String Musical Instruments

Gaohu

Gaohu is generally called the alt erhu. It was developed from the erhu. Its development is closely linked to Cantonese music.

Cantonese music is usually performed with folk instruments. In the beginning, there was no gaohu in Cantonese music. Around the 1920s, the Cantonese musician and performer Lu Wencheng made great improvements on the erhu. He changed the silk strings to steel ones, and raised the tones. While performing, he put the canister between his legs. Gaohu soon became the leading instrument in Cantonese music.

The structure, making and material of gaohu are similar to that of erhu. The biggest difference is the canister. Designers had few limits in making the instrument. Some designers changed the round canister into a flat round one, which raised the volume. Some changed it to a three stringed instrument instead of a two stringed one, which expended the range.

Gaohu has a clear and bright sound. Along with this characteristic, the full-bodied bass part has been given great prominence in the band. As a rule, gaohu is given a highly valued seat in the Chinese ethnic orchestra. In addition, it is especially good at performing lively rhythms. For that reason, it is often used to perform the accompaniment for theme songs.

Erhu  

Erhu is a very famous stringed instrument in China. Its history can be traced back to the Tang dynasty from the 7th to 10th century AD. It was welcomed among the ethnic people of the northeastern part of China. Erhu has long been the accompanying instrument in traditional dramas.

The structure is quite simple. There is a slim neck about 80 centimeters, on the surface of which two strings are fixed. In addition, there is a cup-shaped canister and a bow made of horse hair. While performing, the musician is usually seated, with the organ and bow held in the left and right hand respectively. The range consists of three octaves. The tone is close to the human voice. Some people call it the Chinese violin. Because the tone sounds somewhat melancholy, it is good at conveying sad emotions.

The making, renovation and performing skills of erhu have been greatly improved since 1949. It can be used to play solos, accompany opera and traditional dramas. In the ethnic orchestra, erhu even plays the leading role, just as the violin does in western orchestras.

Erhu is highly popular with the Chinese people because of its simple design and low cost. It is welcomed in nearly all Chinese families.

Banhu 
 
Banhu is also called "banghu" and "qinhu". It was developed along with the appearance of the local opera, and developed another musical instrument called huqin. Banhu is loud and has a clear tone, but it is graceful and soft at the same time. It has a history of more than 300 years. It is called banhu because it is made of pieces of wood flock, which are bonded together.

At first, banhu was popular mainly in northern China. It was frequently used as the major accompaniment instrument in many local operas and musical performances. Because banhu is closely related to Chinese operas and dramas, it is especially good for those performances. The way the Banhu is used in operas and dramas varies from place to place.

The structure of banhu is quite similar to that of erhu, the two-stringed Chinese fiddle, but there are still differences. The canister of banhu is made of tung wood, which is the key to producing the sound, while that of the erhu is made of animal skin. The tone of banhu is especially clear and loud, and carries the flavor of the countryside. It plays the leading role among all the accompanying instruments in the band, and it produces the alto voice part in the chord.

After the foundation of the People's Republic of China, musicians and instrument designers have made great efforts to improve their manufacturing skills. Many new types of banhu have been created. Among those new members are mediant banhu, alt banhu, three-stringed banhu, bamboo banhu and so on.

Along with improvements in manufacturing, performance skills have also been improved. Banhu has become an indispensable part of ethnic bands in China, and a solo-performing instrument with strong local flavor. It is often used to perform accompaniment for ethnic operas, singing and dancing, as well as singing.

Niutuiqin 
 
Niutuiqin is a stringed folk musical instrument that dates all the way back to ancient China. It is popular among the Dong ethnic areas in Guizhou and Hunan provinces, as well as Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Its shape is like that of a leg of a cow, so it is called niutuiqin. Niu means cattle, and tui means leg. The traditional instrument is made of cedar, the lower part is hollow, and it is covered with the cedar or tung wood. The neck is wide, and the head is square. There are two pegs made of hardwood, which are used to fix the strings. The bow of the instrument is made of bamboo.

Compared with the other instruments, niutuiqin is different in producing the music by friction between the bow and strings made of palm fiber. Therefore, the sound is soft and delicate, and a little husky, which makes the tone very unique. The performance style of the organ is nearly the same as that of the violin. The performer should put the end of the organ right under the left shoulder, with the left hand pressing the strings and right hand drawing the bow. The range is smaller than that of the violin.

Local people make Niutuiqin, and the materials and sizes vary. Dong people have made continuous improvements to the instrument. The resonance box was expanded, and steel strings and horsetail bows replaced palm fiber ones. Some musicians added a metal frame at the end of the instrument, so that the performer can hold the instrument firmly under the arm. In so doing, the performer may feel less weight on his or her left hand and more skills can be developed.

In the cultural lives of the Dong people, niutuiqin has played a very important role. Nearly every young male owns such an instrument. When there is a festival or holiday, they will play the organ, singing and dancing all the way to their relativesí» houses. It is said that once people hear the music performed by the organ, they will come for the music, gathering around and enjoying the cheerful moment.

Matouqin 
 
Matouqin, or horse-head fiddle, is a Mongolian instrument. It is called horse-head fiddle because the top of the pole is carved into the shape of a horse head. The instrument has a long history, and it was quite popular with the Mongolian people during the early period of the 13th century. The names, structures, tones and performance styles vary from place to place.

The resonance box resembles the echelon. The strings, which are made of horsehair, are fixed with silk onto the organ. The sound produced by the instrument is sweet, deep and pleasant.

The early performers made the instruments themselves. Due to its low volume, it can only be performed inside. Later, designers made improvements on the traditional instrument. The range was expanded, and the strings were changed to nylon, which enhanced the volume. With those improvements, listeners can still hear the soft and deep sound, while it became even clearer and brighter. The new organ may be performed outdoors and it has become one of the main solo instruments.

There are also newly made large and medium sized organs. Their sound is quite like that of the cello and contrabass. It is worth mentioning that people can still find Mongolian designs on these instruments. A well made matouqin is a piece of art as well as an instrument.

Leiqin 
 
Leiqin is also called leihu, which appeared in the 1920s. It was designed by a civilian artist named Wang Dianyu in imitation of another kind of musical instrument named zhuihu. He was born in a poor family in Shandong province. When he was young, he went blind from smallpox. However, he showed diligence and talent in learning to perform many musical instruments including zhuihu. At the end of the 1920s, he made great changes to zhuihu. The shaft was lengthened, and the canister was expanded, which was covered with the skin of boa. The new instrument became louder, and the range was increased. In 1953, it was called "leiqin" formally.

The instrument is made up of five parts. The shaft, head and tuning page are made of hardwood. The head is like a shovel. The surface of the tuning page is carved. The canister is made of copperplate. The bow is longer than that of the urhien. There are two specifications of leiqin. The big one measures at 110cms, while the small one measures at 90cms. Usually, the instrument is tuned according to the preferences of the performers. There may be three and half octaves within the range. The range of the small leiqin is the same as the big one, which is one octave higher than the latter.

The performers should sit while playing. The canister is put on the left leg, with the left hand pressing the strings and a bow in the right hand plucking. In most cases, the performer uses his or her index finger and the third finger to press the strings.

Leiqin has a wide range, a high volume and a soft tone. It can perform solo, concert and ensemble. In addition, it can produce sound in imitation of human voices, arias of the Chinese operas, calling of the animals, and the sound effect of the orchestral and percussion instruments such as the urhien, gong, drum and so on.