zhang pointed out that 銅壺之漏 is not a tea strainer but a bronze water clock. I am very appreciate his correction.