Bowed > Chordophones.
China > Far East Asia.
Tuned in fifths in G D or A E.
Scale Length 80 cm.
Year 2003 to 2005.
Ian MacKenzie, Singapore.
The erhu [in Mandarin 二胡] is a bowed member of the
chordophone family. In the Chinese system of classification the erhu
belongs to the "Yueqin" family bowed instruments it is also a member of
the "silk" family. According to the book of music or “Yue Shu” a
description of the musical instrument called a xiqin, as a two stringed
lute is mentioned. It is believed the xiqin may have its origins with the
Xi people. There is documented evidence of the erhu since the Sung Dynasty
(960-1270 AD). In Southern China another name given to the erhu is “Nan
Throughout the 1920's the current design of the erhu
is attributed to Lian Tianhua 刘天华/劉天華; (b. 1825 d. 1932) who is a
pioneering Chinese erhu and pipa player who composed a total of 47
exercises, 10 solo arrangements between 1918-1932. These pieces are
considered core to the development to the erhu as a solo instrument. His
works for the instrument include Yue Ye (moon night) and Zhu ying Yao hong
(Shadows of Candles Flickering Red). and Hua Yanjun (b. 1893 d. 1950) a
blind street musician. Prior to the 20th century most of the bowed huqin
instruments used to accompany forms of Chinese, Opera, narrative and
guoyue “national music”. Instrumentation for a ”guoyue” or national music
ensemble may include the erhu, dizi, pipa, ruan and yan chin. Since the
foundation of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 the education and
repertoire has improved greatly for more then half a century. Currently
the erhu enjoys its use in both inside and outside of China. Compositions
are arranged for the erhu as a virtuoso instrument include a wide
varieties of genres including symphonic orchestras, cinema, jazz,
mainstream pop and avant-garde.
The acoustic chamber or body of the erhu is
traditionally octagonal in shape having eight to nine sides, it is common
to see erhu's with circular bodies. To complete the acoustic chamber snake
skin usually Burmese Python [molorus bivitattus] is stretched over and
applied to the front. A neck or qin gan is is inserted into the body
forming the basic shape of the instrument. The head stock or qin tou is
either plain or ornamental. Two wooden friction tuning pegs called qin
zhou are inserted equidistant from each other.
On newer erhu's one will encounter machine gear tuners that look allot
like the original friction tuning pegs. Originally silk was used as the
strings for the erhu, although recently metal strings are the standard.
The first string closest to the player is usually tuned to a D4, it is
called a Nèi xián. The outside or outer string tuned to an A4 is called
the Wai xián. A small adjustable bridge fits underneath the the two
strings. The qian jin is a loop of string that is wrapped around and
has a whipped not to hold it in place, a close analogy could be an
“adjustable nut”. The methods of holding the bow and the construction of
the erhu bow does differ then the western violin bow. In playing the erhu
the bow goes through the strings rather then on top of the strings. The
bow is adjustable from behind.