Learning to play Shamisen - 1

Tags: shamisen, art, life

How to play  Shamisen was something I wanted to learn even before I start to live in Japan. Well, it actually took some time, but today I had my first lesson! Yeah !!

I am a guitar player (well, I mean like everyone~) and always had interest in strings instruments. When I visited Istanbul in 2004 I bought a baglama (pronounced balama) and had fun with it at home even if I never properly learned how to play it :-) A friend also offered me a valiha (pronounced "valee" if I remember well) from Madagascar a long time ago, but I never managed to do anything good with this one, it's a beautiful object though.

I haven't bought a shamisen yet because, to make it short, a good one costs a bomb :) But I am lucky enough that Sensei (=Teacher) lent me one.

Here is the kit :

The Shamisen is carefully packed in its little kimono. The green stuff on the left is to place on the knee under the shamisen.

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Let's unpacked it.

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Strings are out of tension for now.

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Glad I don't have to make this knot myself.

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In this box we have strings and the "Koma"[bridge = 駒 ] to place by hand each time. Actually it is possible to demount the Shamisen almost entirely each time and put it in a little suitcase, but for now I would not be able to rebuild it myself so we keep it like this.

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This is the pick, it is called a "bachi" =  æ’¥. Sensei's one is a very old one made of elephant tusk... Mine is made of wood.

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Yep, it is much bigger and heavier than a guitar one.

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And here is how we must handle it. Little bit tricky at first. I am not sure that my position on this picture is very good but you've got the idea.



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So now the bridge is in place and the strings tuned. It is quite easy to tune, kind of like a guitar but with only 3 strings :) There's one octave between the first and the third string.

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On the left hand we have to use this little green thing.

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First piece to study will be Sakura Sakura which is pretty much the most famous traditional Japanese tune abroad I guess.

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And here you can see how to sit properly.

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I will save your ears for now, cause basically all I can do is "kling" and "klang". But during the lesson I already had fun keeping a simple rhythm while Sensei was playing lead.

So for now, let's enjoy Chizukan Takahashi.

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