Traditional Japanese Music

So far throughout this project I’ve had a pretty good idea of what I wanted Hanami’s music to sound like, so it was about time that I actually gave the game some sound.
The music has really been inspired by two things:

Traditional Japanese Music

This is very typical of the sort of thing that comes to mind when you mention traditional Japanese music. The music is held together by hand-beaten percussion, accompanied by the plucked strings of instruments such as a koto and a woodwind melody. The music is then layered with additions of extra percussion from bells and wooden blocks or clappers. There are a couple of things that really stand out from the examples above. The second piece from Traditional Japanese Music 2 shows a very steady drum beat, unlike a lot of the examples I’ve listened to in research. This has resulted in a very “full” sounding tune throughout, in contrast to other tracks that use minimal percussion. I liked Flower because although it probably isn’t the best example of “traditional” music, it uses the same instruments and elements. This is a lot thinner, but often uses a harp sound as a base, rather than percussion.

Studio Ghibli Soundtracks

A lot of the Studio Ghibli films are set in or based on locations in Japan, and as a result have ended up with traditionally Japanese-sounding OSTs. One of the most obvious examples is the soundtrack from Pom Poko. The film itself is about a struggle against a modern way of life which destroys tradition, and this trailer showcases about three of the different types of music that the film captures. My Neighbour Totoro also shows a very traditional way of life, set in rural Japan. The track I found most inspirational from Totoro is Kaze no Toorimichi, “Path of the Wind”. The composer Joe Hisaishi, who also wrote the soundtracks to many Ghibli films including Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Ponyo, manages to balance traditional Japanese instruments with a modern orchestra brilliantly. This is an orchestral version of Kaze no Toorimichi, which is just as good as the original but unfortunately without the sound of traditional Japanese instruments.

It’s very difficult to find examples of Ghibli OSTs online that haven’t been met with copyright restrictions, so there’s not a lot more I can show! You can listen to some of Hisaishi’s music here.

Traditionally, Japanese instruments were tuned to pentatonic scales which consist of five notes per octave. This is why if you punch out a tune using only the black keys of a piano it can often sound very Eastern! The Western piano is tuned in C major, which uses seven notes per octave. Most traditional Western music is played in a major and minor heptatonic scale key signature, which is partly why traditional Western and Eastern music sound so different even on similar instruments.

There are various types of pentatonic scales which have specific names in Japanese. One example is the In Sen scale, which is often used as the tuning for wind chimes. In the key of C, In Sen plays:
C Db F G Bb (repeat C…)

For Hanami, I’ve chosen to use the E flat major pentatonic scale. I’m not sure if this was a scale that would have been used in traditional Japanese music, but when I was trying to work out the key signature for Hisaishi’s Kaze no Toorimichi it was the one that seemed to fit best (I’ve tried to work this out from the video, but can’t really be sure…) The scale of E flat major consists of Eb, Ab and Bb, and the pentatonic scale looks like this:
Eb F G Bb C (repeat Eb…)

Because it’s a major scale, it can have a very “happy” feeling. When I’ve asked other people what they think the music should sound like, they’ve mostly all agreed that the music should be calm and create a light atmosphere, rather than being too dark or energetic. Some of the examples in the first video Traditional Japanese Music 2 sound very serious, but Flower definitely shows a more relaxed and carefree musical experience.

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