Folk Music Focus


Japan is a country made up of several islands in the Pacific Ocean in Asia.  The music and culture of Japan is vast because the Japanese civilization has been in existence for thousands of years.  Many parts of Japanese culture may be similar to China or Korea, because these countries are nearby.  But many are not, because as a set of islands, Japan has had many years when the outside world remained separate.  

Even among the different islands, you can find different kinds of music, instruments and even tonalities!  Most Japanese folk music is in a pentatonic tonality, but there are different kinds of pentatonic scales.  If you know what a pentagon is, you may be able to figure out what is special about the pentatonic scale.  It only has five tones.  Most of the music we make experience in the West is based on eight tones, so the pentatonic music has a distinct sound.

The Taiko drums, like the ones pictured above, were first introduced to Japan in 500 B.C.  But now, artists are taking the ancient tradition of Taiko drums and creating a new musical experience combining sport, dance, and drumming.  (see the video on the right

Other important instruments in Japanese folk music include the shamisen, the koto, and the shukuhachi.  The shamisen is a three stringed lute.  It looks like a guitar, but is long and skinny with a rectangular body.  There are simlar two-stringed instruments as well.  The instrument is played with a large pic called a bachi which is shaped like a ginko leaf.  (see the video on the left)  The koto is a flat stringed instrument played with finger pics.  The shukuhachi is a japanese flute made of bamboo or wood.  Look at the pictures below.  Which picture features the shamisen, the koto, or the shukuhachi?