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The
Traditional
Musical
Instruments
of Japan

Taiko Drum, 20th c., gift of Dense Lambda K.K., Japan

The Traditional Musical
Instruments of Japan

 

February 23th - June 21sh, 1008 

Curator: Dr. Ilana Singer

    

Three types of instrument are used for performing traditional Japanese music - drums, stringed instruments, and wind instruments (especially the flute). Others, including bells and drumming, are used in Buddhist ceremonies and in gagaku (the music of the imperial court). In recent years, the number of musicians incorporating traditional instruments in their performances has increased. The Kodo troupe of drummers that visited Israel a decade ago, and the Yoshida Brothers, who play the shamisen (see further) are only two examples of contemporary musicians who are reviving the traditional instruments, with great success in Japan and worldwide.

    

Each type of instrument is adjusted to the desired range of a specific musical genre. String instruments played with a bow are relatively rare in the history of Japanese music; and trumpets, whether of metal or conch-shells, are even rarer.

     

Most of the Japanese drums have a membrane on either side, attached to the frame with ropes or tacks. The drums are usually beaten with drumsticks. Drums with tacks are usually barrel-shaped, whereas those with ropes tend to be shaped like an hourglass or tube. Among the tacked drums are the taiko, mostly employed for court music and festivals. There are also miniature drums used by dancers. The tsuzumi - the hourglass drum - is used mainly in the Noh and Kabuki theatres.

    

Traditional string instruments include variations of the sitar and long- or short-necked lutes. Among the sitars are the wagon, with six strings, and the thirteen-stringed koto. There are various types of biwa - a short-necked lute with four strings; and the long-necked shamisen with three strings. All the string instruments are played by plucking with a fret.

    

Although most of the flutes are horizontal, the most popular is still the vertical, recorder-like flute made of bamboo, the shakuhachi. In the Middle Ages, the shakuhachi was associated with wandering Buddhist monks known as komuso, who played it essentially as a spiritual exercise. The nohkan is the flute used in the Noh Theatre. Other horizontal flutes, such as the takebue and shinobue are also frequently played during festivals.

 
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