ErHu, A Chinese Traditional String Instrument

ErHu is a string bowing instrument, which has two strings. The modern ErHu measure their two string with a perfect fifth. It belongs to middle and high pitch range instruments. To cater to the needs for folks music and the development of Chinese Opera, it splits into many different kinds of ErHu.

Beginning from the Tang dynasty, the history of ErHu has already begun for more than a thousand years. It was originally born from a minor ethnic group, it was called ‘XiQin’ 奚琴 at that time. In the literature records, there was a saying in 《乐书》, “奚琴本胡乐也”, and the poem in Tang dynasty of “中军置酒饮归客,胡琴琵琶与羌笛”, it suggests that the HuQin, the collective name for all the Strings instrument has become popular among folks in Tang dynasty.

In the past, ErHu was mainly spread popular among the lower region of Chang Jiang, so it is also called Southern Hu, 南胡, as it has a higher pitch, the timbre is very much alike to the human sound, it was widely accepted by folks. ErHu was mainly used as accompanies to local folks’ music, or performed with Chinese Opera, until the 1920s, ErHu began appearing on stage as a solo instrument. 

Up till the Song Dynasty, HuQin was renamed “嵇琴”. Scholar has recorded in literature 《事林广记》 said that because HuQin is made from XiKang, it is named as XiQin. In the record 《补笔谈·乐律》, there was a story about the height of performance technique of HuQin, “熙宁中,宫宴,教坊伶人徐衍奏嵇琴,方进酒而一弦绝,衍更不易琴,只用一弦终其曲。” When the musician performs for the emperor, one string was broken, but he can still finish the performance with the remaining string, it is not possible without highly proficient techniques. In the Northern Song dynasty era, HuQin has already begun to use horsetails to make the bow.

With the development of Opera, and Music, folks’ instruments started to have their accompanying instrument. The most important one is the Horse Tail HuQin originated from Mongolia and Western nations, with some of the former instruments like XiQin and ZhaQin, they combined and merged into a new kind of strings instrument, which marked the mature era of a string instrument in Chinese culture. After that, as the types of Opera splits, and they all need some kind of local characteristics to their music, this kind of Horse Tail Hu Qin continues to develop and splits into different kinds of unique instruments, such as the BanHu 板胡 for Yu Opera, JingHu for Jing Opera. 

ErHu is just one type of instrument of HuQin, the collective of string instruments in Chinese Culture. It was developed far later than HuQin. It is not accurate to say ErHu began in the Tang dynasty, it is supposed to be Hu Qin that was begun in the Tang dynasty.

To learn more about different kinds of Chinese traditional instrument, visit here!

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