It seems to have arrived in Japan as an import of the sanshinor jamisenfrom the Ryukyu Islands in the midth century. The Ryukyu form of the instrument, with its oval body and snakeskin covering, is obviously derived in turn from the Chinese sanxian. Evidence for such an origin is reinforced by collections of early Ryukyu musicwhich use a so-called kukunshi notation.

japanese lute music

The Japanese samisen underwent considerable physical change, its body being rectangular and the skins coming from a cat or dog. Apparently under the influence of contemporary biwa lute traditions, the plectrum of the instrument was changed from the talonlike pick of the Ryukyus to a wooden or ivory bachi with a thin striking edge.

In addition, the lowest string was kept off the small metal upper bridge near the pegbox so that it produced a buzzing sound sawari distinctly reminiscent of the tone of a biwa.

A guide to Toru Takemitsu's music

Those tunings have remained standard to the present day, although there are occasional variants. Greater variety is found in the many genres of samisen music. Samisen was used for folk music and party songs, but, in keeping with the biwa origin of the first performers, narrative music was of prime importance. As different guilds of samisen evolved, it was possible in modern times to divide them into two basic styles: narrative traditions katarimono and basically lyrical musics utaimono.

The table of samisen genres shows the development of those two styles in terms of genre names. The singer-narrator is required to speak all the roles of the play as well as to sing all the meditations and commentaries on the action.

The part is so melodramatic and vocally taxing that the performers are often changed halfway through a scene. There is little notated in the books maruhon of the tradition except the words and the names of certain appropriate stereotyped samisen responses. The samisen player must know the entire drama by heart in order to respond correctly to the interpretations of the text by the singer.

The two musicians sit on a platform to the stage left of the theatre and through the intensity and skill of their performance help bring life and pathos into the wooden characters, who move with frighteningly realistic gestures in the hands of three puppeteers. The nagauta form of lyric music, like most of the narrative forms, began with a close relation to the Kabuki popular theatre of the Tokugawa period.

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The first Kabuki performances used instruments hayashi from the Noh drama. Because Kabuki was related to the flourishing demimonde of the major cities, however, the music of the party houses and brothels was soon added to the theatre.

By the midth century the names of nagauta singers and samisen players were listed on posters along with the casts. In the same manner, the names of musicians in many of the other genres were adopted to denote parts of a play.

Rather than being discussed individually, they will be viewed in the total theatrical contextand later brief reference will be made to their concert forms. The musical events of Kabuki can be divided into onstage activities debayashi and offstage groups geza. If other genres are used, the performers are placed about the stage according to the scenery needs of the play.

There are some plays in which several different kinds of onstage music are required, a situation called kake-ai. The most common dance scene today, however, is one in which the onstage group consists of nagauta musicians and the Noh hayashi. There are as many different types of dances that require different kinds of music as there are in Chinese or Western opera. In a general view perhaps the most intriguing side of that variety is the relation of the older drum and flute parts to the vocal and samisen melodies of the Tokugawa period.

In totally Kabuki-style pieces, the tsuzumi drums play a style called chirikara after the mnemonics with which the part is learned. The patterns of that style follow closely the rhythm of the samisen part.

If the Noh flute is used as well, it is restricted to cadence signals; if a simple bamboo flute takebue or shinobue is substituted, it plays an ornamented ashirai version of the tune.

There are many sections, however, in which the drum patterns and Noh flute melodies discussed earlier are combined with samisen melodies. In a classical repertoire of hundreds of set pieces, there are several different combinations, but to many listeners those situations seem rather puzzling at first hearing, with apparently two kinds of music going on at the same time. If the situation is from a play derived from a former Noh drama and uses the full hayashia listener notices first that the flute is not in the same tonality as the samisen, nor is it playing the same tune.

The drums in turn do not seem to relate rhythmically to the melody, as they do in the chirikara style. The drums and flute are, in fact, playing named stereotyped patterns normally of eight-beat length as in the Noh.Lutein musicany plucked or bowed chordophone whose strings are parallel to its bellyor soundboard, and run along a distinct neck or pole. In this sense, instruments such as the Indian sitar are classified as lutes.

The violin and the Indonesian rebab are bowed lutes, and the Japanese samisen and the Western guitar are plucked lutes. In Europe, lute refers to a plucked stringed musical instrument popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. This instrument was taken to Europe in the 13th century by way of Spain and by returning crusaders and is still played in Arab countries. The earliest European lutes followed the Arab instruments in having four strings plucked with a quill plectrum. By the midth century the strings had become pairs, or courses.

During the 15th century the plectrum was abandoned in favour of playing with the fingers, movable gut frets were added to the fingerboard, and the instrument acquired a fifth course. Playing technique was systematized, and the music was written in tablature a system of notation in which a staff of horizontal lines represented the courses of the luteand letters or figures placed on the lines denoted the fret to be stopped and the strings to be plucked by the right hand.

After aboutmodified tunings were introduced by French lutenists. At the same time, the lute itself was altered by the addition of bass strings, or diapasons, which required the enlargement of the neck and head of the instrument.

Such modified instruments were called archlutes and included the chitarrone and the theorbo. A smaller archluteknown as the theorbo-lute so called because it resembled the theorboor French lute, was used by the 17th-century French school of lutenists, including Jacques and Denis Gaultier. By the 18th century, keyboard instruments eclipsed the lute in popularity.

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Twentieth-century lutenists such as Julian Bream and Walter Gerwig died successfully revived the lute and its repertory. Article Media. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Lute musical instrument. See Article History. Read More on This Topic. Probably the most widely distributed type of stringed instrument in the world is the lute the word is used here to designate the family…. Get exclusive access to content from our First Edition with your subscription.

Subscribe today. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. Probably the most widely distributed type of stringed instrument in the world is the lute the word is used here to designate the family and not solely the lute of Renaissance Europe. The characteristic structure consists of an enclosed sound chamber, or resonator, with….

The first surviving evidence of the existence of the plucked lute comes from Mesopotamia and Egypt. One of the earliest Babylonian delineations c. Characterized by strings that lie parallel to the neck, the lute is found in Africa in several varieties. The multiple-necked bow lute, or pluriarcof central and southwestern Africa is the oldest.

This has a separate flexible neck for each string and resembles a….It is played with a plectrum called a bachi. The Japanese pronunciation is usually shamisen but sometimes jamisen when used as a suffix, according to regular sound change e. The construction of the shamisen varies in shape, depending on the genre in which it is used. The instrument used to accompany kabuki has a thin neck, facilitating the agile and virtuosic requirements of that genre.

The one used to accompany puppet plays and folk songs has a longer and thicker neck instead, to match the more robust music of those genres. The shamisen is a plucked stringed instrument. The neck of the shamisen is fretless and slimmer than that of a guitar or banjo.

The skin used depends on the genre of music and the skill of the player. Traditionally skins were made using dog or cat skin but use of these skins gradually fell out of favor starting around due to social stigma and the decline of workers skilled in preparing these particular skins.

Indeed, most shamisen are made so that they can be easily disassembled and stowed to save space.

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The neck of the shamisen is a singular rod that crosses the drum-like body of the instrument, partially protruding at the other side of the body and there acting as an anchor for the strings. The pegs used to wind the strings are long, thin and hexagonal in shape. They were traditionally fashioned out of ivory, but as it has become a rare resource, they have been recently fashioned out of other materials, such as various kinds of wood and plastic.

The three strings are traditionally made of silkor, more recently, nylon. They are stretched between the pegs at the head of the instrument, and a cloth tailpiece anchored at the end of the rod which protrudes on the other side of the body. The lowest string is purposefully laid lower at the nut of the instrument, so that it buzzes, creating a characteristic timbre known as sawari somewhat reminiscent of the "buzzing" of a sitarwhich is called Jivari.

The head of the instrument known as a tenjin may also be protected by a cover. The material of the strings will depend on the skill of the player.

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Traditionally, silk strings are used. However, silk breaks easily over a short time, so this is reserved for professional performances. Students often use nylon or 'tetron' strings, which last longer than silk, and are also less expensive. The construction of the shamisen varies in shape and size, depending on the genre in which it is used.

Behind the Biwa; The Japanese Lute

The bachi used will also be different according to genre, if it is used at all. Shamisen are classified according to size and genre. There are three basic sizes; hosozaochuzao and futozao.

Examples of shamisen genres include nagautajiutamin'yokoutahautashinnaitokiwazukiyomotogidayu and tsugaru. The body is small and particularly square-shaped, with a particularly thin neck, which tapers away from the strings just as it approaches the body.

Generally, the hosozao is used in nagautathe shorter and thinner neck facilitating the agile and virtuosic requirements of Kabuki. Hosozao shamisen especially built for nagauta ensembles are often simply known as a "nagauta shamisen.

As its name implies, the neck is slightly thicker. As the neck approaches the body of the instrument, the distance between the strings and the fingerboard is maintained, unlike the hosozaowhere it tapers off. The fingerboard ends abruptly, and the rest of the neck curves sharply into the body of the instrument.

The result is an extended fingerboard that gives the chuzao a higher register than the hosozao. The chuzao is favored for jiuta style playing, with a broader, more mellow timbre.

It is also an "all-round" instrument that can actually be used across many genres.It was originally introduced from China into Japan in the 7th century and reached its peak in the Edo period. The shakuhachi introduced into Japan changed its form and scale many times after that, and the present shakuhachi was completed in the Edo period in the 17th century.

The instrument is tuned to the minor pentatonic scale. The name shakuhachi means "1. It is a compound of two words:. Thus, " shaku-hachi " means "one shaku eight sun" Other shakuhachi vary in length from about 1. Although the sizes differ, all are still referred to generically as " shakuhachi ".

Professional players can produce virtually any pitch they wish from the instrument, and play a wide repertoire of original Zen music, ensemble music with kotobiwaand shamisenfolk musicjazzand other modern pieces.

Much of the shakuhachi's subtlety and player's skill lies in its rich tone colouring, and the ability for its variation. Unlike a recorderwhere the player blows into a duct—a narrow airway over a block which is called a " fipple "—and thus has limited pitch control, the shakuhachi player blows as one would blow across the top of an empty bottle though the shakuhachi has a sharp edge to blow against called utaguchi and therefore has substantial pitch control.

Traditional Japanese musical instruments

Since most pitches can be achieved via several different fingering or blowing techniques on the shakuhachi, the timbre of each possibility is taken into account when composing or playing thus different names are used to write notes of the same pitch which differ in timbre. In contrast, a 2. As the length increases, the spacing of the finger holes also increases, stretching both fingers and technique. Longer flutes often have offset finger holes, and very long flutes are almost always custom made to suit individual players.

Shakuhachi made of wood are also available, typically costing less than bamboo but more than synthetic materials. Nearly all players, however, prefer bamboo, citing tonal qualities, aesthetics, and tradition. Shakuhachi derived from the Chinese bamboo-flute.

Bamboo-flute first came to Japan from China during the 7th century. Their songs called " honkyoku " were paced according to the players' breathing and were considered meditation suizen as much as music. In response to these developments, several particularly difficult honkyoku pieces, e.

If you couldn't, you were probably a spy and might very well be killed if you were in unfriendly territory. The very playing of the shakuhachi was officially forbidden for a few years. Non-Fuke folk traditions did not suffer greatly from this, since the tunes could be played just as easily on another pentatonic instrument.

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However, the honkyoku repertoire was known exclusively to the Fuke sect and transmitted by repetition and practice, and much of it was lost, along with many important documents. When the Meiji government did permit the playing of shakuhachi again, it was only as an accompanying instrument to the kotoshamisenetc. It was not until later that honkyoku were allowed to be played publicly again as solo pieces. Shakuhachi has traditionally been played almost exclusively by men in Japan, although this situation is rapidly changing.

Many teachers of traditional shakuhachi music indicate that a majority of their students are women. This Festival was organized and produced by Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin, who was the first full-time Shakuhachi master to teach in the Western Hemisphere.

The shakuhachi creates a harmonic spectrum that contains the fundamental frequency together with even and odd harmonics and some blowing noise. Even though the geometry of the shakuhachi is relatively simple, the sound radiation of the shakuhachi is rather complicated. This spectrum depends on frequency and playing technique. The International Shakuhachi Society maintains a directory of notable professional, amateur, and teaching shakuhachi players.

Recordings in each of these categories are available; however, more albums are catalogued in categories outside the traditional realm. As ofshakuhachi players continue releasing records in a variety of traditional and modern styles. The first shakuhachi recording appeared in the United States in the late s.

japanese lute music

Shakuhachi are often used in modern film scores, for example those by James Horner.Music has been a large part of human interest and activity, and this can be seen from past usage of instruments, dating as far back as 43, years ago. While the ancient ancestors of humans started off producing melodies using flutes, humans eventually discovered other instruments to create music, and these instruments though somewhat similar sometimes vary from country to country.

Notable ancient musical instruments include the lyre and harp, though these are both of Greek origin. Asia has its fair share of instruments that, when played, are automatically identified with the specific nation that they come from. For Japan, one of those musical instruments is the Biwa. The biwa is the Japanese version of a lute. A lute a string instrument that is plucked to produce sound. Its neck can be both unfretted as well as fretted, leading to a signature head that bends backward.

It's cavity or sound hole in most lutes dips deeply and is encased with a rounded back. The box of the Japanese biwa specifically does not typically have a circular sound hole; they come in two separate crescent moon shaped holes nearer its distinct short neck.

The material used to make it is usually a combination of hardwood and softwood. The fret count of the biwa is generally at four or five, and these frets consist of prominently protruding layered blocks of wood.

Depending on the type of biwa you use, the subtleties in the design and material of the plectrum vary. The music in a gagaku would often pertain or represent something mythological or religious nature, especially themes pertaining to Shintoism. It could also aid a storyteller in dramatization when he or she tells a narrative mostly about battles, hardship, disasters.

The roots of the biwa are directly linked to the pipa, a similar traditional instrument that hails from China. The biwa has been around since the 7th century and has had many different variations of styles for different purposes. The one that is most famous, and was the first of its kind to be originally derived from the pipa is known as the gaku-biwa, used specifically for previously mentioned gagaku.

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Japan is made up of different regions. In the Kyushu region, a kind of biwa that was physically characterized as thinner and more portable than the usual gaku-biwa was crafted. Simultaneously, the Ritsuryo was losing its stronghold on most of Japan, so those who specialized in playing court music ended up becoming Buddhists.

They would come across the moso-biwa that would be played during ceremonies, and combined it with the gaku-biwa to create an entirely new biwa; the heike-biwa.BiwaJapanese short-necked lutedistinguished by its graceful, pear-shaped body.

The biwa has a shallow, rounded back and silk strings usually four or five attached to slender lateral pegs. The instrument is played with a large wedge-shaped plectrum called a bachi. The strings are tuned in fourths, and the melody is played almost exclusively on the highest pitched string.

The biwa may be used to accompany various types of narrative, as part of a gagaku court music ensemble, or as a solo instrument. Although typically it is used to play short standardized phrases between lines of vocal text, it may be used for longer programmatic pieces depicting battles, storms, or other dramatic events.

Performers on the instrument frequently pluck two notes simultaneously, producing a variety of intervals, especially when the singer is silent. The biwa is related to the Chinese pipaan instrument that was introduced to Japan in the late 7th century. Over the centuries, several types of biwa were created, each having a certain size plectrum, a specialized purpose, a unique performance technique, and varying numbers of strings and frets.

Article Media. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Biwa musical instrument. See Article History. Read More on This Topic. During the late 19th century the biwa-accompanied narratives enjoyed a revival. The blind-priest biwa moso biwa tradition…. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. During the late 19th century the biwa -accompanied narratives enjoyed a revival.

The blind-priest biwa moso biwa tradition had originally been divided into two schools named after the provinces in Kyushu from which they came, Chikuzen and Satsuma. The tradition declined…. The instruments are built up of many pieces of wood glued together; the shaping of curved…. Chinese fiddles bowed lutes tend to have a skin belly and, like the banjo, an open back. The two different varieties of lute are distinct in sound and structure, and methods of construction, timbre, history,….

History at your fingertips. Sign up here to see what happened On This Dayevery day in your inbox! Email address. By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Notice. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. More About.The biwa is the chosen instrument of Bentengoddess of music, eloquence, poetry, and education in Japanese Buddhism.

Behind the Biwa; The Japanese Lute

The biwa is a plucked string instrument that was first popular in China and then spread throughout East Asia. It is said to have arrived in Japan from China during the Nara period -and is even thought to have roots that trace back to Persia. It is generally 60 - cm in length and made from wood. The instrument consists of a water-drop-shaped body with a handle, and while there are generally four strings, five-stringed varieties also exist.

In Japan, the biwa is generally plucked with a bachi instead of the fingers, and is often used to play gagaku. In addition, it is used as musical accompaniment when blind monks recite scriptural texts, or when reciting The Tale of the Heike, a war chronicle from the Kamakura era - The origin of the biwa is the Chinese pipa. It arrived in Japan in two forms. Since that time, the number of biwa types has more than quadrupled.

Guilds supporting biwa players, particularly the biwa hoshi, helped proliferate biwa musical development for hundreds of years. This overlap resulted in a rapid evolution of the biwa and its usage and made it one of the most popular instruments in Japan. With the abolition of Todo in the Meiji periodbiwa players lost their patronage. Furthermore, reforms stemming from the Meiji Restoration led to massive, rapid industrialization and modernization.

Japan modeled its development on Europe and the US, praising everything Western and condemning everything native. By the late s, the biwa, a thoroughly Japanese tradition, was nearly completely abandoned for Western instruments; however, thanks to collaborative efforts by Japanese musicians, interest in the biwa is being revived.

Japanese and foreign musicians alike have begun embracing traditional Japanese instruments, particularly the biwa, in their compositions. While blind biwa singers no longer dominate the biwa, many performers continue to use the instrument in traditional and modern ways. The biwa came to Japan in the 7th century and it was evolved from the Chinese instrument pipa[1] while the pipa itself was derived from similar instruments in Western Asia.

This type of biwa is called the gaku-biwa and was used in gagaku ensembles and is the most commonly known type.

Through the next several centuries, players of both traditions intersected frequently and developed new music styles and new instruments. By the Kamakura period —the heike-biwa had emerged as a popular instrument. The Chikuzen biwa was used by Buddhist monks visiting private residences to perform memorial services, not only for Buddhist rites, but also for telling entertaining stories and news while accompanying themselves on the biwa, and this form of storytelling was thought to be spread in this way.

Not much seems to have been written about biwas from roughly the 16th century to the midth century. What is known is that three main streams of biwa emerged during that time: zato the lowest level of the state-controlled guild of blind biwa playersshifu samurai styleand chofu urban style. From these styles also emerged the two principal survivors of the biwa tradition: satsuma-biwa and chikuzen-biwa [3]. From roughly the Meiji Era — until the Pacific Warthe satsuma-biwa and chikuzen-biwa were popular across Japan, and, at the beginning of the Showa Era —the nishiki-biwa was created and gained popularity.

Of the remaining biwa traditions, only higo-biwa remains a style almost solely performed by blind persons in the post-war era. The higo-biwa is closely related to the heike-biwa and, similarly, relies on an oral-narrative tradition focusing on wars and legends. By the middle of the Meiji period —improvements had been made on the instruments and easily understandable songs were composed in quantity.

With this the biwa met a great period of prosperity, and the songs themselves were not just about the Tale of the Heike but songs connected to the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War such as " Takeo Hirose ", "Hitachimaru", " Hill " gained popularity. However, the playing of the biwa nearly became extinct during the Meiji period as Western music and instruments became popular, until players such as Tsuruta Kinshi and others revitalized the genre with modern playing styles and collaborations with Western composers.

There are more than seven types of biwa, characterised by number of strings, sounds it could produce, type of plectrumand their use. As the biwa does not play in tempered tuning, pitches are approximated to the nearest note.

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