Shamisen as a Primary Instrument


Hello everyone in Bachido!

What a super cool neat community

I am interested in learning the shamisen as my main stringed instrument. I love its warm sound that reminds me of a bubbling river!

I wonder if it will be good for folk music. I am afraid I will put energy into playing the shamisen and it won’t complement the American Folk genre.

I am thinking primarily of Joni Mitchell, early in her career before she started leaning towards pop music.
I see shamisen playing rock music and it sounds great! Do you think shamisen will sound good playing America’s folk music or awkward? If you have any videos of playing the shamisen to folk music please upload them here, i’d love to see!

Thanks for reading, looking forward to your input!


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Both Mike Penny and Kyle Abbott have applied the shamisen to more traditional western folk music, which the Folk music movement of the 60s/70s grew out of.

The shamisen is, essentially, a three stringed resonator banjo, so it plays really nice in any acoustic setting. Depending on how you play it, it can be extremely percussive or more gentle.

Behold, a six year old video!

Now an eight year old video!

The school house has some lessons which would be helpful as well, so take a gander~


Thanks guys!

Your videos are really helping me understand what the shamisen sounds like in all forms. I have to spend some quality time listening to them.

Ian we are neighbors! I’m happy someone in the neighborhood shares my interest in the shamisen.
& thank you for the videos and directing me to the schoolhouse Christopher. The school house has SO MUCH helpful material!

I just discovered the sound of the mountain dulcimer. It has a rich sound like the shamisen but, the way it’s played is kind of awkward. I am figuring out which one I am more drawn to. I’m leaning towards shamisen thanks in part to the really friendly community :smiley:


Bah, Sydnee! You just reminded me that I wanted a mountain dulcimer when I was a teenager, which I had forgotten, but since I just barely bought my shamisen I’m totally broke. T.T

From what I remember, dulcimers aren’t horribly expensive and learning to play more than one stringed instrument at a time isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since a lot of the mechanics and theory can have a lot overlap. Obviously it’s up to you what you decide to do, though. ;D

I personally think shamisen can be adapted quite easily and readily to playing American folk music. Even if it weren’t, I’d say that if you want to play American folk on the shamisen, follow Beck’s example and find a way to /make/ it work. LOL! While music is often played for the enjoyment of others, I believe its primary purpose is for the enjoyment of the person/people playing it. But that’s only my opinion, for whatever it’s worth.

Whatever you decide, I wish you the best of luck! :3


Thank you for replying Vanessa.

I’m relieved we have the same eclectic tastes in stringed instruments :smiley:

That is great advice. I feel like because of finances I would also need to commit to the shamisen or the mountain dulcimer.

Funny thing is there is an upcoming event this month where a band will have the mountain dulcimer, shamisen and guitar! I am so excited to see them in person and to ask the musicians a few to a hundred questions.

I hope your love for the shamisen grows everyday!


Ah, yes, the money. I hate when money trips up my plans. Well, the lack of it, anyway. ^^’

I can fairly confidently say that a dulcimer would cost less than a shamisen (not to mention being easier to find different options for who to buy it from). According to my aunt who has a dulcimer, once you have the basic skill set down you can more or less play most things. I don’t know if that’s true, though. Definitely see if you can talk to the performers you’re going to see. I’m certain they know a heck of a lot more than I do!


Hello, unfortunately I can’t help you much… anyway, welcome to bachido! I also don’t play shamisen, ut am here too!


Musicality runs in your family Vanessa! I think your aunt is right. I remember switching from clarinet to alto sax and it being so easy!

I wanted to let Ian know that the event is Jan. 23 and it is called The Music of Strangers Film and a performance by AppalAsia at The Mattress Factory! For everyone who doesn’t live in PA, if you wanna know this band , just google em :smiley:

Thank you for welcoming me Ale! I am delighted with the response time of the community (I respond slowly) and how informative everyone’s been. I have enjoyed watching Kyle Abbott play music and learn how one even plays the shamisen

Thanks for welcoming me to Bachido everyone! You SERIOUSLY inspire me to play the shamisen


Hey thanks for the heads up :smiley: won’t be able to make it but WOW that’s some cool fusion!


Sydnee, I play folk music (Appalachian music) on a dulcimer, a shamisen, and a gourd banjo. The shamisen is definitely the most interesting and you will always get compliments on it. I would recommend it for sure.

The Dulcimer, which can have similar interval tuning as the shamisen is a great instrument but as you say can be awkward to play. Also it is not always easy to incorporate into a band due to its lack of volume and some tuning difficulties.

Another option to try out is called a strum stick. It is a dulcimer tuned inexpensive instrument played like a guitar.

But, I would recommend the shamisen, it will give you a very interesting edge.


Is the dulcimer sound similar to the santur’s?


No. A santur and a hammered dulcimer have something in common though.


Yeah, I think the sound is something similar. Last year, on a tv advertisement on tv, I heard a sound similar to both


I knew there was someone in this world who played shamisen and mountain dulcimer! :smiley: Thanks for replying Ben.

I’ve been chewing on what you’ve said these past few days. It really is a hard decision (mainly because a shamisen is sooo pricey).
I was looking into a strum stick and was unsure if it was just a vertical dulcimer or something else so, thanks for clarifying that!

Looking at Kyle Abbot build his own shamisen as a youngin is very inspiring. Maybe that’s a road i’ll go down, who knows!

Thank you!