Erhu – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Musical Instruments Glossary

I. What is an Erhu?

The Erhu is a traditional Chinese musical instrument that is often referred to as the Chinese violin. It is a two-stringed bowed instrument that is played by rubbing the bow across the strings. The Erhu has a long neck and a small resonator covered with python skin. It is known for its hauntingly beautiful sound and is often used in traditional Chinese music, as well as in contemporary compositions.

II. History and Origin of the Erhu

The Erhu has a long history that dates back to ancient China. It is believed to have originated in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) and has evolved over the centuries to become the instrument we know today. The Erhu was originally played by the Chinese ethnic minority groups in the northern regions of China, but it eventually spread throughout the country and became a popular instrument in Chinese music.

III. Structure and Components of the Erhu

The Erhu consists of several key components, including the neck, the resonator, the strings, and the bow. The neck of the Erhu is typically made of wood and is long and slender. The resonator is covered with python skin, which helps to amplify the sound of the instrument. The strings are traditionally made of silk, although modern Erhus may use metal strings. The bow is made of bamboo and horsehair, and is used to produce sound by rubbing it across the strings.

IV. Playing Techniques of the Erhu

Playing the Erhu requires a unique set of techniques that are different from those used in Western string instruments. The player holds the Erhu vertically on their lap and uses their left hand to press down on the strings to change the pitch. The right hand holds the bow and is used to rub across the strings to produce sound. The Erhu is capable of producing a wide range of tones and can be played in a variety of styles, including legato, staccato, and vibrato.

V. Notable Erhu Players

There have been many talented Erhu players throughout history who have helped to popularize the instrument both in China and around the world. One of the most famous Erhu players is Liu Tianhua, who was a renowned musician and composer in the early 20th century. Another notable Erhu player is Min Huifen, who is known for her virtuosic playing and innovative compositions. In recent years, players like Ma Xiaohui and Yu Hongmei have gained international recognition for their skillful performances on the Erhu.

VI. Modern and Traditional Uses of the Erhu

The Erhu is a versatile instrument that is used in both traditional and modern music. In traditional Chinese music, the Erhu is often featured in solo performances, as well as in ensembles with other traditional Chinese instruments. It is also used in Chinese opera and folk music. In modern music, the Erhu has been incorporated into a wide range of genres, including jazz, pop, and classical music. It has been featured in film soundtracks and has even been used in collaborations with Western musicians. The Erhu continues to be a beloved instrument in Chinese culture and is celebrated for its unique sound and expressive capabilities.