Short introduction to the correlation between timbre and form in kangen music

Here are in bullet point-style references to some formal elements with their specific timbral characteristics.

I. Jo-Ha-Kyû

Jo-ha-kyû is a primary and ubiquitous principle of formal construction in Japanese arts. It frequently describes the musical development on all formal levels. It can govern the structure of a musical program, the form of a piece, the development of a section, musical phrase or even of an individual note. It can be roughly translated as: jo = slow introduction, ha = faster build-up and kyu = fast conclusion. It is traditionally understood as a constant but extremely gradual, sometimes almost imperceptible acceleration of the music. On a highest formal level the different sections maybe clearly delineated as representing one of the three but when applied at lower levels the principle becomes more vague and implies mostly the slow change of tempo and a constant transformation from relatively formless introduction through more defined development to a fast rushing into a breakup.


Hence pieces are often grouped according to the following 4-pieces pattern:

- Netori : Piece in free rhythm where only the first chairs and the kakko play. Its function is to establish the mood of the mode. The entrance of the instruments is prescribed : Shô -> hichiriki -> ryûteki -> kakko -> biwa -> koto

- Jo: This movement is also in free rhythm, but it differs from the netori because all instruments participate, and being a movement rather than an introduction, it lasts longer.

- Ha: It is usually in nobebyôshi (8 beats per measure). As explained under Theory/Rhythm, this structure contains half of the number of obachi compared to the hayabyôshi structure. The obachi is among other things the point of synchronization of the three percussion instruments and a reference point for timbral changes. Hence with fewer points of synchronization, the nobebyôshi has a slower rhythm of timbral transformation.

- Kyû: It is usually in hayabyôshi (4 beats per measure). As explained under Theory/Rhythm, this structure contains twice the number of obachi compared to the nobebyôshi structure. The obachi is among other things the point of synchronization of the three percussion instruments and a reference point for timbral changes. Hence with the increase of the number of points of synchronization, the hayabyôshi has a faster rhythm of timbral transformation.


II. Timbral Structure of Ha and Kyû

- Ôndo: Both sections opens with a solo phrase by the ryûteki called ôndo. It is followed by the entrance of the percussion instruments.

- Tsuku-dokoro: The entrances of the remaining two solo woodwind instruments at or around the strong taiko's stroke is called tsuku-dokoro. This is followed in increments of 2 measures by the biwa #1, koto #1, biwa #2, and finally koto #2.

- Tomede: This is a coda where only the first chairs play in free-rhythm and at a slower tempo. The order of the exiting instruments is prescribed: WW instruments -> Percussion instruments -> biwa,  and finally the koto.

- Kuwae: Shortly before the tomede, the percussion pattern is accelerated to twice its original speed. For example, a percussion instruments’ pattern of four measures, could now be accelerated to every 2 measures. Typically, the beginning of the kuwae underlines a noticeable change in the melody. Example 1 and 2 show one of the most common rhythm pattern in 4 measure of 4 beat, hayayohyôshi and its kuwae.




Example 1





Example 2



III. Formal Designs

1. Nokori-gaku: A form used when a piece is played 3 times:

1st time: Standard with all the instruments

2nd time: No perc. only the 1st WW and String chairs play

3rd time: Hichiriki #1 + biwa #1 + koto #1.

2. Jutô: A phrase that serves as transitional material leading back to a repetition of previously presented phrases like the Section C in Etenraku: AABBCCAABB

3. Hanjô: Half-point period, i.e. half-point of the piece. Pieces that use that structure are often subdivided into: AB| CB, where B marks the half-point of the first and second sections, and C the half-point of the piece.

4. Kandô

This is an added phrase before the beginning of a repetition:

||: …………………………………….end || kando…….. :||

5. Kaishizuke

Indicates the returning point for piece whose repetition is not starting from the beginning:

||……..…||: Kaishizuke………………………………….. :||  


IV. Classifications

Tôgaku (encompasses kangen and bugaku) is divided up into two categories : Kogaku, meaning –old music- and it accounts for less than one third of the repertoire, while Shingaku, which means –new music- encompasses more than two thirds of the repertoire.

Another classifications is based on the length of the piece:

1. Taikyoku: Great pieces, with ± 8 movements, almost never played. Only the very last piece of the cycle concludes on the tonic, all the others conclude on scale degree 3. Moreover, the elaborated coda (tomede) is only played at the end of the last piece, all the others cadence with the fuki-nagashi, a technique in which the wind players hold that last pitch at volume for its full duration before letting the volume to attenuate.

2. Chûkyoku: Middle pieces of ± 2 longer movements. Typically, phrases begin on beat 3 in measures of 4 beats, or on beat 5 for measures of 8 beats.

3. Shôkyoku: Small pieces of ± 2 shorter movements, typically phrases begin on the 1st beat of the measure.




Figure 6



V. Melodic Structures (To be continued……. )

Four characteristics that must be taken into considerations when considering the overall perception of phrases:

Balancing against the underlying rhythm of symmetrical and asymmetrical melodic phrase lengths.

Movement types: Jo, Ha or Kyû.

Contrast of different melodic contours.

Placement of ornamental figures