/koh"toh/; Japn. /kaw"taw"/, n., pl. kotos, koto.
a Japanese musical instrument having numerous strings, usually seven or thirteen, that are stretched over a convex wooden sounding board and are plucked with three plectra, worn on the thumb, index finger, and middle finger of one hand.
[1785-95; < Japn]

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Japanese musical instrument, a long zither with movable bridges and usually 13 strings.

It is placed on the ground or a low table, and the strings are plucked by plectra on the fingers of the right hand while the left hand alters the pitch or ornaments the sound of individual strings by pressing or manipulating them on the other side of each bridge. The koto is played solo, in chamber ensembles
especially with the shakuhachi (a bamboo flute) and the samisen (a fretless lute)
and in gagaku music. The koto is Japan's national instrument.

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also called  kin  

      long Japanese board zither having 13 silk strings and movable bridges. The body of the instrument is made of paulownia wood and is about 190 cm (74 inches) long. When the performer is kneeling or seated on the floor, the koto is held off the floor by two legs or a bridge-storage box; in most modern concerts, the instrument is placed on a stand so the performer can sit on a chair. The koto is played by plucking the strings with the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand, which are fitted with ivory plectrums called tsume. The left hand, in traditions after the 16th century, may alter the pitch or sound of each string by pressing or manipulating the strings to the left of the bridges. Various pentatonic (pentatonic scale) tunings are used, depending on the type of music being played.

      The koto appeared in the Japanese court during the 8th century and was called the gakusō. Schools for the bourgeois were established in the 16th century. Two of these—Ikuta (started in the 17th century) and Yamada (opened in the 18th century)—continue to the present day. Solo (danmono) and chamber (sankyoku) music dominate the repertory, and in the latter form the koto player often sings as well.

      Some contemporary composers have incorporated the koto into orchestral pieces, and some have used the 17-string bass koto (jūshichigoto) invented by Miyagi Michio (1894–1956) of the Ikuta school. Long known as the national instrument of Japan, the koto has been popular from the earliest periods of Japanese musical history to the present day in ensemble, chamber, and solo repertoires; its physical structure, performance practice, and musical characteristics have become symbols of Japanese identity. The koto is related to the Chinese zheng and se and the Korean kayagŭm and kǒmungo (kŏmungo).

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Universalium. 2010.

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