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date: 20 October 2019


  • Hugh de Ferranti


Generic term for necked bowl-lutes of Japan. Discussed here are construction and tunings; for history and schools, see Japan, §II, 3. Forms of biwa have been played in Japan since at least the 8th century. Early forms used for gagaku derived from China, but biwa subsequently developed in Japan have been played in the performance of various kinds of oral narrative and Buddhist ritual texts (sūtras). While structural dimensions and playing techniques vary, all biwa share a shallow, pear-shaped body and neck cut from a single piece of wood, four or more wooden frets, a shallow cup-shaped wooden bridge that transmits the vibrations of four or five strings of entwined silk, and a large plectrum. With the exception of the gogen-biwa, an archaic instrument played in gagaku until perhaps the 9th century (see also Japan), the strings of biwa are secured to tuning pegs inserted into a pegbox bent back nearly perpendicular to the neck. Common to most forms of ...

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