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date: 12 November 2019


  • David W. Hughes
  •  and Henry Johnson


Spike fiddle of Japan (from ko: ‘foreign’, ‘barbarian’; and kyū: ‘bow’). It is about 69 cm long, with a soundbox measuring 14 × 12 × 7.5 cm; the bow is about 95 to 120 cm long. This is Japan’s only indigenously evolved fiddle (although several others were used in minshingaku music). It is smaller than the shamisen, but otherwise nearly identical in shape and construction, differing mainly in its long spike, the shape and position of the bridge, and the lack of any device to generate the buzzing sound (sawari). The kokyū is held vertically, its spike inserted between the knees of the kneeling performer or (especially for women) resting on the floor in front of the knees. As with the Javanese rebab the instrument itself, not the bow, is rotated to select the appropriate string; the bow always follows the same path. There are usually three strings, but certain schools double the highest string (a practice introduced in the mid-18th century)....

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