Well we did it … we went and added ANOTHER member to our family .. this time it only has 2 strings. It’s called an Erhu. It’s a traditional Chinese instrument first documented around the 10th century. According to Wikipedia it’s sometimes called a spike fiddle. It’s a bowed instrument but the bow is “trapped” in between the two strings, so the bow is always attached.
It was a pretty fun experience. We had seen some street performers in Changsha and thought with our love of instruments it’d be a great souvenir to bring home. Fortunately it’s not a typical item sold in tourist shops which meant we had to get off the beaten path to find an actual instrument shop. With the help of our guide Elsea, we jumped on a local bus and took it to a small instrument shop. Envisioning a store with loads of traditional Chinese instruments I was a little disappointed when we walked up and all I could see were guitars. We were greeted by this lady who at first looked a little confused as to why we were here let alone looking to by a erhu.
A quick conversation and we were pointed to a little corner in the store and there hung half a dozen erhus. Not having a clue how to play one (nor did the lady that sold it to us) it was sorta weird trying to figure out wich one to buy. I’m used to going into a instrument shop and being able to play the instrument, judge the feel of the fret board, listen to the tones, how much volume can the instrument make, so having zero clue was very weird to me. Feeling like I should at least sit down and make a show of trying to play them, I tried to mimic the street performers I had seen. It sounded pretty much like cat was being strangled. (Back in the hotel I figured out that none of the bows had any rosin on which meant that there was not enough friction, much like new violins) In the end we chose a more expensive one based on the beautiful inlay, if we can’t tell if it’s a decent instrument at least it’ll look good.
Once we picked one, the lady disappeared into one of the student rooms and returned with this old man. Attaching a digital tuner to the erhu he showed me how to tune the erhu. The two strings are referred to the inner (you press the bow towards your body to play that string) and the outer ( you push the bow away from your body) string. The inner is tuned to a D and the outer is tuned to an A.
So my next task is to see if I can use it in the band write a song with it. Maybe I’ll title it: Guangzhou Breakdown.