Thu Hiền is a virtuoso of the Đàn Tranh (Vietnamese Long Board Zither). She started to learn the Đàn Tranh at the age of seven. She practised diligently under the supervision of her parents to master her skills on this instrument. She won a prize in a Đàn Tranh competition at the age of fifteen and since then has performed in public
Thu Hiền now lives in Canberra. She has performed at various musical gatherings and concerts, both in Vietnam and Australia.
A bit about the ‘Đàn tranh cải tiến’
As we all know, a traditional DT has 16 strings, tuned to the Pentatonic scale; that is there are five notes in the scale. This tuning has reduced its versatility. It cannot play many pieces written for a more versatile instrument like a guitar, piano or violin.
This limitation has been a source of inspiration for experienced artists, who love the characteristic sound of Đàn tranh, to find ways, to innovate, to create a sibling instrument which can handle pieces of music not specifically written for DT on the Pentatonic scale.
Then came ‘Đàn tranh cải tiến’. Here it is. It was created by Nghệ sĩ nhân dân Đỗ Thị Phương Bảo. This new model of the traditional ‘Đàn tranh’ was highly appraised by ‘Hội đồng khoa học nghiệm thu công trinh Đàn tranh cải tiến’ in 1995.
The ‘Đàn tranh cải tiến’ has shared the same general characteristics (such as physical appearance, art works, sound, timbre and playing style) as the ‘Đàn tranh cổ’. Apart from that, it is more versatile than the ‘Đàn tranh cổ’ in terms of performance practice. The tunings for the ‘Đàn tranh cổ’ are arranged in the PENTATONIC scale while the tunings of this new model are based on the Western scales. Furthermore, it was designed with an immovable timber bridge in the middle of the instrument and the traditional bridges made of wood tipped with copper are replaced with small pieces made of stainless-steel which are also called ‘bridges – con nhạn’. These stainless-steel bridges are movable to allow pitches to be tuned to semitones. Traditionally, the artists may use three, four or even five fingers on the right hands to pluck the strings and the left hand’s fingers are used to press on the left side of the strings to bend its pitch and provide ornamentation. Similar to the ‘Đàn tranh cổ’, the ‘Đàn tranh cải tiến’ artists can use their fingers on the right hand to play all traditional music (nhạc cải lương, nhạc chèo, dân ca,…). In addition, the artists can also use their fingers on the left hand to pluck notes on the left side and even the right side of the strings to produce larger chords or scales. This improved instrument is now well incorporated into modern Vietnamese music, and even in many pop performances as an exotic solo or accompaniment to the modern band instruments.