Early Japanese Music

In the Japanese system we find a pentatonic scale and a semitonal division of the octave. Japanese music does not proceed in semitones, the chromatic scale being demanded by the custom of transposing a melody from one starting point to another, not more than fourteen sounds for a melody. A favorite Japanese instrument is of the clarinet type; it is called the Hichi-riki; in length it varies from a little less than nine inches to a little more. The scale as set forth by the Institute of Tokio is from G, second line, treble staff to the A above, F, fifth line, being sharped. This instrument is played by drawing in the breath. The Japanese have an instrument called the Sho, similar to the Chinese Sheng. The national instrument is the Koto, which has thirteen strings, tuned thus: the first, middle C sharp, the second F sharp a fifth lower; subsequent strings ascend in order, G sharp, A, C sharp, D, F sharp, G sharp, A, C sharp, D, F sharp, G sharp; between the fourth and fifth sounds is a third, which interval, in practice, was filled by pressing the string behind the bridge, thus increasing the tension; each string can be raised a semitone or even a tone by increasing the pressure.

By this means additional notes can be secured, giving a scale identical with the Greek Dorian or ecclesiastical Aeolian. Much of the popular Japanese music is written without the extra notes, and the series of tones can be characterized as a pentatonic scale based on the natural minor. Thus: