A lot of times when we demo Erhus to customers in our shop, we would invariably describe the tone of the Erhu as having a Shanghai, Suzhou or Beijing tone.
And sometimes you will also see us describe a certain Erhu on our website as having either one of these tones.
I know you might be scratching your head as to what actually is a Shanghai, Suzhou or Beijing tone?
Well you see, Shanghai, Suzhou and Beijing are the 3 big regions where Erhus are made traditionally and the tone of the Erhus produced in each region has a distinct trait and is reflective of the culture, characteristics and climate of that region.
This blogpost aims to give you a much better idea of the 3 types of erhu tones that we commonly talk about.
Why the Difference in Tones?
Just listen to a Singaporean and American converse in English. Sounds very different right? Just as how cultures can affect the way we speak a certain language, it can affect the tone color of the instruments they make too. Ranging from our physical environment, art forms, and interactions, let’s find out how they correspond to the different erhu tones!
The Sweet Suzhou Tone
Like the taste of honey? Then perhaps a Suzhou tone will be your cup of tea. The sound of a Suzhou erhu is especially round and elegant. Its higher registers are no slouch either, ringing clear and bright. If you are looking to serenade your lover on date night, then this is the erhu for you.
Why does it have such a silky tone though? Take a trip to Suzhou, and you’ll understand why. Not only is the scenery awesome, the art forms there are refined and cultured, lending a “chill” atmosphere to the place. Just take a boat down its various waterways, and be amazed.
Big and Bold Beijing Tone
Do you have a liking for both cannons and erhus? How about an amalgamation of both? Well, a Beijing erhu will definitely be your cup of tea.
No it can’t hurt people. Rather, be prepared to blow people away with its volume and tone. Possessing a great deal of firepower, Beijing erhus have a powerful tone that is rarely found in other erhus. If you’re looking to quash and dampen the rest of your fiddling friends, this is it for you.
Why this contrast in tone though? Well, take a look at Beijing opera, and you will have gotten your answer. With its high pitched, penetrating singing style and strident instrumentation, this is a major characteristic of music from Northern China. Don’t believe us? Come down to any Beijing opera house and check it out!
The Soothing Shanghai Tone
Finally, we have the all-time familiar Shanghai tone! Ever thought that it is hard to place a finger on its tone color? Well, that is because it is a mixture of the yin of Suzhou, and yang of Beijing. It has the capacity to sound sweet and gentle. Yet at the same time, should you bear down on the erhu even more, signs of a Beijing erhu’s power and tone start to surface.
Why this amalgamation though? Perhaps this can be attributed to the open nature of Shanghai. As a port, Shanghai experienced different cultures and art forms. The Shanghai Style (海派) that took precedence from the 20th century onwards saw a blend of cultures occurring. Perhaps it is no surprise then that the Shanghai tone invokes qualities from both Suzhou and Beijing, creating a sound that is uniquely its own.
Click below for a video explanation and some demos!
There you have it folks! We hope you know now have a better idea of what the Shanghai, Suzhou or Beijing tone sounds like. We would not say which tone is better than which. It is all a matter of personal preference. Lots of Erhu players own erhus from different regions in order to capture the essence of a particular tune from a particular region.
Here are the Erhus used in the above video:
1. Suzhou tone – CONCERT GRADE SUZHOU VIOLET SANDALWOOD ERHU BY MMK
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