For our music class, we are learning about the differences between music from all around the world. One example of a difference would be the difference between Japanese music and Western music. We listened to a piece played on the koto called Rokudan No Shirabe and we have to identify the aspects in the piece that makes the piece sound Japanese. Aspects include techniques, pitch, sound and structure of the music.
In Rokudan No Shirabe, the tuning is in a traditional Japanese tuning called Hirajoshi (D G A Bb D Eb G A Bb D Eb G A), which, if played, sound a bit more towards the minor scale. The tuning is one of the major aspects that make the piece sound Japanese. Also, a variety of techniques are used in this piece to make it sound Japanese. There are many techniques used that relate to the left-hand side of the bridges of the koto. Especially the Ato-Oshi (後押し), which is when you pressed the string on the left hand side after you play the string to make sound a bit like a wave. Also, Shans’ (when you strike two strings next to each other using your middle finger), Sha Shas’ (two Shans’) and Sha Sha Tens’ (Sha Shas’ with an additional strike with your thumb on a string higher than the strings played on the Sha Shas’) gives the piece a Japanese taste to the music. With all of those techniques put together, it gives the music some life, rather than just playing monotonous strings over and over again. Which is how Japanese music is meant to be, lively and and wavy. The fact that the piece is slow also gives it a Japanese feeling. Traditional Japanese was not really so fast, so that you can feel the music rather than using your energy keeping up with the music. I’m not saying that fast-paced music sounds bad, in fact, i find that it sounds good. But then music that is slow can be relaxing and comforting. The strings, when played, give off a rather sharp sound, which is very common in a Japanese string instrument, unlike a violin or a cello.
On April 11, two of our Koto teachers, Mr. Patterson and Ms. Miyama, along with Mr, Patterson’s friend Mr. Huebner, gave all of grade 7 a presentation about Japanese music. They talked about how Japanese music is different to western music, the different instruments in traditional Japanese music and performed a few pieces. There was the Koto, played my Ms. Miyama and Mr. Patterson (different pieces), the Shamisen played by Mr. Patterson, and the Shakuhachi played by Mr. Huebner.
I would have to say, my favourite instrument out of all three was the Shakuhachi. The fact that the Shakuhachi comes in many different sizes amazed me. What I found interesting about that instrument was that there were only five finger holes. Yet, he could make a variety of different pitches and sounds with that. It seems that the closer the mouthpiece is to your mouth, the deeper the sound will be. The farther away it is played, the higher the pitch will be. That is one of the reasons that Mr. Huebner was able to make so many different sounds. Also, the mouth piece is very wide, compared to other flutes, so you can change the tone of sound that will come out. Blowing air into the nearly-entire mouthpiece also gives a feeling of wind passing by, in my opinion. When people from the audience were called to try playing the Shakuhachi, I was surprised that it was quite hard to make the sound come out of the flute, especially since it was a vertical flute (I find that vertical flutes, like recorders, are easier to play than horizontal flutes). I found that we were lucky to have our first “lesson” for free, because, apparently, the first Shakuhachi lesson would normally cost about 10,000¥. I also liked the other instruments as well. I play the koto, so it wasn’t as special as the other instruments. The Shamisen made a sort of buzzing sound after each string had been played, as the string vibrated onto the “fret” board. The Shamisen actually has no frets, like an acoustic guitar, so you can slide our fingers along the board to change the sound. Similarly, the if you press the string you play on the left hand side of the bridge, it makes the sound if you slide your finger down the board on the string you play.
I would have to say, out of all of the music played, I liked Kaze No Uta (Song of the Winds) the most. It really gave the feeling of different types of winds, from soft breezes to strong winds, in the sense of music. The Shakuhachi especially enhanced the feeling of wind with its sound. It made me feel as if I was in an area where the winds would suddenly or gradually change.
I find that the difference between Japanese music and western music is that notes played on a Japanese instrument sound sharper than a western instrument. For western music, there is rarely any wavy type of notes and is mostly just the plain notes. However, in Japanese music, you can make it feel like a wave by suddenly changing the pitch for the notes played. Also, most Japanese music have a different structure to western music. Japanese music either starts slow and gradually gets faster, and then at the last few notes or measures, it gets slower; or it is fast at the beginning and end, and is slow in the middle. However, I find that western music either slow at the beginning and fast around the end, except for the last few measures maybe; or it is the same speed throughout the music. Also, Japanese notes are mostly singular and played one string at a time, whereas western music mostly combine multiple notes together to make one note.
For music (or koto) class, we had to record parts of a piece we are working on a duet called Taka, which means “the hawk”. We had to record two parts of the piece, which are around the middle to the end. I already knew how to play the piece because me and my friend Eddie have already performed this piece right before we started working on this piece as a whole class. So if you find that when we play the piece it might sound like full speed, you will know why. Here is the video I took of me playing those two parts.
At the very beginning of the video, after the first three notes, I chose to play louder. That is because the other koto’s notes stay the same so it will not be that interesting to hear. However, koto 2′s notes change so it will be more interesting to listen to. So I made it louder so others can hear the notes changing rather than the same notes again. At the very end, after the tremolo, as I played until the end, I played the notes softer. That is because it is going to the end, I want to sound like it ends peacefully and not like a cliff-hanging ending because it is not. Almost 1 minute into the video, we get into a sequence of pretty much the same thing going over and over again, just that I was playing different notes. At the first phrase, I went from soft to loud, and then I played loud to soft on the second phrase, and then I started playing louder again and so on. And then on the last phrase, I played loud the whole time. I played like that to get a clear transition from one sequence to another. Before the sequence I was just discussing, I was getting softer. Then I started the next sequence softly. Then at the end of the sequence, I was playing loudly. After the sequence, I play the next sequence loudly. On the part where I made a mistake, if there was a press on a phrase in the sequence, I would play the press loudly. I did that to add a bit more impact on the phrases. I did the same with the very beginning of part 1, I emphasized the pressed strings.
I made a mistake on one part on part 2 when I was about to play right before the end. I missed the sixth string on the koto the first time, so I missed a beat and that slowed me down. The sound quality was not that good and some parts sounded a little bit strange. The video did not really follow the movements and looked a bit confusing as well, but that does not really matter. I think that I could have done better if I did not miss a beat as I mentioned before and I rushed a little bit and the tempo changed in some parts, so if I were to do it again, I would concentrate on keeping the appropriate tempo throughout the piece. Overall, I think I developed a bit on the piece but I still have a lot to work on like getting the right tempo and dynamics.
Hello people, here is a video of everyone in the Koto group performing a piece called OKOTO by Sawae Hikaru. I hope you enjoy it. When we were playing it, we played the piece a little too fast. But it was still a success.