New Shamisen, so many questions... (which type? what do I need? advice?)


Hey guys,

I hope I post this into the right category…

I just registered here because a half year ago I found a Shamisen on Ebay by chance and it was a real bargain (you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you the price), from a seller who didn’t know very much about this instrument (else I hope he or she would have included a bachi). Since then I have become a regular visitor to this forum which is indeed very helpful :slight_smile:

As I got it right before I had to leave for Japan, I didn’t have time yet to post here, but now that I want use the opportunity of being here to buy stuff, I have so many questions. After reading me through the internet I have concluded that I probably got a Nagauta Shamisen. Could I be right?

In any case it is a starter shamisen as it has a positions sticker attached. I don’t know what materials it is made of, but I guess no really good ones. Two of the attached strings have already broken and the skin has some dents.

So now I’m on a mission to get everything I need to start learning. Help… I have so many questions. I would really appreciate any answers and advices.

  1. I need to get new strings. I concluded that I’ll need nylon for the first and tetron for the second and probably for the third string as well, if I don’t want to risk them breaking again soon. Am I right? What are your experiences with strings?
  2. How do I fix the skin? Any advice?
  3. How do you tune your instruments? Do I really need the Korg-tuner?
  4. Can you help me deciding on the size of a tenjinbukuro? My Shamisen has none and so I don’t know what size would fit. My tenjin measures something between 6 and 6,2 cm. Would that be the size 19?
  5. I’m not such a big fan of Nagauta, I’d rather try out Kouta and Jiuta. Do I need a special koma for this or would the standard plastic one I have now do as well? And I’ve read that playing without bachi on tetron and nylon strings is hurtful for the fingers. What are your experiences? Have you ever played Kouta with a plectrum? And how can I learn more about the differences between both styles?
  6. Is it possible to play bushi and other Tsugaru-styles on Nagauta?
  7. Are these kind of cases foldable? I’d like to have a transport case for my Shamisen, but can’t take a hardcase with me on my flight. So I’d need something that fits into my backpack.

  1. On a flea market here in Kyôto (I simply love them!) I found a boxwood bachi, about 19,1 cm long, 10,2 cm wide and weighing 115g. Am I correct if I assume that this is a 30 monme-Bachi and suitable for my case? It fits into my hand very nicely.

  1. And finally, do you have any recommendations for books (English or Japanese) for self-learning? Or how do you teach yourself?

I will be really happy about any answers and advices you can give me.

Btw, I’m from South Germany, so if there’s anybody is in my area… send me a message!


Ok, those links don’t seem to work of whatever reasons… Here are the same pictures:


PS: If you find the dead spider in the pictures, you may keep it.


Here is a photo of my sao base:


If you’re staying in Kyoto for some time then you can check out
They specialize in jiuta shamisen and koto if I remember correctly.
Don’t remember what they specialize in but I think they serviced the Tokiwazu school I attended close by. Bought some books from them.

In Kitano tenmangu there’s a great flea market every month’s 25th. The January one is the biggest of the year. I have always found some interesting instruments or accessories to instruments there.

There are more shops in or close to Gion but I didn’t manage to visit shops other than the ones I mentioned above.


Thank you, I’ll try to stop by someday :slight_smile:


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Hello and welcome Brigit ! 115 g and other measurements (19,1 cm long, 10,2 cm wide) are those of a nagauta bachi . And yes it is a 30 momme bachi. A momme is 3.75 g. Regards

  1. In Japan you could probably just walk into a shamisen store and ask for a string set (non-silk/beginner). Probably a good idea to get a spare set as well.

  2. You can use a smart phone app. This seems to be a bit off from what professionals tuning by ear prefer (at the Shamicamp the pros seemed to tune a tad lower than what I’d get with the app), but it’s good enough for home use - the tuning tends to wander far more during a playing session.

  3. I wasn’t aware that there is such a big difference between nagauta and kouta - jiuta is obviously special with the different sounding instrument, massive bachi and high koma. I’ve played a bit of kouta with my regular bone koma + bachi, and haven’t noticed anything being off, beside my playing. I haven’t played enough without a bachi to hurt my fingers - maybe my fingers are made of steel :_) Googling, youtube and the forum may be decent sources. Or you can go to Japan and find a teacher.

  4. Check out the Bachido video lessons, those are very good for picking up basics. And get some books with notes while in Japan, at least Shamisen Katou had them readily available (have 1-2 books with a mix of nagauta, kouta etc pieces) and probably many stores are similar.


Greetings, Brigit.

Without measurements, it’s hard to identify the specific subtype of instrument you have but it is, very likely a nagauta.

If you’re interested in the specific type, I’d need to know the width of the neck (at the top and at the bottom) and the dimensions of the body.

In lieu of that, you can also check underneath the doukake.

Nagauta doukake are marked with either 長唄 or nothing
Go-rin-dai (for kouta and minyo) are marked as 五厘大
Ichi-bu-go-rin-dai/ni-bu-dai (usually for jiuta) are labeled as 一分五厘大/二分大/地唄
Go-bu-dai (for tsugaru and gidayu) should be marked as 五分大/津軽

Keep in mind that go-rin-dai shamisen can use nagauta doukake if it’s not made from laquer.

1- String wise, invest in 1 Silk - 2 Silk - 3 Nylon. Tetron can be used in place of the 2nd Silk if you’re worried about longevity, but it’s stiffer and less pleasant to play and hear.

2 - You need to speak with someone who’ll do Kawahari for you. Many shamisen shops can direct you.

If you’re Kyoto based, Alexander’s recommendations would be best.

If you’re in Toyama, Nagoya, or Ishikawa, I have some good recommendations and would be happy to introduce you.

3 - You don’t need a korg tuner, you can instead use reference tones (found on the net or through a pitch pipe/fork). You can also just tune it to your voice. Shamisen tuning is all about the interaction of your three strings (and possibly your own voice)

If you don’t know intervals use this:

4 - I am 0 help here

5 - Nothing is stopping you. Play what you like.

If you want a more traditional sound here are the things you should look into:

A - A nagauta shamisen has a smaller body than a kouta or jiuta shamisen. The sound will be brighter, and tighter.

B - Kouta uses a very tall, broad koma made from wood and bone.
Jiuta uses a broad koma made from wood or buffalo horn and
weighted with lead, silver, or gold.
Both of these produce very different sounds and volumes from the plastic (likely 3.0 height) koma you have.

C - Kouta usually doesn’t use a bachi. It occasionally uses a kobachi (which are adorably small and made from ivory) and occasionally finger picks. The most common playing method is using the flesh of your first finger tip. It is not pleasant.

Jiuta utilizes some of the largest and heaviest bachi (21cm or more long, 35 - 45 momme). It’s second only to Gidayu in that respect. They’re a bit unwieldy, but do create nice sounds. The weight also works well for the delicate, punctuated playing in Jiuta.

Here is a website for Kouta:

Here is a website for Jiuta:

The genre differences between kouta, hauta, jiuta, nagauta, and min’yo are a fun, messy thing.

For now, think of it like this:

Nagauta are long songs, mostly (but not entirely) attached to kabuki.
Kouta are short songs, associated with geisha and about life in the Edo period.
Hauta are romantic songs and there’s a large amount of cross-over with kouta.
Jiuta are classical pieces, usually for three piece ensembles. Think chamber music.
Min’yo is a grubby catch-all with virtually no meaning. This is why it is best.

6 - Bushi, like uta, really just means “song”. So no problems there :p.

Just like Ian said:

If you’re talking about min’yo, see the above. Nothing is stopping you, play what you like! Tsugaru, as a subtype of min’yo is in the same boat. Yes, your sound will be different, but only in the details.

Some tsugaru specific techniques are more difficult on very think necks. Kamashi (4300) requires much more precision when you’ve got less space to work on. Bachitzuke can damage your skin prematurely if your thin, non-tsugaru skin isn’t protected by a bachikawa.

Not something to really worry about though

7 - You good.

8 - As Patrick said: most likely nagauta.

There is a range of sizes “acceptable” for each genre, with some variation specific to style.

9 - I have teachers, but the Bachido school house and Kyle’s live lessons are great. You may also find some scattered lessons on youtube.

As Ian noted, the Fujimoto books are all great. There are also song books available for jiuta and kouta.

Take note! The song books are mostly useful for expanding your repertoire as they don’t really teach technique.

For that, I’d recommend Kyle’s book, or some of the other options on (やさしい三味線教本 and いちばんやさしい三味線レッスン)