Erhu (Two-stringed violin)

The Erhu has a small body and a long neck. There are two strings, with the bow inserted between them. With a range of around three octaves, it's sound is rather like the violin, but with a thinner tone due to the smaller resonating chamber. In the orchestra they are usually divided into 1st and 2nd parts. It has a history of more than 500 years. It started to be popular in Southern China during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 AD), which gave it another name "Nan-hu" (the word "south" pronounced in Chinese as "Nan"). Erhu is still the most popular bowed instrument in today's Chinese music. An erhu is quite different from a western fiddle. There is a vertical post with a fingerboard which goes through the sides of a resonator at its base. This resonator is covered with a piece of stretched snake-skin (python), which results in a unique "whining" tone color of the instrument. The bow for the erhu is placed between its two strings. Traditionally the two strings are made of silk, although metallic strings are used as well. The player of an erhu usually sits, and the erhu is placed on his left upper thigh in front of his left hip. The instrument is played by moving the bow horizontally through the two vertical strings. Erhu's range spans about three octaves. It has some of the qualities of a violin, but having a more nasal tone. Erhu is capable of producing a gentle but firm tone.



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. The Zhong-Hu has a beautiful tone, similar to the cello. It is the alto species. The shape is a little bit larger than Erhu and string technique is about the same as Erhu. The zhonghu produces music of a lower pitch. The shade of the resonator varies from circular to octagonal.

Gao-Hu (Canton Music Fiddle)

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 Catonese operas and folk melodies. This Chinese 2-stringed, vertical fiddle is particularly used in Southern China. Traditionally a Gaohu had two silk strings, but today metal strings or a combination of metal/silk strings are more common. The physical structure of a Gaohu is similar to that of an er-hu, although the neck of the this instrument is shorter. The tuning is a fourth to a fifth higher than the er-hu, giving it a higher pitched voice. The performance technique is quite similar to erhu and other Chinese two-stringed fiddles. Because of its mellow tone quality, Gaohu is chiefly used in Cantonese music. It is also the main accompanied instrument in Cantonese opera, a popular opera among Hong Kong and Guang Dong Province in China. It function could be similar to that of the 1st violins in a western orchestra. It can also be used as a solo instrument normally for lively and merry music pieces.