Pro Musica Nipponia
Japanese English
KOTO

Koto is a "zither-family" plucked string instrument, has a long body, and we use moving bridges for tuning of each strings. Though we seldom hold our fingers on a string for tuning to another tone, we ordinarily play strings in open string state. It's possible to change tuning in the middle of performance, if only we don't use a left hand for playing. [Tone range and tuning]
1. 13 strings-Koto
We often use a following tone range noted as "whole notes".

We use a following tuning for play Japanese classical music. Otherwise, we can use diatonic scale, chromatic scale, or a modal tuning.


2. 17 strings-Koto
We often use a following tone range noted as "whole notes".


As we often use 17-string-Koto for the bass, we often tune each strings in diatonic scale. It has no problem to tune strings to sharp or flat tone.

3. 20 strings-Koto
We often use a following tone range noted as "whole notes".

Above-scale is commonly used for the tuning of 20-strings-Koto (it really has 21 strings). It has no problem to tune strings to sharp or flat tone.

[Right-hand techniques]
We put the three nails on our right-hands fingers, which is called "TSUME" in Japanese. We pick Koto's strings with our first fingers (thumbs) from near side of Koto to far side. Otherwise, we use our second and third fingers from far side to near side.

1. Kaki-te, Wari-te, Kaki-zume
Playing two adjacent strings at the same time. Though we ordinary use our second and third fingers, we can use
Kaki-te
Wari-te
Kaki-zume
2. Awase-zume
Playing some strings at the same time. It's possible to play with both hands fingers, but it is too difficult to play more than six strings. When we use this technique and play strings one after another (like arpeggio), it sounds like glissando.

3. Oshi-awase
We hold our fingers on a string so that tuning to the same tone to the next string, then we play both strings at the same time.

4. Sukui-zume
Picking a string up with 1st finger's koto-nail (figure (a)). It's useful for playing fast passage to striking it down (ordinary performance) and then picking it up by turn (figure (b)). Otherwise, we can sound a noisy long tone, with scraping and picking it up at a same time (figure (c)).

5. Chirashi-zume Scraping strings from the right (near the Ryukaku) to the left (off the Ryukaku) with side edges of 2nd or 3rd finger's koto-nails (figure (a)). Figure (b) is also scraping it with front edges of those.

6. Suri-zume
Scraping strings with the reverse side of 2nd or 3rd finger's koto-nails. In traditional Japanese music, we scrape it from the right to the left, then from left to right. It doesn't sound a musical tone, but a kind of noise.

7. Uchi-zume
Striking strings with the surface of koto-nails, not the edge of them. Strongly striking, it sounds a crush (but it's volume is low). Weakly striking, it sounds a musical tone much clearly.

8. Uchi-biki
Scraping quickly three or four strings diagonally.

9. Glissando
We can play glissando with koto-nail, right-hand's finger, or left-hand's finger. When we play the left side of strings from bridges, it sounds a strange tone that is not tuned. When we play the right side of strings from right-side-bridge of koto (Ryukaku), it sounds like a violin's performance; "Beyond the Bridge" that is a very high tone not tuned.

10. The striking position on Koto
i. "N.R (Near the Ryukaku)" is striking strings near the right-side-bridge of koto which is named as Ryukaku. It sounds hard tone.
ii. "Off R. (Off the Ryukaku)" is striking strings off the right-side-bridge of koto (Ryukaku). It sounds soft tone.
iii. "Position ord." is used when we change the striking position from N.R or Off R to ordinal position.

11. Tremolo

[Left-hand techniques]

1. Oshi-de
Holding our fingers on a string at the left side of bridge so that playing a half tone or a whole tone higher. In staff, you always note the heightened tone. If you want the player not heighten tone of the string, you can put a small circle on a note. It may impossible to heighten a whole tone, when we play a low-tuned string whose bridge is so left that we can't hold our finger on it.

2. Oshi-hibiki
Heightening the tone of the string after ordinarily striking it. When we height the tone with slowly pressing the string, it is noted with a connected-line. When we don't play the pressed string again, it is noted with a slur.

3. Ato-oshi
After Oshi-hibiki without playing the pressed string again, we play another low-tuned string.

4. Oshi-hanashi
After Oshi-de, loosening the string.

5. Yuri
After ordinarily striking a string, swinging it at left side of the bridge with a left hand for vibrato.

6. Hiki-iro
After ordinarily striking a string, lifting it rightward at the left side of the bridge for lowering its tone. Though middle-tuned strings can be played a half tone or a whole tone lower, low-tuned and high-tuned strings is hard to be lowered. This technique is only used for ornamental tone, never used for playing the tone, which every string is not tuned to.

7. Tuki-iro
After ordinarily striking a string, pushing it at the left side of the bridge instantly so that heightening the tone at a moment.

8. Keshi-zume
Putting the left-hand 2nd finger's nail on a string at the near right side of bridge, then striking the string ordinarily. It sounds a little noisy tone.

9. Mute
Putting a left-hand finger on a string at the top of bridge, then striking the string ordinarily. Using this technique, its sound is not lingering, but is muted.

10. Pizzicato Playing without koto-nails. We can use left-hand fingers or right-hand 4th or 5th fingers. We can also use Osi-de while playing pizzicato. Pizzicato is noted as "Pizz." in staff. When changing back to ordinary performance, "ord." in staff. It is noted with + signature when we use left-hand finger. We can play Balto'k pizzicato with low-tuned or high-tuned strings.

11. Harmonics
We can only use the second double tone which is an octave higher than tuned tone.

Notation Actual sound Notation Actual sound

12. Staccato
After ordinarily striking a string, muting the remain of tone with the left hand. While using Osi-de with our left hands, we can muting with our right hands. In this case, it is impossible to play fast and repeated staccato.
Copyright © 2002 Pro Musica Nipponia All right Reserved.