The Zither (ĐÀN TRANH)

Thơ Thơ (TT) interviewed Professor Trần Quang Hải (TQH)

(translated by Nghiêm Phú Phúc from an article written in Vietnamese)


TT: Once again, we would like to thank you for your very enthusiastic support and your willingness to share your knowledge about music with the readers of Suối Nguồn. To save time, I would like to start with the first question about the musical instrument called “zither”: Please tell us where the zither came from.
TQH: The zither is probably the musical instrument that the Vietnamese people known about the most today. The zither was originated from China. The word "Tranh" means "debate", or "quarrel". According to an old legend, under the Qin Dynasty in China, there was a famous musician teacher who had two sons both learning how to play the zither. At that time, the zither had 25 strings. One day the sons fought against each other when both wanted to play the zither, which was the only one owned by the family. Bothered by the noisy fight, the father took the instrument and cut it into two pieces, one piece had 13 strings (the zither with 13 strings still exists today in northern China, similar to the Japanese KOTO) and the other piece had 12 strings (still commonly used in Korea and Mongolia). Another theory says that a man named Meng Tian, a wealthy merchant during the Qin Dynasty, invented the zither by cutting the original instrument into two small zithers, one with 12 strings and the other with 13 strings.