Shamisen song list: I'm freaking out

Panic mode.

I have to work up 40-50 minutes worth of shamisen music to play live at the Japanese Embassy here for an event.

Has anyone here ever had to play that long?

What did you play?

I have a month to prepare. Going to be a lot of work.


You can get away with 10 minutes or so (broken up in between songs) of talking about the shamisen. A great deal of Japanese people don’t know nothing about the instrument, and I’m assuming Kenyans know very little too, but are sure to be curious after hearing a few songs. History, Sawari, demonstrate the resonance etc…

Yeesh. With just a month to prepare, my advice would be to do an intro for each song to minimize the amount you have to learn. Talk about where they come from and what they’re about.

If you can sing and play, a lot of minyo repeats notes while changing words. Kokiriko and Soran bushi are great examples of this, as they go from one or two minutes to three or five.

Konpirafunefune is another good option to play since it’s easy to learn an up-tempo.

Are you still playing without a bachi?

Is it an event where people are moving around or a stage performance with an audience sitting there looking at you? If it’s the former, you can repeat songs.

What songs do you already know? I’m with Luke and Christopher in talking a lot about the instrument and the songs. If you can draw out 9 songs to five minutes each of playing and talking you’ll his 45 minutes easily.

Thanks for the replies.

Apparently, I have to play while people are getting food from a buffet so not much chance for babbling on about the instrument (which would have made things easy).

I dug and dug and came up with the following:

  1. Ringo bushi
  2. Souran bushi
  3. Jonkara nan dan
  4. Donan bon uta
  5. Iwamuro
  6. Sakura x 2 arrenji
  7. (Tune I don’t know the name of)
  8. Tousindoi

Konpirafunefune might be a good option. Trying to use the bachi more, for sure.

Can jam out the rest with my own tunes probably (have plenty of them). They told me not to play originals, but how are they going to know?

Counting on people not knowing anything at all about the instrument and being distracted by food and booze.

Should be weird. Generally speaking, I like weird.


If you’re playing background music, you can always loop it. They probably won’t know the difference. That means less songs you have to practice and have down solid. You can even slow songs down a little if you need to stretch it out. I played with a trio last week playing background music for an art exhibit and we just ran through our set a few times and no one noticed. The person that hired us was really happy with the performance. Have fun and good luck.


Yeah, I’m banking on them not paying attention. Coming from punk rock, it’s kind of odd to want people to not pay attention.

Oh and Peter!

You could try some Hauta/Kouta stuff too.

They’re generally quite short, but can circle in on themselves and are traditional for parties.

I learned the attached link in about a week. (I’ve got gakufu for it if you’re interested).

This is cool. These should be quite easy.

Thanks. It is great to get exposed to new styles.

Pete, what a great opportunity! I can’t say what to play because not skilled or knowledgeable. But from a listener (in buffet line), at least something upbeat that would be danced to. Anyone have insight as to preferences of a Japanese Embassy? I would guess they would prefer traditional well-known songs, and not so regional (except those famous pieces, and maybe even lean towards Tokyo). Good luck!

Well, I sussed them out because I was concerned they might know something.

They apparently know nothing about all about music. Which is to my advantage haha

I am counting on the power of the buffet.

Yes. Playing slower, talking to explain stuff or repeat one more time some short minyo songs are the best tricks I know.

I had to use it for some tea ceremony events I am doing from time to time.

And easy songs can do the trick and you can ornament the melodies too if you find it too slow or something. Just need to keep them in the style you’really playing and no one will hear a thing.

Let us know how it went.

Not that it matter much, but here’s my list as of now:






Nice to listen to your combination of songs, Ganbatte :slight_smile:


I know approximately 30% of this song list at this point.

Going to be a lot of improvising over skeleton versions of these tunes.

Played this gig, was pretty good after I realized no one was listening!

First set was rough because I tried to play the tunes “correctly.” It was like slogging through a deep swamp while having mace sprayed in my eyes. Will never do that again.

Second set was way better because I just jammed out on what tunes I had left. Much more fun.

Shamisen is a weird (but cool!) instrument to play live (compared with the guitar). You have to really caress it to get a cool sound out of it. Guitars you can just beat into submission. Was a good experience.

Yep shamisen is a very fascinating instrument in that respect - seems to take quite a bit of attention and technique to make it sound clean and expressive. TBH I tend to just skip most of that lately - working on rehearsing other basic skills in playing. It seems that the shamisen sound is very personal for every player, each individual seems to have his or her own style and peculiar sound (now even disregarding all the different types and makes of shamisen).

But if you want to listen to a player who’s outstanding in this respect, I’d recommend to check out our very own Masahiro Nitta - I have the Japanese DNA CD and I was amazed at the depth and sophistication of the sound, at least the more calm and mellow parts - it feels like the instrument suddenly receives a soul and the music starts talking to you - to me it felt different from much other shamisen playing, including some of Nitta’s more modern pieces. Shamisen playing in this aspect is like bathing a baby perhaps, or maneuvering a 15 000 ton starship to its docking cradle in zero-G. Pick your favourite metaphor - I hope the point comes accross that it’s like every move is very careful and precise :slight_smile:

Yea! I totally get what your saying.

Lately I`ve been playing in the dark or with my eyes closed, in order to make sure I get it to really resonate with each note. I makes me feel magnitudes less “good”, but I think the payoff will be worth it.