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The Musical Bridge – Celebrating Cherry Blossom Season with Japanese Arts – Creating A Haiku Song

The Musical Bridge – Celebrating Cherry Blossom Season with Japanese Arts – Part 2 – Hanami and Haiku

Traditional Dress At Hanami (Cherry Blossom Viewing Time), Photo: Wix
Traditional Dress At Hanami (Cherry Blossom Viewing Time), Photo: Wix

In our previous post, we were introduced to Hanami or Blossom Viewing Time and five traditional Japanese musical instruments. Today, we will learn a little about haiku, create our own haiku and then set it to music using a pentatonic scale.

Haiku, 俳句 is short-form poetry genre that originated in Japan. It contains 17 syllables in a set pattern of five, seven, and then five. Haiku describes a seasonal reference, such as the phase of the moon, blooming flowers, or snow. Matsuo Bashō, 松尾 芭蕉 (1644 – Nov. 28, 1694), Kobayashi Issa, 小林 一茶 (June 15, 1763 – Jan.5, 1828), and Yosa Buson, 与謝 蕪村 (1716 – Jan. 17, 1784) are the three highest regarded poets in the genre.

Here is a vivid example by Bosun:

Drinking up the clouds it spews out cherry blossoms – Yoshino Mountain.

Wind blows they scatter and it dies fallen petals

Petals falling unable to resist the moonlight

Sakura, sakura they fall in the dreams of sleeping beauty

– “Cherry Blossoms” by Yosa Buson

Some translations are made in such a way as to maintain the syllabic patterns. Others, like that above, are translated for meaning rather than syllables.

Let’s create our own haiku song.

Creating Your Haiku

Step 1

Choose the season of the year you would like to invoke.

Example: Spring

Step 2

Select an element from the natural world that is appropriate for that season. This could include a certain, tree, flower, or other plant such a blooming cherry tree or tulip for spring, an animal such a the sound of bullfrogs or the lights of fireflies in summer, a natural feature such as a frozen lake or snowy mountaintop for winter, or even other sensory experiences that are unique to that time of year like the sweet smell of decaying leaves or the yellow glow of the harvest moon for autumn. This word will be your hokku or "seasonal word” that is the theme of the poem.

Example: Blossoms falling from the trees

Step 3

Once you’ve selected your topic, create a list of words and ideas that you associate with that hokku that you may wish to include in your haiku.

Example: pink, white, rose, beautiful, soft, time, timeless, blanket, cozy, sand, footsteps, descending, falling, floating, landing, Earth, ground, grounded, humble, purposeful, gently, quiet, tenderly

Step 4

Now that you have an idea that you wish to develop, choose your kireji or “cutting word.” The kireji divides the haiku. It is used in the middle of a verse and “cuts in” to indicate that the verse consists of two thoughts half independent of each other. It adds emotional impact to the previous phase and adds a rhythmic and grammatical pause.

Example: Marking

Step 5

Take your subject and some words related to your subject and start constructing the phases in a five, seven, and five syllable form.


Pink snow floating down

From the bough, gentle descent

Marking one more year

Blanketing our way

Purposeful feet sink deep yet

Leaving no trace there

Step 6

Before we create our own melodies, let’s listen to the traditional Japanese folk tune, Sakura, Sakura, which we were introduced to in the previous post. (There is an arrangement above.) What do you notice about this melody? What kind of scale is it? If you said, “pentatonic,” you would be correct.

A pentatonic scale is a musical scale with five notes per octave, in contrast to heptatonic scales, which have seven notes per octave. Heptatonic scales include major and minor scales. What kind of feeling does this melody have? Does it feel hopeful, happy, sad, or mysterious? A lot of traditional music from around the world uses pentatonic scales. Choose five notes within an octave to create your scale. If you are unsure which notes to pick, a good place to start is the black keys on a piano keyboard which form a major pentatonic scale of C#, D#, F#, G#, and A#. Or you may wish to use the Japanese pentatonic scale (the one used in Sakura, Sakura) of A, B, C, E, and F.

Watch to virtuosic musician Bobby McFerrin (born March 11, 1950) demonstrate the power of pentatonic scales:

Step 7

Once you’ve selected your pitch. Create a five-note long pattern for the first and third lines of your haiku and a seven-note long pattern for the second line. Keep a steady rhythm and start with only straight quarter-note rhythms. Then add eighth-note rhythms if you like. Once you have your basic patterns, make any adjustments to your melody pitches or rhythms to better suit your text.

Optional Step 7.5

Add instrumental accompaniment to your song.

Step 8

Share your haiku and your melody song. Read your haiku aloud. Then perform your melody on an instrument, through a computer, by singing, or present it as sheet music.

Listen to our example haiku song below.

Have fun creating!


For Further Information on Haiku

For Further Information on Pentatonic Scales


Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer/sound artist, and published writer for both in-print and online media. She is the founder of Perennial Music and Arts and is passionate about sharing her love of music and arts as well as tea, coffee, baking, cooking, and culture.



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