shakuhachi

Japanese Traditional Music


Traditional Japanese music usually refers to Japan's historical folk music. One of the defining characteristics of traditional Japanese music is its sparse rhythm. Regular chords are also absent. It is impossible for a person to beat time to the music. All of the rhythms are ma-based, and silence is an important part of the songs. The focus is on creating music that flows in an attempt to mirror the behavior of nature. It is regular for songs to start off at an extremely slow pace and to pick up speed as they progress. Then, they get slow again before transitioning into long and drawn out finishes.

shamisenTraditional Japanese music has three main types, instrumental, court music, and theatrical. One type of theatrical music is Kabuki. Kabuki music can be sub-divided into three categories. The first is Gidayubushi, which is similar to joruri music. Joruri is a type of narrative music that uses shamisen  and has four styles. The second type of kabuki music is Shimoza ongaku and is played for kuromisu (lower seats) below the theater stage. Another form of theatrical music is called noh. The hayashi-kata play Noh music. They use taiko, kotsuzumi, fue, and otsuzumi instruments to make the sounds. The oldest Japanese traditional music is gagaku. Gagaku is a form of court music. Gagaku includes dances, songs, and a blend of other genres of Asian music. There are two styles of Gagaku. These are kigaku, which is a form of instrumental music, and Seigaku, which is A form of vocal music.

Some traditional Japanese music originated in other countries.  An example of this is shomyo.  Shomyo is a type of Buddhist song that is known for being a melody that is added to a sutra.  Shomyo originated in India and came to Japan during the country's Nara period.  An interesting fact about shomyo is that it doesn't use any musical instruments.  Instead, the song is sung by Buddhist monks.

Historical Japanese folk music is strongly-influenced by music from China. This is because many of the musical instruments kotowhich are popular in Japanese music first came from China.  These instruments include koto, shakuhachi, and wadaiko drums.  A koto is a stringed instrument that shares a similarity to China's guzheng.  It is Japan's national instrument and is made with kiri wood.  It uses thirteen strings over thirteen bridges that are movable over the instrument's width.  Picks on three fingers are used to play it.  Wadaiko is the name for the traditional style of Japanese drumming and the particular drums themselves.  The world's most famous wadaiko drumming group is Kodo (heartbeat).  A shakuhachi is a flute that is used in traditional Japanese music.  Shakuhachi are usually made from bamboo, but can also be made from other materials.  These instruments were originally used by Buddhist monks to practice suizen (blowing meditation).

Japanese music has a long tradition and great diversity.