Common phrases/short sequences that capture the traditional sound? (musical cliches)

Being a DND nerd, I saw an opportunity in making my latest characters bard instrument the shamisen, co-inciding with me starting to learn it. I’m pretty early on in that respect, so I can just about stumble my way through rokudan, kuroishi yosare and ringo bushi at about a about half speed. What I’m looking for though are short phrases or sequences I can play for emphasis and the like that capture the traditional japanese music sound. I have a tsugaru shamisen but it seems like the styles played with naguata shamisen and kabuki theater might fit this purpose better - as far as i can tell both instruments sound more or less identical, but tsugaru emphasises the percussion and fast/forceful playing. I can’t find much information on naguata styles or phrases poking around online, at least not from english speaking sources.

For Tsugaru shamisen, whether we speak of tataki or hiki bachi, I think the clearest contenders are found in choushi-awase, kamashi, and tsugarubiki itself.

For other genres, I’m not so sure. The lines between some are quite blurred! Anyway, here’s some thoughts.

For me, the sound of nagauta is high and bright. It’s percussive, but in a focused way. A rapid, even and string forward チリチリチリ is the sound of nagauta for me.

Jiuta is measured. Respect for 間 is imperative. The strikes feel more like punctuation, even if just going up and down a scale.

Gidayu is hefty. The strings and everything else have weight. ts sound and speed are dynamic. It builds up to match the chanter, dropping off to let the words breathe.

Here is 10 different shamisen of varying styles playing varying genres from Nagauta to Tsugaru. To give you some additional ideas.


To add to what Christopher has written, William Malm, in his book Nagauta: The Heart of Kabuki Music transcribes in western notation the 48 Ozatsuma-te (大薩摩手). These “stereotypes patterns” are just the sort of thing you are describing - cliched phrases or riffs out of which nagauta compositions are built. They are all listed on pages 331 to 338. Because they are written in staff notation rather than tablature, it’s not immediately obvious how to play them, but he may explain it somewhere in the book. Anyway, apparently the full book is available at The Internet Archive if you sign up for a free account. Here is the link:

And here is a video of a nagauta piece called “ozatsuma”, which presumably imitates the older ozatsuma genre from which this collection of phrases gets its name. The shamisen player plays a lot of the common ‘nagauta type’ phrases one after another, so maybe between this video and Malm’s transcriptions you can sort something out.