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Short-necked plucked lute derived from the Chinese piba. Already in use by the Nara period (710-794). In court music, the biwa plays simple figures to accompany the melody instruments of the gagaku ensemble. Biwa of the various styles and schools differ in the number of their frets, which varies from four to six, and in the number of strings, which ranges from three to five, four being the usual number. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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