Japanese English

Shamisen is categorized into the "Lute-family" instrument, has long neck, three strings, and no frets. The neck is connected into the body, which covered with stretched skin of dogs or cats. We can play it with a large plectrum.
In Japan, there are many varieties of shamisen. Each type of Shamisen has the different size of neck and body. In this section, we will explain about "Hosozao Shamisen (a thin neck Shamisen)" and "Hutozao Shamisen (a thick neck samisen)", which ordinarily used in ensemble of us; Pro Musica Nipponia.

[Tuning and the range of tone]

Each strings of Shamisen called "I (one)"-"II (two)"-"III (three)" from the string of lower tone. We don't tune it in absolute pitch. In the case of "Hosozao Shamisen", the "I" string is tuned from H to D (When the tension of string is loosed, it can sound smaller volume tone. Oppositely, when strongly tightened, it may snap.) Otherwise, In the case of "Hutozao Shamisen", the "I" string is tuned from G to A. (It is common that the tuning tones of Shamisen are noted in staff with "8" under G-Clef)
Hosozao Shamisen Hutozao Shamisen
The range of tone is about as follows;
Hosozao Shamisen Hutozao Shamisen
When we play traditional Japanese music, we ordinarily use the tuning styles named "Hon-cyoshi", "Ni-agari", and "San-sagari". In these styles, as every string is tuned to harmonic overtone, they harmonizes each other in natural. When we play modern music, we seldom use the tuning style with Augment 4th. Though we can change the tuning of shamisen in the middle of music, it takes a few minutes to make the tone steady.

[Playing Techniques]
1. Left-Hands Techniques
(1) Hajiki Filliping with left-hand's fingers, without a plectrum
(2) Suri, Koki Moving the left-hand's finger, in order to change the remains of tone.
(3) Uchi Tapping on the string with left-hand's fingers.
(4)Ura-hajiki Filliping the string with left-hand's three fingers.

2. Right-Hands Techniques
(1)(Ordinary performing)
Striking a string downward with a plectrum.
Picking a string up from the surface of body with a plectrum. (We can play a sound like tremolo, when we repeat quickly striking it down and picking up. But it's not easy to play)
Flipping a string with a right-hand finger without a plectrum. (It's noted as "pizz.")
Sliding a plectrum on strings quickly.

3. Both-Hands Techniques
(1) Sukui + Hajiki
Striking a string downward with a plectrum, then picking it up, and then flipping it with a left-hand finger. We often use this technique for fast passage.
(2) Kokashi + Hajiki
Striking two strings downward with a plectrum, then flipping one with a left-hand finger. After that we can pick it up.
(3) Kakebachi
Flipping a string with a left-hand finger, while muting its sound by pressing a plectrum on the string.

4. Other notes about Shamisen
(1) Sawari
"Sawari" is a noisy sound we can hear when we play "I" in open string. If we tune the "II" or "III" string to harmonic overtone of "I" string, it sounds when we play "II", "III" in open string.

(2) Difficulty of Jumping tone
Shamisen has no fret and very long neck, it's difficult for us to move the finger very wide position. When we play a fast passage, open strings are very useful.

(3) Performing multi-tones
It's difficult to use two or more positions on Shamisen's strings. Otherwise, it's easy to play multi tones with open strings.
(We can sound double-stop, only in slow tempo, and using neat position on the neck.)

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