Rokudan Questions (re: Secrets Revealed video)


I had some questions on Rokudan specifically this great video put out by Kevin Kmetz …

  1. I like the analogy of left and right hand piano - but does this necessarily mean that maebachi (right hand) plays lighter than ushirobachi (left hand)?

  2. Is this ushiro-mae pattern evident in all shamisen (or Japanese?) songs?

  3. Is the pattern necessarily precise? Is the ushiro specific to notes or is it more of a general pattern open to improvisation?

  4. I thought I’d come across that bachizuke is really meant for the san- and ni-no-ito but not the ichi-no-ito - however I see the pattern done on ichi-no-ito.

  5. Kevin makes a point to mention that Rokudan is a “functional” piece … is this an etude? If so, it’s interesting that there’s an etude to prepare you for a specific song Jongara Bushi lol. Or is it that the techniques are common to most songs among them Jongara Bushi?

Thanks to Kevin for this video and for any responses!


Hey Rob!

  1. This depends on the dynamics, really. You can play both mae and ushiro in full volume with full force, or you can play mae as light as a feather - it really depends on the part of the song. As you’re probably aware, in jongara bushi there’s a phrase where you go up to position 16 and begin a trill which gradually crescendos. This begins in maebachi and as it builds the force applied builds as well.

  2. As far as I know he mae/ushiro combination is unique to Tsugaru, or at least to shamisen where both areas can be played. In nagauta I know that everything is in maebachi, as even the bachigawa is crescent shaped so it only covers the maebachi area since that’s all that played. I’m not sure about jiuta or regular minyo, though.

  3. Many songs have a general bachizuke pattern that can be applied, but especially in the case of the godai minyo there is a bit of freedom with it. It can be tweaked a bit to add to the dynamics and the contrast between the soft and loud volumes, but you can pick up on some general patterns that are comfortable to settle into with many songs as well.
    Some songs have multiple different patterns, like Aiya bushi, where some parts are generally “ushiro mae, ushiro mae”, some parts are “ushiro maeス ushiro Maeス”, some parts go “ushiro ushiro maeス” and so on. So there is a bit of freedom there, but those specific patterns do exist. Edit: Just rewatched the video, Kevin does make a point of mentioning how while everything fits within the framework of bachizuke, it isn’t always the same "ushiro ushiro maeス for Rokudan as well.

  4. Maebachi is totally doable on the ichi no Ito, yeah. You wouldn’t necessarily so it for really powerful, driving phrases like the beginning of a jongara bushi, but some songs use it. Akita Nikata Bushi for example I find easier to do the ichi no Ito phrases in maebachi. Edit: Just realized you asked about bachizuke, not just maebachi, oops :stuck_out_tongue: Kevin gave an awesome answer for this though, so just go with that haha

  5. By “functional” it really means that it contains many of the key phrases and techniques to begin to create/understand versions of jongara bushi, though at its core those principles apply to many other songs as well. It just most closely resembles jongara bushi, and is the most useful piece for mastering its foundations. After all, they’re both niagari pieces with similar bachizuke usage, 4300 phrases, driving ichi no Ito beginnings, and modular structure. It’s typically used as a teaching piece, and I believe was created to showcase these fundamentals.

I hope this helps!


1.) the actual physical “Center” of the Dou will produce the loudest sound. It’s similar to Taiko drumming. You’ll want to “Aim” for the center etc. in the case of Shamisen the exact center point ends up being the spot we call “Ushirobachi”. So by keeping your hand, wrist & arm relatively relaxed and just letting the Bachi naturally smack down onto that spot on the Dou, you should be able to produce the tradiotional “Loud” Shamisen note. In contrast Mae Bachi is located far from the center which already naturally causes a softer quieter note. The two basic Tsugaru Rhythms are Ushiro Ushiro Mae + Sukui (four beats like Jongara shin bushi etc.) and Urisho Mae + Sukui (three beats like Aiya or Yosare bushi)

2.) Like Ian S. has mentioned the Ushiro/Mae Bachi is stylistically very much a Product of Tsugaru Shamisen. Other Shamisen styles and genres tend to have a different approach. However in recent years I have come across several players (sorry, names are escaping me at the moment) who are actively combining Tsugaru techniques with other Shamisen styles so I imagine the future of Shamisen might yield some new opinions on this subject.

3,) yes as Ian mentions this is simply a pattern created to suggest or imply a rhythmical framework. I mean theoretically you could combine Ushiro and Mae in any sort of polyrhythmic pattern you like so long as the four beats… U U M S (Ushiro , Mae, Sukui ) are maintained in your mind’s eye or in the background etc. we’ve all heard drummer play solos in which they go WAAAAAAAY off beat but finally in the end they hit the down beat BAM! And we all suddenly realize that the beat was in fact never abandoned for even a split second. In the same way you can literally do whatever you want so long a the pulse can still be felt and so long as you end up right back on Ushiro Bachi in the right place when you bring the original pattern back.

4.) It isn’t very common to do the U U M S pattern on Ichi no Ito but keep in mind that music is Organic. If one player pops up in the spotlight doing that pattern on Ichi No Ito all the time then eventually people will start to say “Oh yeah. That’s totally so something we do.”
In other words if something can be done musically and technically then “Not” doing it is really fundamentally just a question of personal taste or personal aesthetic value or stylistic preference.

5.) Ian’s answer I think is spot on!



Such great information thank you guys. I need to stew on this for a bit to sink in. Kevin, thank you and thanks for that great follow on video!!


Guys, thanks again for this. I don’t know about you guys but I literally have to consciously play each note individually and think about whether it makes sense for ushiro or mae depending on the context of the measures (i.e., should a mae be coming up next?) and just what sounds and feels right. This is something new to me as right hand positioning is not as important on my other stringed instruments.

I’m also sensing some patterns. For example whenever you have a sukui involved phrase, that typically gets a mae preceded by some ushiro to set it up. I’m tempted to mark up my music sheets to indicate the bachizuke but like fret dots, I don’t want to become reliant on notations.

It was recommended to check out Tsugaru Jinku and thank you for that advice - that piece really does hit home the bachizuke.

It’s a slow process that is driving my wife nuts with the repetition (LOL!) but I’m guessing it becomes second nature with experience on the instrument.

Thanks again for the great insight and advice!


You’re welcome! :smiley: glad to help!

I definitely started out like that too. With time those kinds of patterns become far more natural depending on the song (with something like kyokubiki for the godai Tsugaru, you eventually pick up the structures and patterns for each piece which allows you to form your own versions) and with practice it’ll be the most natural thing in the world.

I have seen, albeit rarely, some tabs which have blue boxes around sections played in maebachi. I forget where though, as none of my books specify that, save for the intro to Rokudan section in Kyle’s.
Yep! You’re noticing some of the common bachizuke versions. As I said above in time you’ll realize how those fit in a lot better. It’s a good thing you don’t want to be too reliant on notation - as with much of folk music nothing is 100% set in stone, it’s important to be able to improvise a bit too and keep the bachizuke going.

And you’re welcome about the Tsugaru Jinku! I figured that’d help :smiley:

Haha yeah, and with an instrument as loud and booming as ours it can be tough to keep everyone happy while practicing :stuck_out_tongue: but like you said, it’ll all be second nature someday and by then it’ll sound so great nobody will mind!

And again, any time! :smiley: