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The Leiqin: China’s Two-Stringed Wonder

Last Updated on 2023/11/30

Leiqin (雷琴): A Unique Chinese Two-Stringed Fiddle

The Leiqin (雷琴), often characterized as one of the most distinctive instruments in Chinese folk string music, emerged in the 1920s. It was invented by Wang Dianyu, a renowned folk musician from Shandong province. This instrument, also known as “Da Lei”, “Da Lei La Xi”, or “Qiao Bian Si Xian”, is a highly vocalized form of instrumental music, drawing inspiration from the Shandong Zhuìqín. The Leiqin, measuring approximately 120 centimeters in length, features a bronze sound cylinder covered with python skin and is played with a horsehair bow across its two strings.

Structure

The Leiqin’s design includes a slender neck with a fingerboard and a shovel-shaped headstock, adorned with intricately carved patterns and bone decorations. Its sound cylinder, made from thin bronze plates, is short and wide with an open back for sound projection. Compared to the Erhu, another Chinese string instrument, the Leiqin’s bow is longer and its horsehair bundle is wider. The instrument comes in two sizes: a larger version, about 110 centimeters long, strung with steel strings, and a smaller version, about 90 centimeters long, strung with silk strings. Both the neck and headstock are crafted from hardwood, with the fingerboard on the neck’s surface.

Tuning and Range

The tuning of the Leiqin varies, often based on the performer’s preference, with common tunings being e-a or d-a, spanning approximately three and a half octaves. The smaller Leiqin sounds an octave higher than its larger counterpart. The instrument is usually tuned in fourths or fifths.

Playing Technique

To play the Leiqin, the musician sits and places the instrument on the left thigh, using the left hand to press the strings and the right hand to play with the bow. The playing technique resembles that of the Erhu, but with a focus on using the index and ring fingers for pressing the strings and employing wide intervals in glissando. The larger Leiqin is typically used for solo performances using only the outer string, while in ensemble settings, it plays lower parts to enrich the sound texture. The smaller Leiqin, on the other hand, is primarily used for solo performances and rarely in ensembles.

Performance and Expressiveness

The Leiqin boasts a broad range of expressiveness, suitable for solo, ensemble, and orchestral performances. It can mimic human voices, operatic styles, animal sounds, and the timbres of various instruments. Its versatility in replicating the singing styles of different opera schools like the Beijing Opera and regional folk styles has made it a popular and cherished instrument, known for performances such as “Da Lei La Xi” and “Qiao Bian Si Xian”. Furthermore, the Leiqin can imitate the sounds of wind and brass instruments, drums, and folk tunes.

Legacy and Modern Developments

Since the mid-20th century, the Leiqin has seen a succession of skilled practitioners who have brought innovations and advancements to its playing technique. Artists like Han Yan, Song Wei, Wang Heng, and Tian Tao have contributed significantly to its development, continually enriching the art form with diverse content and lively performance styles. Efforts to preserve and pass down the art of the Leiqin include collecting, organizing, and publishing music scores and visual materials, establishing comprehensive archives, and publishing books on its history and repertoire.

Source: Baike Baidu

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