Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Rotating Qianjing Trick

Qianjing is an important part of the Erhu. If your Qianjing is worn out, you might find that the Erhu goes out of tune easily, the pitch is different when you pull and push the bow although playing the same note and there is increased wolf tones.

But what do you do if you do not have any string to tie a new Qianjing or do not know how to do it?

Well, you can purchase a roll of Qianjing string at our online store, and learn how to tie the Qianjing from this video.

But if you're in need of a quick fix, try this rotating Qianjing trick:

You rotate the Qianjing string to a fresh new spot.

Might not work if the Qianjing is wound too tight though.

Talent - Born or Bred?

Recently I attended a 3 day band conference in Singapore. One of the speakers was Professor Shuichi Komiyama (who is by the way an excellent and inspiring speaker) from Montana State University.

He shared with us a story of one of his students. This student has attention deficit disorder and whenever he comes to Prof Shuichi's class he would say, "I wanna play hockey, I wanna play hockey". He can never focus on one thing for more than a few minutes. But this person went on to the University of North Texas and graduated as the 1st tenor in the top Jazz band in the University.

The message that he wanted to bring across is that talent is bred and not born. If he had given up on the student, the student would not have become what he is today.

I shared this little story with my wife the other day. We both concluded that Prof Shuichi must have been able to identify the in born music talent in that student. Without that the student would not have gone that far as well. She asked me to imagine my brother-in-law, who is quite tone deaf, as a music arranger. He can put in hours of hard work to learn about song structures, come up with his own fixed systems of "hi-hats come in second verse", "strings come in the chorus" etc. But his work will be cookie-cutter type, lacking in that X-factor. He can be good at it, but he'll never be excel at it.

But in life, a person can only be excellent at one or two things. So if good's good enough, good's good.

There are still a couple of more things I want to be good at....

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Changing Strings on the Erhu

Someone asked me if I could do a video on how to calibrate or tune the Erhu. My first reaction was, isn't that pretty straightforward thing?

I guess I've been doing that so much so that I've taken some things for granted. Thus I decided to do a video on how to change Erhu strings as well as tune it.

When I finished the video, I realized that there are certain aspects you need to take note of, else your Erhu might end up looking and sound weird.

So here it is: How to change strings (on the Erhu)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Erhu Rolling Vibrato Video

Ok this is what I've been busy with lately. After much thinking and discussion with some Erhu instructors, I've created a video on how to do the rolling vibrato. The video is divided into 3 steps: (1) finger movement (2) bowing (3) combining finger movement and bowing.

Each step should be mastered before moving on to the next. And master each finger first before moving on to the next. It is a slow and tedious learning process but it beats having a convulsion every time you do vibrato.

And there is no substitute for a face to face lesson with a Erhu teacher. You should get a teacher to tweak your moves whenever you have the chance.

Here it is:

4) How to do rolling vibrato on Erhu

The rest of the earlier videos are here:

1) How to hold a Erhu Bow
2) How to bow the Erhu
3) How to play the Erhu - Left Hand Position

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bridges Over Troubled Snakeskin

I did an interesting experiment with different types of bridges to test how different bridges affect the tone of the Erhu.

The Erhu used in this experiment is a Shanghai Dunhuang aged Rosewood Erhu.

All other factors remained the same, although I would prefer to vary the thickness of the felt dampener according to the height of the bridge, because the tension of the dampener on the snakeskin affects the sound. But to compensate for that, I try to choose bridges with the same height as much as possible.

Click on the individual bridges to hear the sound clips:

Ebony * Rosewood * Whitewood

Violet Sandalwood * Young Sandalwood * Ebony Sandalwood

Violet Sandalwood * Small Leaf Sandalwood * Mystery Bridge

Clearly there are some subtle differences in the tone. Some high notes ring out more, some have more volume, some sound more hollow and some sound cleaner.

Would love to hear some comments from you.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dynamic Dimo

Learned this from Mr BCK (the one of dimo fixing fame) today:

A Dizi sounds its best on the 4th day after you fix the dimo. Whenever he has a performance, he will change the Dimo on his Dizi 3 days before his performance. That is when the Dizi will sound the brightest and clearest.

But don't just leave the Dizi alone for the first 3 days. You have to blow it everyday so as to vibrate the Dimo for it to reach optimum level on the 4th day.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Tale of Two Snakeskins

I thought this is an interesting thing to share. Ever looked at the back of the snakeskin on your Erhu under light? You should see something like this:

You can see a thin layer of flesh or veins or whatever you call those things underneath the snakeskin. This is the how the traditional 'Erhu skinners'(people who attaches the skin to the Erhu) do it.

Recently, I came across a Erhu with the back of the snakeskin that looks like this:

The back of the Erhu is 'cleaned' and stripped of all the fluffy sinewy things on the surface. This is the work of some new 'Erhu skinners'.

So said the new 'Erhu skinners' about the traditional 'Erhu skinners': "They are quite sloppy in their Erhu making. If you look closely at the back of the snakeskin, you can see a lot of leftover flesh, sinews, veins still attached to the snakeskin. If you look closely at our Erhus, the back of the snakeskin is cleaned thoroughly. We took pains to remove all the excess parts using our bare fingers."

When I showed the work of the new 'Erhu skinners' to a Erhu performer from China and he has this to say: "The fluffy, sinewy things are the soul and life of the snakeskin. It is what gives the Erhu its richness and characteristics. Without that, the Erhu is nothing."

So which do I think is better? I sell Erhus by both new and traditional Erhu skinners so I'm going to give a politically correct answer - both have their own pluses and minuses. The 'cleaned out' Erhus does seem to sound cleaner and the traditional Erhus does seem to have more character.

Ultimately, there are a lot of factors that affects the sound of the Erhu besides the snakeskin.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Help! I can't get my Erhu in tune!

Some people might find tuning Erhu with wooden pegs a pain, especially if the pegs tend to slip or if they are stuck very tight. Fortunately, there are Erhus with bronze tuning pegs that makes tuning a breeze.

Unfortunately, only the starter grade Erhus are fitted with bronze tuning mechanisms. The intermediate and above models all comes with wooden pegs. So what do you do if you just cannot get to the centre of your AP tuner?

Enter the fine adjusters.

Type 1: China made fine adjusters

They work by hooking the string and pulling the string towards the fine adjuster. Works fine but some users said the screw on the adjuster sometimes screws up. What do you expect a screw to do anyway?

Type 2: Wittner made fine adjusters

Wittner is a German company famous for its music stands and string instruments' tail pieces. Their fine adjusters are made of better materials and work by pushing the string away from the adjusters. Some users commented that it often breaks the string. But I think they push it till the string bends at a right angle. Don't turn it so much and you'll be fine.

Type 3: Do-it-yourself(DIY) fine adjusters

Just take a piece of qianjing string and loop it once around the neck, and once around the string above the qianjing. Tie it somewhere near the qianjing to start off. Adjust the pitch by moving the DIY fine adjuster up and down. Good for purists who don't want any metallic stuff on their Erhu. A bit flimsy though.

So that's all folks.

But for your information I never use fine adjusters on my personal Erhu...

Update: Some commented that the metallic fine adjustors eats bow hairs if you're not careful. Thought I'll leave a note about this here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The one Guzheng you have to own...

A new batch of Shanghai Dunhuang 'Yun' Brand aged Rosewood Guzheng just arrived recently so excuse me I am going to do some selling.

I think every Guzheng player who can afford it should own an aged Rosewood Guzheng. Not just any aged Rosewood Guzheng, but Shanghai Dunhuang 'Yun' brand aged Rosewood Guzheng. The tone is unbelievably rich and full. You have to play it to experience it. It sounds even better than a Violet Sandalwood Guzheng in my opinion.

Click on the pictures below for more information.

And don't they look just gorgeous?

By the way, we are the sole distributor for Shanghai Dunhuang 'Yun' Brand in Singapore and 'Yun' Brand is our registered trademark. We are aware that some other companies are hawking the Shanghai Dunhuang 'Yun' brand in Singapore as well. Their instruments are most likely fakes or illegal imports of inferior quality. So do be careful.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Terrific Erhu Practice Passage!

This is one of the most effective practice passages that I have come across. It trains the nimbleness of your left hand, stretches your left hand, strengthens your left hand and trains your right hand in changing strings.

It is written in jianpu, as with most Chinese music scores. For those who haven't got a clue how to read jianpu, go to wikipedia and search for jianpu.

When you are playing this passage, it is important that your first finger stays in position. Meaning to say, when you are stretching your fourth finger to play 5 on the inner string, your first finger stays in the 2 position.

Try it slow first, increasing the tempo as you get more familiar. The best is to practice with a metronome. We have a 3-1 metronome, tuner and tone generator which you might be interested to take a look.

Remember to take breaks in between to rest your left hand, which will get strained after a while.

This is the piece. Practice the first 3 lines will do. (Click for a larger picture)

I'll post a video soon.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Hey Bow! Hang Loose!

In relation to my youtube video on "How to bow the Erhu", I would like to say a few words regarding the tension of the Erhu bow.

I think a lot of people have the notion that an Erhu bow has to be tighten till the hairs are taut, close to that of a violin bow. Even my father who's been selling Erhus for the longest time used to setup Erhus with taut bows.

I personally feel that the tension in Erhu bows should be loose to the extent that the bow hairs form an angle with the strings when it is resting against them. The bamboo should be resting on the sloping side of the resonator. It should look something like this:

A bow that is too taut will look something like this when the bow rests on the resonator:

A Erhu bow that is slack will give a smoother and more full bodied tone as compared to the tone produced by a taut bow, which I would describe as 'constipated'.

Try it and you should find your tone improved, albeit its not as easy to handle as before for some.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Erhu Skin Stress Reliever

The strings and bridge exert quite a lot of pressure on the snakeskin of your Erhu. After a while, the snakeskin will start to sag. To prolong the inevitable, it is a good idea to remove the bridge when you are not using. However, moving the bridge frequently might damage the snakeskin and also disrupt the rapport and harmony that the bridge has formed with the snakeskin over time.

Thus, a good idea would be to put something between the strings and resonator to relieve some of the pressure.

You can use a dowel like object,

or take a pencil and roll it with masking tape,

or take a long tube and slot it right above the bridge(material used with compliments from Clyde of Hawaii).

Video - How to fix the dimo on the dizi

I posted this video on youtube a long time ago.

I just want to add 2 more things:
- The natural lines on the Dimo runs parallel with the length of the Dizi.
- The creases that you make on the Dimo(see video) runs perpendicular to the length of the Dizi.

Today also happens to be the National Day of Singapore.

So happy birthday Singapore!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Rosin, Rosin, Rosin your bow...

I was setting up some Erhus for a customer the other day. The bows on the new Erhus came without rosin. If anyone of you have rosined a new bow before, you'll know the amount of effort it takes to rosin a new bow. For the first two bows, I used this Shanghai Dunhuang rosin and the effect is pretty good. It gave a smooth bowing action.

Since I had to setup 15 Erhus, I got a little lazy after a while and brought out this box of rosin powder that I bought from Frankfurt a few years back. They use rosin powder in factories to rosin a bow in the quickest time by bathing the bow hair in the rosin powder and giving it a little 'scrub' to work the rosin into the hairs.

I gave it a try on the Erhu and it sounded really awful. It sounded so harsh and sandy - like a old record with loads of static. I was wondering if there is something wrong with this particular Erhu. Are the strings are rusted? twisted? or I just got a lemon. Finally, I had a flash of brilliance and took one of the earlier bows I rosined with a rosin cake and tried it on the Erhu. Tada! The problem lies with the bloody bow I rosined with the cake powder.

I think what happened is the humid weather of Singapore caused some of the rosin powder to lump together into not so fine powder but small particles. These are the things that are causing the static sounds. Coupled with the fact that my colleague grinded some other 100 brands of cheap rosins and mixed them into the powder box - you have a recipe for disaster.

By the time I figured all these out, my colleague has already bathed another 12 bows in that extremely dangerous powder keg. We ended up washing the bows in soapy water. When it dried, we had a double hard time rosining the bow with rosin cake because apparently the soap we used has 'moisturizing properties'.

Some lessons can be learned here:
- Be patient when rosining your new bow.
- A good rosin does matters.
- When you get static sounds and can feel the small particles when bowing, its time to change/wash the bow.
- Bow hair don't need moisturizing. Mild dish soup will do.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Erhu Rubber Band Trick

Got this tip from my good friend/customer Claude in Canada who got it from some Taiwan Erhu performer he met.

Take a piece of rubber band and cut it . Take the rubber band and lodge it between the two strings just before and after the qianjing. I've tried it and find that it takes away some noise. Your Erhu will sound slightly cleaner, but some of the edge in the tone is lost. You decide.

Here's how it looks like:

Ok, I'll like to add another picture. This is the original idea from Claude. A rubber band just below the qianjing instead. I added the rubber band above the qianjing as well in the original picture because I saw Mr SYR put a piece of cloth in between the strings just above the qianjing for noise reduction.

It sure looks neater.

New Batch of Lu Lin Sheng Erhus

Our new batch of Lu Lin Sheng Erhus just arrived yesterday.

For the uninitiated, Lu Lin Sheng is a famous Erhu maker from Suzhou. His Erhus have won several local and international awards.

Personally, I find that the workmanship of his Erhus to be very good. The snake-skin on the sound resonator is done pretty tight, so the tone on the bright and sharp side. There is however, a lot of room for the tone of the instrument to improve. You need a few months of constant playing to break in the instrument. When that is done, you'll find an Erhu that is so sweet and warm.

This batch also includes Erhus made of Premium Aged Rosewood:

Here are the rest:
Ebony Sandalwood
Small Leaf Sandalwood

By the way, this Japanese Erhu online store is selling Lu Lin Sheng Erhus at 2-3 times the price of mine. You can check out the website here.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Hooray! My Dizi splitted!

Was showing Mr BCK of Singapore Chinese Orchestra a splitted Dizi the other day. (Mr BCK incidentally is the one in the video "How to fix the dimo")

He says he is always very happy when his Dizi splits. This shows that the bamboo is of good quality. The tone that comes out of the Dizi will be crisp and clear. He'll just use super glue to fill the cracks and continue to use it. Of course the Dizi it might not look as nice as before.

But don't you go running to your fireplace with your Dizis to deliberately crack them...

The Tilting Bridge of Erhu....

If you look closely at the picture, the Erhu bridge is tilted slightly in the anti-clockwise direction.

According to SYR, a 1st grade Erhu performer in China, this actually keeps the strings more in tune. Especially useful when he is doing solo performances.

He also says it must turned in the anti-clockwise direction rather than clockwise direction. Never really asked him why. Perhaps the next time when he comes back to Singapore...

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Best Erhu I came across so far...

My first blog entry and I decided to blog about one of the best Erhu I came across recently.

Its a Tianjin Erhu made of really old Aged Rosewood. I got it from Mr SYR, who is 1st grade Erhu performer in China. Here's how the story goes: During the Erhu competition held somewhere in China this year, SYR was as one of the judges for the competition. One of the sponsors for the event, a Erhu Manufacturer "NZ" invited him to try their Erhus. SYR had a yank at them and wasn't too disappointed, but wasn't too impressed either. Determine to impress SYR, NZ brought out some of their best stocks for SYR. SYR immediately took possession of one Erhu that is different from the rest. Now this SYR has more than 100 erhus in his personal collection and he knows a good Erhu when he sees one. In addition to creme of the crop that he picked, he also put in a few of his own touches to bring out the best in the Erhu.

The result is an Erhu with balanced inner and outer string, loud volume, clear and penetrative highs and an unbelievably sweet tone. It has a voice that somehow captures your attention and brings you back in time.

Well, too good for me and too bad for any of you who are thinking of having a go at it, the Erhu was sold. I thought I was going to hold on to it for a little while longer but a customer came along and fell in love with it. She bought it for her daughter who was going to start learning Erhu. Lucky kid. I hope she perseveres and do justice to the instrument.

This is also the most expensive Erhu that I have sold to date, but it is worth every cent. An extremely good Erhu with the x-factor is hard to come by. You might find another Erhu with the same specifications but well, it just doesn't sound the same.

Ok, this is what I have been talking about: