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aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

In December 2020 I bought an erhu and signed up for online lessons having never picked up a bowed instrument in my entire life previously and I saw that there was no thread about violins or other bowed instruments, so here is one!

I've always been interested in picking up and learning a new instrument and I always liked the sound of the erhu. Like most people in the US I'm sure, I kind of fell in love with the sound of the instrument from movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, and House of Flying Daggers as well as many others out there. I didn't really know much about the instrument itself, but when I saw that there was an instructor online that specialized in it, I decided to just go for it and buy something the week before Christmas.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thqUc1bf8IU

It's been about a month of daily practice and weekly virtual lessons and I've been able to start getting comfortable with this thing. I just wanted to get a thread started for bowed instruments.

Since I mentioned violin also in the subject here's also a video with both violin and erhu:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-726vBwPvI

Open to ideas to put stuff into the OP, I have no idea what I'm doing in this forum!

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Cletus Van Damme
May 7, 2008

Wanna buy some cheap starships?


I dont have any experience with bowed instruments but I am considering buying my gf a viola for her birthday in May so I will be watching the thread very closely.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

I also have no idea about violas, violins, and so on, but I think there are probably some people in the wings who have some advice.

I have been, however, continuing my daily practice and weekly lessons on the erhu and I will likely update the OP to better explain some of the concepts that I'm learning. If there is some interest I can also talk about some of the very basic things that I'm learning, such as how jianpu (movable do numeric solfege) factors into the learning process and resources that are helping me to learn the instrument specifically, and just "learn an instrument" more generally (practice journals, etc).

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

I'm about to start my weekly lesson and the past couple of weeks I have been working on fourth finger practice (pinky), slurring, and trills. I'm not entirely sure what lesson routine is supposed to be like for violin, but since this is probably around the end of 8 weeks worth of lessons, it feels like there's been a lot of ground covered!

I might do a writeup in greater detail on these techniques and what I understand of them to help digest them a little better.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

An erhu is part of a class of bowed instruments where the bow sits in between the strings and has pressure applied to stress the bowhair to the inner or outer string. Depending on the tuning and shape of the body, it can have a higher or lower pitch.

For an erhu, it is tuned for D4 for the inner string and A4 on the outer string. You press inwards with your middle and ring finger to apply pressure to the bowhair on inner string, and use thumb and index finger to apply pressure to outer string. As a result, rapid shifting between the strings has to do with adjusting hand position and finger tension, which also is dependent on how fast you're moving the bow and where on the bow you are. I'd guess that this is mostly the same for any bowed instrument, except you're using both sides of the bowhair so they might be engineered a bit differently.

The natural tuning for an erhu is in solfeggio and a movable do, so it starts with D as your "do" and goes D, E, F#, G, A on inner string; A, B C#, D, E on outer string for first position D. Using Chinese "Jianpu" notation, this is also referenced by using a numeric system, 12345 and 5671*2* (technically the * represents an octave higher, so in instead of D4 it's D5). Since jianpu uses solfege as the root, it has "movable do", so different positions have different places where the 1, or "do", starts.

Lesson History

Since I'm in my mid-30s and don't really have any experience but I'm enthusiastic about learning we've been using an accelerated lesson program which has followed thusly:

  • Week 1: Open string practice (right hand focus). Introduce baby song (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star). Very brief introduction to left hand technique and 4th finger practice (pinky).
  • Week 2: Open string practice with alternating bow speed (whole, quarter, eighth note mixups) - introduction to rapid bowing and shifting between inner and outer string. Cleaning up intonation on open string along with practicing in 2/4 and 4/4 time signature. Introduced 2nd and 3rd song to practice, includes slurring and dotted rests.
  • Week 3-4: Song practice and adding up to third finger for both inner and outer string. Scales up to 3rd finger. Add solfege singing for ear training practice and to help with sight reading.
  • Week 5: Adding slurring practice (continuous note playing in single bow direction).
  • Week 6: Cleanup on slurring practice and adding 4th finger practice. Scales up to 4th finger. Introduce 4th song to practice. Shoulder pain means need to do more stretches. Start talking about G position 1, but don't go into it too deep because want to focus on mastery of D position 1 first.
  • Week 7: Cleanup on 4th finger practice and combining scales with slurring up to 4th finger. Trills and ornamentals introduction.
  • Week 8: Song work on 2nd, 3rd, 4th song. Driving hard on building the repertoire.

Notes on Intonation

Because the erhu is fretless, muscle memory and wrist position is required in order to determine where to put your fingers on left hand (or right hand if you were switching which one is handling the string). There is a string tensioner called a qianjin which also serves as a visual reference where the hand rests in first position, and is best described as letting your fingers drop into natural position without clutching the neck of the instrument like you're holding an egg. The neck rests lightly at the root of the thumb near the palm but can shift.

Normally playing notes of a higher pitch is applying very light pressure onto the strings instead of hammering them onto a fret board like a guitar. More complex songs are played with multiple positions in the same key and so the hand should be able to touch the strings in the correct positions while also remaining agile and fluid to move up/down the strings as needed.

Intonation is also playing cleanly with the bowing hand with the right amount of force. Too much force and you get a "scraping" noise, and too little force you get a "thin" noise. Ideally, you would play with enough tension on the bow and adjust as your bow speed increases/decreases and your bow position. This is also a pretty big reason why open string practice is so important. By playing with a focus on intonation quality, you are able to get clean sounding notes for all the notes you play.

Practice Guide

Generally speaking I have been trying to find time in the day to practice since I work 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM and usually have social obligations from 9:30 PM to around 11:30 or midnight. Lessons are on Sunday, so I try to do the following:

- Practice during lunch breaks, or if I get up early enough, practice before work, or practice after work before my other social stuff, or practice after all that stuff is over. Usually practice will go from 15 to 60 minutes, averaging around 30 minutes.
- I try to practice every day and there's only really one day since December that I missed, but that was because I was working without breaks for 13 hours straight and I had to be up for on-call the following day, so my brain and motor skills were roasted. That's fairly rare but it does happen, so I let that poo poo go (I did practice for about 15 minutes after midnight, but my logging app didn't count it as practicing same-day so RIP me)
- I found a bridge mute for erhu which was 8 bucks but had to ship all the way from Singapore, so it took almost a full month to post to Texas. It enables me to play after civil noise hours are over since I live in an apartment.
- I log all practice that I do except when I'm doing silent practice or research on songs. I was previously using a Google Doc but have since moved to using an iOS app called "Andante" so I can more accurately record how much time I'm spending and when. My original practice notes for Dec and January are here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zWfbaTIVw4EkovRdmnqyLkS5xATyOZdNZ716s6dwIJ8/edit?usp=sharing
- For practice I will start by warming up with open string and then move up to scales and song material from there. I found the following practice videos from Sarah Joy to be pretty useful:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=253UMKMfOoc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0h9AOoEq-g

- Especially when introducing left hand technique into practice, I was getting a lot of shoulder pain since I wiped out on a motorcycle in 2018 and slammed my shoulder on the pavement and never got it corrected. As a result, I've had to do some stretching sessions when it got pretty bad:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jHsraw2NIk

- I have found that practicing and warming up for at least 30 minutes before lessons makes for a much better lesson experience. Typically I will practice the hour immediately before lessons begin and either wait until after lessons are over to eat breakfast or do 30 minutes of practice and warmup then take a short break for coffee before we get started.
- I rosin usually once a week or fortnight for the bowhair and wipe down the strings to make sure there's no excess residue in case the bowhair touches other parts of the instrument during storage.
- I bought a music stand that can pack up and get out of the way. I use an iPad Pro to view my music sheets using a program called Newzik on iOS that I run in the foreground while Andante is in the background. I can mark directly on the sheets to highlight stuff I'm having trouble with or add visual reminders for rests or separate phrases.
- For tuning and timekeeping I use a combo tuner/metronome from KORG, the TM-60. I set it to tune at 440Hz for D and A and also use it when practicing scales to make sure my fingers are in the right spot, but as time goes on I find that I need to look at it less and less and I can hear when I'm out of tune.

Song Guide

All this poo poo is literally in Chinese with the jianpu notation, so if I need reference material I need to go dig it up by doing an OCR of the PDFs that my instructor is sending me. Process:

- Take a screenshot of the specific text to be translated (typically, the entry name)
- Go to https://translate.yandex.com/ocr
- Paste the image
- Click "Translate" on the top right
- Copy and paste the resulting OCR'ed Chinese characters into Youtube + erhu or 二胡 (same thing). Note: you can also use this to find other songs also in erhu too, probably
- Find examples to listen to for further practice.

First song demo: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMgrKWdXzlw

Second song demos: Song of Oroqen (?) - 鄂倫春小唱

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJXbyeeapDo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOcf393tMg8

Third song demo: Fengyang Flower Drum - 鳳陽花鼓

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_sTa13Twxc
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJjxXG5GkzY
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxW_keC906Q
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyYBVscgyo8

Fourth song demo: Tianyuan spring color (?) - 田园春色

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9vXoaqFrYM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRUrMi45NZk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJSdYqvGdiM#t=26s

Comparison to Violin Instruction

There's a Youtube channel of professional violin players called TwoSet Violin that normally operate out of Australia I think, they have a lot of comedy videos for musicians and hang out with Hilary Hahn and such. However, they also provide some interesting insight on how violin practice goes, so I'm curious to know if the speed at which I'm receiving instruction and practicing is "normal" or not relative to other bowed instruments:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqTc_EOpmk8

My instructor is a currently working professional musician who specializes in erhu and other Chinese string instruments as well as performing with orchestras. She recently put out a new performance on her channel, which I will present as it uses the zhonghu (lower pitch), erhu, and banhu (higher pitch). She noted that we're moving along at a very ambitious pace but so far it has been manageable for me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwACKRFw2qk

aldantefax fucked around with this message at 20:42 on Feb 14, 2021

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk


Hi Musicians Lounge, the circus is in town - come display your skills!

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk


i've played improv cello for years, I'll come back and do an effort post about the way I play.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

I don't really know if I would pick up a violin any time soon but maybe in a year or two of study with this instrument. It does seem like that there are similarities and differences on a more nuanced level than just the bow position, the main thing of course being violins are more widely available in the US and have more lesson material in English. As it goes, the amount of English-speaking material for erhu is quite slim, and probably the more into other related Central, South, and East Asian instruments you go, the more esoteric it gets.

For example, there is a Korean traditional zither-type instrument which is played as a bowed instrument instead of plucked called the ajaeng. Bowed instruments do also have the benefit of having the bowing action but also plucking though (pizzicato, I think?) which adds some extra options for performance and sound making.

Here's a demo of an ajaeng ensemble with a percussionist killin' it with accompaniment:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-alTu2ooh0

My boss at work plays the cello and I seem to get the impression most people who played the violin did so as a kid because it was the thing to do and likely a bit cheaper and more portable than a piano...which meant as a parent you could drop off your kid for an hour or two at violin lessons and go get a smoothie or something.

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aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Further notes on some things learning erhu:

- There is, of course, a language barrier but it's not quite so bad once you understand more about it. There are naturally a huge amount of Chinese and Taiwanese resources on the instrument, and surprisingly a lot of Japanese interest as well. You find some English-speaking support from the form of places in Singapore, and very rarely in the US (there are two instructors on TakeLessons and one is only familiar with just the basics of erhu, whereas the other one I went with is a specialist in the instrument).
- Thanks to learning more about how jianpu works it becomes easier to understand other tablature that is more commonly found out there. Jianpu is actually very common and used for basic instruction in East Asian music rather than using a traditional Western-style musical score and staff. That doesn't mean that it doesn't exist, just that you have some other options as well and is generally easier to sight read when starting out.
- Erhu is actually used in a lot of popular music in Chinese pop especially. Whereas a lot of pop music in the US (as an example) is based more heavily on synth and keyboard and vocals, you can find a lot of examples where the instrument is featured prominently. Most common pairings with the erhu tend to follow other string instruments, piano, and so on that complement well.
- Finding instructional material is a bit difficult. There are ten official proficiency grades for Erhu from a couple of music schools in China but their curricula is hard to come by. The book my instructor is teaching from she'd have to go fly back to China to get another physical copy to send to me, so for now she's been taking pictures with her phone and sending me exercises page by page. This works surprisingly better than you might originally think!

If anybody has any questions about the learning process or how to get started in greater detail I am happy to provide any other resources which have worked for me thus far. Otherwise, I will periodically update the thread as I make progress on a semi-weekly basis once I remember to do so.

Like sebmojo I also invite anybody else who plays a bowed instrument to share their experiences! I'm particularly interested as an adult learner to understand how other people approach practice and repertoire, as I'd like to continue playing this instrument longer term in as regular a cadence as possible. Hopefully by the end of the first year of regular instruction I can maybe play a full suite of pieces or get something recorded on Youtube that I'm happy with.

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