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Erhu is a kind of violin (fiddle) with two strings which, together with zhonghu, gaohu, sihu, etc, belongs

to the "huqin" family. It is said that its origin would be dated up to the Tang dynasty (618-907) and related to the instrument, called xiqin originated from a Mongolian tribe Xi. During Song dynasty (960-1279), the instrument was introduced to China and was called "Ji Qin". Soon the second generation of the huqin was among the instruments played at the imperial banquets. During the Dynasties of Yuan (1206-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911), the erhu underwent a great development at the time of the golden age of the local operas. The erhu then developed in a different "schools". Two famous artists Hua Yanjun (1893-1950) and Liu Tianhua (1895-1932) made an exceptional contribution to the improvement of the erhu, and it was indeed due to the latter that the erhu, an instrument mainly for accompaniment in an opera, becomes a solo instrument. After the foundation of People's Republic of China (1949), the manufacture of the erhu, the playing techniques, the repertoire as well as the musical education of this instrument have undergone an unpresidented development. The repertoire has grown rapidly in the genres of solo, with ensemble as well as concerti with symphony orchestra. Erhu now has become one of the most popular instruments in China. The sound body of the erhu is a drum-like little case usually made of ebony or sandalwood and snake skins. It usually has a hexagonal shape with the length of approximately 13 cm. The front opening is covered with skin of python (snake) and that of the back is left open. The functions of this case of resonance are to amplify the vibrations of the strings. The neck of the erhu is about 81 cm long and is manufactured with the same materials as the drum. The top of the stem is bent for decoration. The two strings of the erhu is usually tuned D and A. The two tuning handles (pegs) are found close to the end of the stem. There is no frets (as contrast to

the lute) or touching board (as contrast to violin). The player creates different pitches by touching the strings at various positions along the neck of the instrument. The strings are usually made of silk or nylon. Nowadays, metal strings are commonly used. The bow is 76 cm long and is manufactured of reed which one curves during cooking, and arched with horse hair in the same way as the bow of violin. However, in the case of erhu, the horse hair runs between the two strings. In another word, one cannot take off the bow from the instrument unless one of the two strings is taken off or broken. The posture which the player must adopt to play the erhu is the same as that adopted for the other kinds of huqin: the left hand holding the fiddle and the right hand, the bow. The erhu is put on the lap vertically, the left hand moves vertically to touch the strings for the right pitch while the left hand (with the bow) move horizontally to make the sound. The Erhu is mainly a instrument for melody in a sense like voice. The left hand slides up and down the instrument while fingers pressing the strings to create desired pitch and "sliding" effects. The right hand pushes the horse hair against this or that string while moving horizontally, to create the sounds on either of the two strings. Occasionally some musicians hold the instrument with the help of a rope, in the same way as for saxophone, in order to play standing or walking. However it doesn't look elegant with the sound body pressing against the belly of the performer and the stem of the instrument pointing up and outwards. Therefore, the musicians normally play sitted unless it's absolutely necessary. In the old days, street musicians often used this method in order to play while walking. Today, in some pop or rock bands, musicians use this method of playing in order to act on the stage. The erhu sounds similar to human voice, and can imitate many natural sounds such as birds and horse. It is a very expressive instrument, most well-known for playing melancholic tune, but also capable of play merry melody.

The erhu often plays an important role in the national orchestras. In the smaller orchestras, there are usually 2 to 6 erhu, in larger ones, 10 with 12. In fact, the erhu plays the same role as the violin in the Western orchestras.

Liu Tianhua and Abing


Two great masters who are responsible for making the Erhu a solo instrument. Liu Tianhua (1895-1932): Though died very young, Liu Tianhua is one of the greatest composers in Chinese history. He is also renowned for the reformation of the ehu. He has profound knowledge about Chinese traditional music, being able to play several instruments such as erhu and pipa. He also studied western music and played the violin. He composed three pieces for pipa and several other pieces for erhu, all have become master pieces of classical repertoire. He made great contribution in improving the sound quality of the erhu, and composed music for it such that this beautiful instrument, which used to be folk instrument that accompany singers or local operas before his time, has become a solo instrument. Liu Tianhua was a great educator, being professor of music at the Peking University. He was active in the reform of China's society of his time, and was friend with some of the pineers and great thinkers who have helped shape the modern history of China.

A brief introduction of

Abing (1893 -1950): His real name is Hua Yanjun, being blind street musician living in the most terrible period of wars and misery, his profound knowledge about traditional music, his great talent as musician and one of the greatest composers in Chinese history all went unnoticed until the last year of his life in 1950, shortly after the establishment of People's Republic of China, two musicologists went to his hometown Wuxi with a recording machine to record his music. At that time he was already very sick, and didn't play music for almost two years. Finally he was persuaded to play some. In the end, only three pipa solo and three ehu solo pieces of his own compositions were recorded. All are now master pieces for the traditional repertoire. It is said that he had a repertoire of over 700 pieces, most of them are his own compositions. Abing was born in a Taoist family. His father was a renowned musician playing mainly Taoist music for various ceremonies. Abing hat has great music talent and learnt to play several traditional instruments, among them, the erhu and pipa were his preferred. He learnt from various master musicians of his time, and was able to improvise, and composed his own music. Later on, his became blind and reduced to street musician. But he was not beggar, and indeed different from the beggars. In fact, he never begged. He lived on his music, though with very little resources, and mostly in misery, but the local people loved his music. He played erhu standing or sometime walking. People

knew that Abing was coming when they heard the particular erhu sound. He played traditional tunes, and mostly his own compositions; he improvised music with words telling stories and news, criticizing the government. For this he was often punished by the local Guomingdang goverment. Today, almost every body knows his name, because his music, though only six pieces of them have been preserved, is heard in every where in China. Some of them have been arranged as erhu concerto with orchestra, such as the first demo piece below "The moomlight reflexting on the second Spring", performed by one of the finest erhu soloist, Song Fei.

Traditional Chinese music instruments

String instruments from China


An Brief Introduction

erhu, guqin, guzheng(zheng), konghou, liuqin, morin khur, pipa, ruan, sanxian, yangqin, yueqin, ...

I. The Plucked String Instruments 1. The Lute family

Pipa ( pi-pa or p'i-p'a) - four-stringed lute with 30 frets and pear-shaped body. The instrumentalist holds the pipa upright and play with five small plectra attached to each finger of the right hand. The pipa history can be dated back at least 2000 years and developed from pentatonic to full scales. This instrument has extremely wide dynamic range and remarkable expressive power. (more about pipa ... )

Liuqin ( ) -a smaller version of pipa with four strings, which sound similar to mandolin. Liuqin is played with a piece of spectrum, and is used to be accompany instrument for folk songs and local opera. However, in recent decades, Composer Wang Huiran made great contribution to its making and composed many pieces such that the Liuqin also becomes a soloist instrument.

Sanxian ( )- A long necked lute with three strings without frets. In Chinese, "san" and "xian" stands for " "three" and "strings", respectively. The sound-body is made of round wooden box covered with snake skin, just like erhu. A piece of plectrum is used to play the instrument. This instrument is often used for accompanying folk songs and local opera. The sanxian is most popular in the north.

Ruan (

)- commonly referred to as "Chinese guitar", is an ancient four-stringed moon-shaped lute with long and straight neck and various number of frets, dated back at least to Qin Daynasty (around 200 BC). Ruan is used to be called "p'i-p'a" (pipa) or qin-pipa. Since the introduction of the oud-like instrument through the "silk-road" around 5th century, a new type of "pipa" with pear-shaped body and bent neck has been gradually developed into the present form since the Tang Dynasty (618-917AD), and the name pipa, which used to be a generic term for all pluck string lutes, has been specifically given to this newly-developed version, whereas the old form of pipa with straight-neck and round body got the name "Ruan", after the name of the grand master of this instrument, Ruan Xian who was one of the seven great scholars known as "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove" in Chinese history of the 3rd century (the Six Dynasties). They were truely good friends and did spend much time together in arts and wine during one of the darkest periods in Chinese history. Ruan Xian and Ji Kang (master of guqin, Chinese 7-stringed zither), are most famous for their musical achievements and the life as true artists. The Ruan is mostly used for Peking opera, and now also in modern Chinese orchestra. There are a family of ruan of various size including "Zhong Ruan" (middle Ruan) and "Da Ruan" (large Ruan) used in the same sense as viola and cello in western orchestra.

Yueqin (

)- moon-shaped lute with shorter neck and four strings, played with a spectrum, used for accompanying local operas. "Yue" stands

for "the moon" in Chinese.

2.

The zither family

Guqin ( ) - seven-stringed zither without bridges, the most classical Chinese instrument with over 3000 years of history. The guqin is often referred to as the instrument of sages for the purpose of enriching the heart and elevating human spirit. Confucius (around 600 BC) was a master of this instrument. In the Imperial China's past, welleducated people of the elite society were expected to master the four arts, namely, the qin (guqin), qi (weiqi, which has somehow been known as "Go" in the West according Japanese pronuciation), shu (Calligraphy), and hua (painting). Being on top of the four traditional arts, the guqin has historically been regarded as one of the most important symbols of Chinese high culture. Unfortunately only small number of people in China could play the instrument, because classical musical education of this kind has never reached general public. Fortunately, the situation has much been improved in recent decades, there have been a growing number of guqin players both in and outside China. Since november 2003, Guqin has been registered as one of the master pieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of the humanity by UNESCO (more information...)

Zheng ( ) or Guzheng ( )- Chinese zither with movable bridges and 16 - 25 strings. In the same family there are the Japanese koto, the Vietnamese dan tranh, the Korean kayagum, and the Mongolian Yagta (more

3.

information... ) The harp family

Konghou ( Kong Hou) - One of the most ancient Chinese music instruments that appeared in written texts of the Spring and Autumn period (around 600 BC). The structure of the Konghou looks similar to the harp, however, with its bridges spanning the strings in the way similar to guzheng. There were the wo-konghou (horizontal konghou), su-konghou (vertical konghou) and phoenix-head konghou. Unfortunately not much of this ancient instrument has been

preserved. The reproduction of the konghou started in the mid 50's. The structure of Today's konghou is a combination of su-konghou and wokonghou with the shape similar to harp. The performing skill is diversified. Besides right-hand techniques, the left hand can play vibratos, glissandos, etc. The tone quality is mellow and graceful and has a typical Chinese flavour.

II. The Bowed String Instruments: The huqin family

Erhu ( )- or Er-Hu, a two-stringed fiddle, is one of the most popular Chinese instruments in the Hu-qin ( ) family, where Hu stands for "foreign" or "the northern folk" in Chinese, and "qin" is a general name for all kinds of string instruments. (more information about Erhu ...).

Zhong-Hu ( ): If we call the "Erhu" Chinese violin, the Zhong-Hu is then the Chinese viola, where "Zhong" stands for "middle", thus the abbreviated name for the mid-pitched Erhu. It was developed on the basis of Erhu in the 1940s. Both the structure and performing skill of these two kinds of Hu-Qin are quite the same, yet Zhong-Hu has a deeper-sounding timbre but not as agile. Being more suitable for singing melodies (particularly some Mongolian melodies), Zhong-Hu is thus often used as tutti or accompanying instruments, sometimes for solo too.

Jing-Hu ( ): Principally used as accompanying instrument for Beijing Opera, Jing-Hu is another important two-stringed fiddle in the Huqin family. It was developed in Qin dynasty ( around 1790 ), which is often called the Hu-Qin. The pitch of Jing-Hu is the highest among all instruments of the Hu-Qin family. Due to its forceful and clarion timbre, Jing-Hu is suitable almost exclusively for Beijing opera.

Ban-Hu ( ): Ban-Hu has many other names such as Pang-Hu, Qin-Hu, Hu-Hu and Da-Xian, etc. It is the leading accompanying instrument for Bang-Zi and other northern tunes or ballads, particularly for the local operas in Henan Province, central China. Similar to Jing-Hu, the timbre of Ban-Hu is clarion and bright, which makes it hard to join other instruments for tutti. Therefore it's usually for solo, especially for presenting joyful and passionate moods.

Gao-Hu ( ), also called High-pitched Erhu or Yue-Hu, is especially designed for playing Cantonese folk melodies and operas. Gao-Hu is often used for performing vivid and brisk rhythms, particularly for higher-pitched tunes that Erhu cannot play. In comparison with Erhu, Gao-Hu has louder volume yet brighter tones, and thus it servers both as solo and leading instrument in performing Cantonese operas and folk melodies.

Yehu (

):two stringed bowed instrument similar to erhu, however, with a coconut sound body where Ye means coconut. It is found mostly in South

China and Taiwan.

Sihu ( ): four stringed huqin used for accompanying local opera, most commonly found in the North, such as Sanxi, Shanxi and Neimonggu. It is one of the three leading instruments (together with dizi, yangqin) in "Er Ren Tai" of Neimonggu (Inner Mongolia). "Si" stands for "four" in Chinese. The structure is similar to Erhu except it has four strings. The horse-hair of the bow is divided into two group that go between the four strings.

Zhuihu( ), also known as Zhuiqin, is one of the most popular instruments in Henan and Shandong Provinces, used for local opera and story-telling. The instrument was invented toward the end of Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912) based on the pluck string Sanxian and bowed string erhu. The striking difference from Erhu is that Zhuihu has a fretless fingerboard similar to Sanxian. The use of the bow is similar to that of erhu. Basically the instrument is derived from a smaller version of Sanxian performed with a bow, producing beautiful sounds with a strong local flavour, capable of imitating a lot of natural sounds such as birds and horse etc. The playing methods adapt the left hand techniques for the Sanxian and the bow techniques of erhu. The Zhuihu is one of the most beautiful instruments of the huqin family, which has become very popular soon after its invention in Henan and Shandong.

Leiqin (

) is derived dirrectly from Zhuihu with few small modifications when the instrument was introduced to Guangdong Province. The playing

method is the same as Zhuihu.

Morin Khur ( Ma-Tou-Qin): The Morin Khur or horse-headed violin is two strings, however, very different from Er-Hu. The horse hair of the bow doesn't go instrument and the way of playing is more similar to cello than to erhu. The head for the body, horse skin for the resonator, and horse hair for the strings and is of great variety and virtuosity. Much of the music typically sounds like human voice, real such as galloping horse, the whinnying, etc. The modern Morin Khur has a strings, and has a rich warm tone and very beautiful sound. The peghead is decorated

a typical Mongolian bowed instrument with between the two strings, instead, the instrument was originally made from a horse bow. The music played upon this instrument and can imitate a horse to such an extent as wooden body and soundboard, 2 horse hair with a detailed carving of a horse's head.

III. Hammered string instruments - Yang-Qin or Chinese dulcimer

Yangqin (

) is a Chinese hammered dulcimer with a near-squared soundboard. The

instrument is very similar to Santur, played with two bamboo sticks.

Note: In Chinese, most of the stringed instruments are called "qin"( often called Huqin ).

) with few exceptions that are named differently, for instance, pipa(

) and erhu(

)however, erhu is