Type: Bowed > Chordophones.
Region: China > Far East Asia.
Tuning: Tuned in fifths in G D or A E.
Dimensions: Scale Length 80 cm.
Manufacture: Shanghai, China.
Acquisition Date: Year 2003 to 2005.
Acquisition Source: Ian MacKenzie, Singapore.
Description: 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 Hu”.
Developments: 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.
Construction: 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.