Guitar Essentials: How to Create Exotic Japanese Koto-Style Techniques

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There’s something to be said for an instrument whose sound can instantly bestow a certain feeling upon you. The Japanese 13-stringed koto is one of those unique instruments. Its mysterious droning is evocative of traditional Japanese settings, and the distinctive sound of its hypnotizing vibrations has a special power.

In this lesson, we’ll explore how to evoke a similar sound and sensory experience using your guitar. The technique in this lesson is taken from my brand-new course, “5 Exotic Guitar Scales and How to Use Them Effectively,” and it can be applied to either electric or acoustic guitar. Each instrument will yield a different timbre, of course, but the atmosphere you produce will emulate that of a koto.

The technique has multiple points of focus, as your fretting hand will need to be holding down the appropriate strings with slight vibrato (to manufacture a wavering koto sound) while your picking hand hovers 12 frets above the pressed strings.

The breakdown of responsibilities of your picking hand is like this:

1. Make a pistol shape with your thumb and finger
2. Hover your index finger over the actual fret, touching the string slightly
3. Pluck the string with your picking hand’s thumb while your index finger rests on the string, hovering over the fret as mentioned in step 2

With your fretting hand in proper position and your picking hand keeping the appropriate 12 fret distance between notes, you’ll create an ethereal, artificial harmonic. Once you have perfected the technique, you can begin to experiment with patterns. The most effective koto styling’s will be cyclical motifs, as shown in the example below.

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Be sure to watch the video for a visual aid in using this extremely cool technique, and check out “5 Exotic Guitar Scales and How to Use Them Effectively” if you’d like to add a new dimension to your guitar playing.

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