koto kōˈtō [key], a Japanese string instrument related in structure to the zither. It consists of an elongated rectangular wooden body, strung lengthwise with 7 to 13 silk strings. The uniformly long strings are tuned to one of several standard tunings by moveable wooden bridges. The koto is placed horizontally on the floor with the player seated behind it, and it is plucked with the fingernails or with a plectrum. The instrument was introduced to Japan in the 8th cent., and its present repertory has developed since the 16th cent. It is played solo and in duets, is used to accompany a singer to play in specific small ensembles.

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