Đàn nhị, a simple instrument that can achieve miracles

Nguyen Ngoc TienThe Dan Nhi is popular among several ethnic groups in Vietnam. It is also refered to as Dan Co in southern provinces of Viet Nam.

The Dan Nhi is somewhat a sort of vertical violin with two strings, held in front of the player like a small cello and played with a bow. In the past, Dan Nhi strings were made from silk, but today Dan Nhi crafts folk prefer metal. The frets on the neck are made from horse-tail hair, and the body is covered with snake skin. The bow is made of bamboo or wood and fitted with horsehair. The hair goes through the space between the strings.
According to archaeological documents found out in Van Phuc pagoda (Phat Tich - Thanh Son - Ha Bac), an orchestra was carved on a pedestal used as a pillar of the pagoda with musical instruments coming from India and China.

The orchestra consisted of 10 instrumentalists wearing costumes like the Cham ethnic group and playing the musical instruments, one of which was similar to cello with two strings (Dan Ho), which was the former form of the current two-stringed fiddle. From such evidences, it is predicted that two-stringed fiddle Nhi entered Vietnam through the Cham ethnic group or China depending on different periods and places. (According to music history by Professor Tran Van Khe and Van Thong).

Two-stringed fiddle Nhi is made of rosewood. The resonator is called bat nhi. Bat nhi has hollow tubular-shape, 13.8cm in length. One end of resonator is covered with python skin or iguana skin. The neck is round and has no fret. The lower end of the neck goes through resonator, the upper end is called Thu dan (the head of the instrument). Thu dan is stork-head shape which is attached to two round-wood pegs to tune a string. Sometimes they are carved sophisticatedly.

The bridge of Nhi is made of bamboo or wood, 1cm in length and located in the middle of the surface of resonator’s covered end. Khuyet dan (gauge of Nhi) or Cu dan is a silk pulling two strings towards the part of neck below the tuning pegs. Gauge is used to tune the pitches of sounds. When the gauge is pulled downward, the length of strings producing sounds will be shortened, consequently it produces high pitches. And vice verse, when the gauge is pushed upward, the length of strings producing sounds will be lengthened and eventually it provides bass sounds.

The bow of Nhi is made of bamboo or wood and has arch-shape. The bow is put between the two strings of the instrument. When the bow touches the string, the sound will be produced. Nhi has two silk strings but recently it is replaced by metal string. It is tuned at a perfect fifth. For example, in Bac piece (with joyful nuance), two strings are at G1-D2, in Nam piece (sad nuance) at F1-C2; in music of popular opera Cheo at C1-G1...

Nhi takes part in orchestras, such as Nha nhac, Bat am (orchestra of eight traditional musical instruments), Tai tu band, Chau van, orchestra for Tuong stage, Cheo...
The sound of the Dan Nhi is said to imitate that of a singer. It can be played in either short staccato notes or longer chords and can be played slow or fast to suit any composition.

"Phien Cho Mua Xuan" (ca. 80kb)
extracted from "Instrumental Textures"

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