Tsugaru-Shamisen
 

Tsugaru-Shamisen is a traditional Japanese string instrument. The Tsugaru-Shamisen, which is played here today, has a 100-year history and is considered a percussion instrument, because the strings are not bowed (violin) or plucked (guitar), but mainly is beaten with the ″Bachi″ .
Originally this instrument was played by blind people who went from house to house to earn for a living.

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The shamisen or samisen (三味線), also sangen (三絃) — both words mean "three strings" — is a three- stringed, Traditional Japanese musical instrument derived from the Chinese instrument sanxian. It is played with a plectrum called a bachi.

The Japanese pronunciation is usually "shamisen" but sometimes "jamisen" when used as a suffix (e.g., Tsugaru-jamisen).(In western Japan, and often in Edo-period sources, it is sometimes "samisen.")

The construction of the shamisen varies in shape, depending on the genre in which it is used. The instrument used to accompany kabuki has a thin neck, facilitating the agile and virtuosic requirements of that genre. The instrument used to accompany puppet playsand folk songs has a longer and thicker neck to match the more robust music of those genres.

Examples of shamisen genres:

  • Nagauta

  • Jiuta

  • Min'yo

  • Kouta

  • Hauta

  • Shinnai

  • Tokiwazu

  • Kiyomoto

  • Gidayu

  • Tsugaru

 

The bachi used will also be different according to genre, if it is used at all. Shamisen are classified according to size and genre. There are three basic sizes;hosozao, chuzao and futozao.

Hosozao
The hosozao (literally "thin neck"), as its Japanese name implies, is the smallest kind of shamisen. The body is small and particularly square-shaped, with a particularly thin neck, which tapers away from the strings just as it approaches the body. Generally, the hosozao is used in nagauta, the shorter and thinner neck facilitating the agile and virtuosic requirements of Kabuki. Hosozao shamisen especially built for nagauta ensembles are often simply known as a "nagauta shamisen." The hosozao is also often used in kyouta (geisha music).

Chuzao
The chuzao (literally "middle neck") is a size up from the hosozao. As its name implies, the neck is slightly thicker. As the neck approaches the body of the instrument, the distance between the strings and the fingerboard is maintained, unlike the hosozao, where it tapers off. The fingerboard ends abruptly, and the rest of the neck curves sharply into the body of the instrument. The pronounced curve that occurs just before the neck meets the body is called hatomune (鳩胸, literally "pigeon's breast"). The result is an extended fingerboard that gives the chuzao a higher register than the hosozao. The chuzao is favored for jiuta style playing, with a broader, more mellow timbre. It is also an "all-round" instrument that can actually be used across many genres.

Futozao (Tsugaru-Shamisen)
Finally, futozao (literally "fat neck") are used in the robust music of gidayubushi (the music of bunraku), Joruri Min'yo, and Tsugaru-jamisen. In these genres, a thicker neck facilitates the greater force used in playing the music of these styles. The futozao of Tsugaru-jamisen is quite a recent innovation, and is purposefully constructed in a much larger size than traditional style shamisens, and its neck is much longer and thicker than the traditional nagauta or jiuta shamisens.

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