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The Japanese harp, or O-koto, is one of a series of Japanese classical instruments that, along with the appropriate musical scales, give Japanese music and culture its distinctive sound. The sound is produced by plucking the strings using artificial "nails" which are placed over two fingers and the thumb of the right hand.






The koto comes in several different varieties. The one featured here is the "13 string" version. Each of the 13 strings is tuned to a different note. The note produced by each string is defined by the position of the small "stands" placed under the strings. Different songs usually require different tunings, and it is not unusual for players to use several different kotos during a performance. Notes other than the 13 can be obtained by bending the strings.








The score of a koto is not usually the traditional Italian one. It is more usual to find the score written in kanji, or Japanese characters.

The characters used are the characters for the numbers 1 to 10, followed by the characters "toe" "ii" and "kin". The character for the number one corresponds to the thickest, lowest sounding string. The score is usually written vertically, from top to bottom and from right to left!




One of the most famous O-koto pieces of music is "Sakura Sakura". It's one of the keystones of Japanese culture. The main melody of this song will be familiar to nearly all Japanese people. "Sakura" means "Cherry Blossom" in Japanese. Try listening to it on the Virtual O-koto below!




Now have a try at playing it yourself! (hint: move the mouse below the strings so that you don't play them twice!)

Note that to see (and play!) the okoto above, you need to have the Shockwave player installed. If you don't have it, then click here to download it now!

I hope you enjoyed this introduction of the Japanese Culture and the O-Koto. Please mail me and tell me what you think! I've been playing it for the last 3 years and find it a really easy instrument to play. If you get the chance, have a go at playing "Sakura Sakura" on a real one - guaranteed to impress your friends!

Koto's don't just have to be for Japanese music though. Here's a solo I did for a dance track using an o-koto!




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