It is used as a solo instrument as well as in small ensembles and large orchestras. It is the most popular of the family of traditional bowed string instruments used by various ethnic groups of China. A very versatile instrument, the erhu is used in traditional and contemporary music arrangements, such as in pop, rock, jazz, etc. The Erhu can be traced back to instruments introduced to China more than a thousand years ago. It is believed to have evolved from the Xiqin, the xiqin is believed to have originated from the Xi people of Central Asia, and have come to China in the 10th century. The first Chinese character of the name of the instrument is believed to come from the fact that it has two strings, an alternate explanation states that it comes from the fact that it is the second highest huqin in pitch to the gaohu in the modern Chinese orchestra. The second character indicates that it is a member of the Huqin family, as soon as the horsehair bow was invented, it spread very widely. The Erhu consists of a long vertical stick-like neck, at the top of which are two tuning pegs, and at the bottom is a small resonator body which is covered with python skin on the front end. The Erhu has some unusual features, first is that its characteristic sound is produced through the vibration of the python skin by bowing. Second, there is no fingerboard, the stops the strings by pressing their fingertips onto the strings without the strings touching the neck. Third, the hair bow is never separated from the strings. Lastly, although there are two strings, they are close to each other and the players left hand in effect plays as if on one string. The inside string is tuned to D4 and the outside string to A4. The maximum range of the instrument is three and a half octaves, from D4 up to A7, before a stopping finger reaches the part of the string in contact with the bow hair, the usual playing range is about two and a half octaves. Various dense and heavy hardwoods are used in making the Erhu, according to Chinese references the woods include zi tan, Lao hong mu, wu mu, and hong mu. Particularly fine Erhus are often made pieces of old furniture. A typical erhu measures 81 cm from top to bottom, the length of the bow also being 81 cm, the parts of the Erhu, Qín tong, sound box or resonator body, it is hexagonal, octagonal, or, less commonly, round. Qín pí/She pí, skin, made from python, the python skin gives the erhu its characteristic sound
Performer with erhu, photographed Singapore February 1969 × July 1971.
Picture showing qianjin, a loop of string which acts as a nut.
A blind street performer playing in Jingzhou, Hubei, China, 2006