Professor of Miyagi University of Education
All nations have their own different musical tradition just as they are different in language. To start musical education from our own musical tradition seemed a common
concept nowadays. Nobody can disagree with this idea which is already accepted by every educational system. Singing is the most basic and common form of musical expression, and singing is the most beautiful instrument we have. Singing is the most fundamental thing in music education. So that we would better start from own musical tradition by our own traditional manners and voice of singing in music education.
Each nation has its own different manners of singing and voice of singing. In Asia especially manners of singing are very different from those of Europe. Singing is not an abstract thing.
So that, when we teach children a children's song, we must
also bear in mind our own singing tradition. If Asian children
only sing and listen to the general European manners and voice
of singing, and if once they are grown up and suddenly listen
to their own native manners and voice of singing, they will feel
that their traditional music is very strange and they will be
unable to enjoy their
own traditional music.
The concept that music education should be started from its own musical tradition is a very clear and simple idea but that fact is not so simple .Scale and rhythm are the most basic elements in any nation's musical tradition. It is impossible to ignore the differences between national musical traditions, yet it is tempting for Europeans to think about them just in the European way. Yet they are so different. If we do not think the differences are so important and we ignore them, it means that we deny the idea of starting musical education from our own musical traditions. Firstly we should know how different the scales are between nations in Asia. For example, in Thai music, the scale is so different from European ones or even other Asian ones. The Thai scale is divided into seven equal tones in one octave.
And in Indonesian Gamelan the concept of scale is very different from the European
one . There are many kinds of Gamelan and the biggest division is Japanese Gamelan
and Balinese Gamelan. Balinese think about scales in a totally different way. In
Balinese music the scales consist of two kinds of pentatonic scale, known as Pelog
and Slendoro. They do not have the idea of absolute pitch. In each pentatonic scale
the tuning is different for each instruments in each Gamelam instrument set.
In the Balinese Gamelan set, each instrument actually consists of a pair of
instruments. They are played at the same time, by two players, and there is one subtle
but major difference: each instrument is tuned differently. The difference is very,
very slight, so that each instrument of the pair vibrates slightly differently. This
tension is typical of Balinese Gamelan music. The Scales in Southeast Asia are
definitely differently tuned and not just in tone but also the concepts are different
from each others and from European's.
In the Japanese tradition the scales are four kinds of pentatonic scales; two
have two half tones, and the others do not. Ones which do not have two half tones
are named Ritsu scale and Minyoh scale, and the others which have two half tones are
named Miyakobushi scale and Okinawa scale. To be exact, they do not follow the same
concept as the European scale and the function of the circle of fifth, but instead
it is the function of tetrachord. In the tetrachord, the complete fourth is fixed,
but the pitch is not exactly the same as the European, and middle tones in each nuclear
tone are not fixed; they are flexible, and they depend on a player's performing manner.
Japanese performers are free to produce the middle tones in the tetrachord, a
near, not exact tone a little higher or a little lower as they please, so, to a European
ear accustomed to the more fixed, exact number of vibrations of notes, it may sound
as if the performer is out of tune. This, however, is not the case. It is a major
characteristic of the Japanese scale and the manner of singing. Japanese scales do
not have the clear concept of the octave. The "Noh kan" which is used in "Noh
performances" is characteristic of this different concept.
And there is no concept of modulation like the European one, in the different
tetrachord,for example, Ritsu and Minyoh are often conjoined. If I explain those
examples using solmization, the following will appear. Usually in the Miyakobushi
scales in the upward motion there will appear " mi fa la ti re mi" and the downward
motion " mi do ti la fa mi ". Each tone has an absolutely different function from
those European scales. The nuclear tone is not the tonic, and there is neither Dominant
nor Subdominant. More and more studies recently are arguing that the Ritsu scale is
the most original for Japanese tradition, and next the Minyoh scale; the Miyakobushi
scale has only about a two or three hundred year history. The well known lullaby sung
in the texts " Nen nen kororiyo okororiyo "was sung in the Ritsu scale, but nowadays
it is sung in the Miyakobushi scale. If I use solmization for explanation, in the
Ritsu scale" la la so la do la so " and in the Miyakobushi scale" fa fa mi fa la fa
mi". This is not the concept of modulation, but musical taste.
Japanese traditional music is largely divided into Folk music, such as the often
unaccompanied song of the peasants in the rice paddies, or of the fisherman at the
seaside, or of the woodcutters in the forests. And the more refined artistically
developed music of the towns, especially of the merchant classes of Tokyo ( know as
Edo), Osaka ( known as Naniwa). This music developed to an especially high degree
during the Edo period in Japanese history, when the country was closed to almost all
We need to know the role of Japanese history concerning the second kind of Japanese
traditional music. The Japanese government closed the door to foreigners from 1635
to 1867, and during that time the Japanese were exposed to very little European culture.
At the same time during that period, artistically refined Japanese traditional
musical arts branched off into so many genres and developed to an especially high
degree(???) of delicacy. "Kabuki", "Bunraku", and all kinds of "Hohgaku" were
developed in that time. However, from the opening of the country in 1867 the Japanese
almost exclusively rejected their traditional music and have learned almost European
music. Since then more than a hundred years have passed, but it is still the case
that rhythm and scales remain the same. The core of Japanese musical education is
still European. Nowadays for the younger generation Japanese traditional music is
so strange that it is incomprehensible to them. I think that this is the worst problem
in Japanese musical education.
I have already mentioned the characteristic of the concept of pitches and pitches
are very flexible. But that is not true, because musical artists rather disliked using
the same pitches in ensemble and good players aimed to play with slightly varied
pitches and tempo. This is called "Heterophony", and you can hear it in "Gagaku" ,
the old court music. Gagaku has no conductor and the players used to ensemble slightly
differently in pitches and the times.
Japanese rhythm is very different from European rhythm. We refer to this by the
two Japanese terms, " Ma " . The term "Ma" is a/the(??) most important concept in
Japanese musical tradition. In the "Ma " there are no tones, but this concept is not
completely different from the European rest. The "Ma " is silence , but the player
should create the silence which is full of meaning. The feeling of the beats is very
different from European beats. That is called " Omote ma" and "Ura ma". Literally
"Omote" means " that which is on one side", and "Ura" means "that which is on the
other side". Measure is treated as something equal, it is, of course, linear, but
there is no sense of hierarchy of stress as in European music.
Concerning musical taste, in olden times, Japanese listened to the sounds of
nature as music and not as mere noise. For example, the "Syakuhachi", or bamboo flute,
imitated the sound which blew through the bamboo grove. If we wish to write down one
"Syakuhachi" sound in staff notation, we write just only one note, but it contains
many pitches and sounds. This is characteristic of Japanese taste in music. The
Japanese best "Syakuhachi" players aimed to achieve a sound which could succeed in
embracing nature, life, emotion and philosophy in one whole. "November steps"
composed by Tohru Takemitsu for The New York Philharmonic is a very famous coating
(???what do you mean? combination?) of Japanese characteristic traditional
instruments; "Sakuhachi" and " Biwa" and European orchestra .
I would like to explain Japanese characteristic manners of singing . The most
characteristic thing is the "Kobushi" ,which looks a little like "melisma" in European
music. "Syomyo" is from religious Buddhist scriptures like Gregolrian chant and a
most fundamental singing manner also like Gregorian chant in Europe, Noh performance
was for the high samurai class in the middle ages; every kind of Hohgaku singing and
folk songs to traditional popular music we can see in this "Kobushi". "Kobushi" is
a very popular manner of singing in Asia.
I have referred to some characteristics of Japanese manners and voice in singing;
melisma, pitches, rhythm , "Ma" and scales and also musical and philosophical, too.
As you may gather, it is impossible to write Japanese traditional music in staff
notation. And if it is written in staff notation
( because it is necessary to write it down for research), nobody who has ever listened,
can imagine or understand the actual figure of music. Staff notation is the most useful
symbol in the world for music. We use the staff notation from ethnic music to classical
music, but we need to know its limits. There are two kinds, one is the music such
as classical music, which is completely written in staff notation, and the other is
music such as Japanese traditional music, which cannot be written in staff notation.
For Asian traditional music the solmization is just impossible and should not be
adapted. The solmization is just for European Music and very
useful to understand European Music.
Furthermore this music was handed down orally, and there were original
traditional ways in which to hand it down orally. These ways went beyond teaching
the mere mechanics, for they also contained the philosophy that underlay everything.
We in Japan must start our musical education from our own musical tradition. But those
nations that have a music like Japanese traditional music that can not be written
in staff notation must not use the staff notation nor solmization to teach traditional
music. In our case, we must incorporate our tradition into our teaching. Japanese
have a really good traditional way of teaching for traditional instruments, called
"Shohga". This "Shohga" is not solmization, but it has a little similarity, too. It
is sung with melody and Japanese words, the sounds of which imitate the instrument.
The "Shohga" shows the guideline and the nuance of the melody, and its more important
purpose is to show the playing manner. So the word imitates the sound of the instrument,
It is something like onomatopoeia, so that the word and style are different for every
In old times Japanese music teachers taught traditional instruments just singing
"Shohga", and never used papers. A pupil had to concentrate deeply while listening.
Pupils who wanted to be specialists used to live in the teachers house and used to
do all the housekeeping. Sometimes they were teaching assistants. They were few in
number and specially chosen. They were called "Uchideshi". This expression conveys
the concept that music is not only music but also a way of life and an expression
of the person, too, and if a pupil wanted to learn music from a teacher, he firstly
had to learn how to live, find out what was the teacher's musical source, as well
as the reason for the teacher's source. In old times Japanese music was a form of
research aiming to find out the truth of life.
The following is my conclusion.
Starting from each tradition in music education includes not only traditional
music but also manners of singing and voice of singing and the tradition for teaching
one's own music, because the tradition for teaching does not just involve teaching
manners, but also the same philosophy and the same meaning of the music. The most
important thing when adapting is to strictly and minutely investigate the differences
of tradition between any countries, and to establish what similarities, what
differences, and also what factors, especially factors concerning philosophy which
produce a particular figure.