The Koto


Like the shakuhachi, the koto (horizontal harp) was first introduced to Japan from China during the 7th century, and became one of the musical instruments used in Gagaku (Imperial court music).

Approximately six feet long and 14 inches wide, the koto possesses a hollow body made from paulownia wood with two sound holes underneath. Its 13 strings are tied over stationary bridges located at each end of the body.

Movable bridges, shaped like an invert Y, are placed somewhere along the lenght of each string. The bridge lifts the strings off the body so that they will resonate when plucked. The strings change pitch when the bridges are moved back and forth, or when they are pressed down by the left hand.

The strings are plucked with three picks that are worn on the thumb, the index and middle finger of the right hand. Traditionally, players used silk strings, but today most musicians use tetlon or nylon, reserving silk for special occasions.

Originally, koto scores were never written because many of the players were blind. Musicians would memorize the pieces and pass them along through apprenticeship.

Satomi Saeki & Alcvin Takegawa Ramos

CD's Available:

Oliver Sudden Productions K10-22CD
Japanese Traditional Koto and Shakuhachi Music
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