Some Instrument Questions

Just had a few general questions about the instrument itself …

  1. I’d read and been directly advised to remove the koma after playing. How critical is this? As oppose to removing after long term storage.

  2. The Bachido video on stringing the shamisen suggests keeping the knot below the top of the dou. Is the critical point here to keep the string against the corner of the dou? I don’t think so since I’d think the sound stops at the koma.

  3. I put my trainer markers along the side of the sao using my tuner. So with CGC tuning, the 3rd position for the ichi no ito (thick) or san no ito (thin) would be D#; 7th G; and 12th an octave higher C. I’m using this since the suggested measurements was slightly off when I used a chromatic tuner. Is this ok?

  4. The seller of my shamisen suggested I use melted candle wax on the joints, firmly join them, then wipe excess wax. I did not use candle wax (I was too excited to play it so I just put it together) and it seems to play fine. Should I take it apart and use the wax?

  5. On classical guitar, it is recommended to use minimal string on the tuning machine rollers I think to keep a consistent tone. I have a lot of excess string on my itomakis. Should I be leaving on only what’s necessary?

  6. How easy is it to break an ivory koma? I like using it instead of the plastic one since the plastic one is much higher. I plan on getting a bone koma so I can store thee ivory one for when I go on tour and stuff (LOL).

[edit] Just measured both komas and the ivory one is 7.7mm while the plastic one is 9.7mm. This is a big difference. Is this for different playing styles or something? Right now, I prefer the lower action of the shorter koma (even ignoring the material).

  1. I also had a question related to the Kuroishi Yosare Bushi lesson (awesome lesson by the way!). In the PDF (, where is the repeat beginning?

Thanks! I am having a lot of fun with my shamisen particularly learning Kuroishi Yosare Bushi. I’m also looking to get a new doukake and when I start wanting to upgrade parts for an instrument that usually means I’m hooked lol. So do komono’s use standard U.S. sizes? LOL jk.

Sorry had a follow up question …

  1. Is the size of the doukake a decent enough indication of the trype of shamisen? I ask because I was looking on eBay and noticed two sizes of doukakes. The Tsugaru measuring height 9.17"(23.3cm) and the Nagauta measuring height: 8.54"(21.7cm).

If I turned my doukake upside-down and measured the furthest distance at the tips lengthwise, it’s a hair shy of 8.5". Does this necessarily mean I have a Nagauta shamisen? This would confirm Christopher Brown’s guess in this thread

Hey Rob!

  1. Especially on natural skin, you have to remove the koma, yes. This is because leaving it in stresses the skin and makes it more prone to breaking.

  2. As long as the knot is at or a little below the corner you should be good. Too high up and it isn’t very secure. It’s more about making sure nothing slips, as far as I know. The knots going untied on the neo can be super annoying.

  3. I know painfully little about how western music theory applies here but if I’m correct position 10 should be the octave.

  4. I suppose it could work, but for a mitsuori Sao it might not be totally necessary. If you plan on often disassembling and reassembling it it could be a good idea, otherwise I prefer to leave it intact unless I’m flying, which honestly I don’t :stuck_out_tongue:

  5. I don’t cut my strings, if that’s what you mean, except for the double length ichi no Ito that you can get. When a string breaks, that way, sometimes you can actually reuse it due to the excess length. They break much more often than on guitar.

  6. I don’t use an ivory koma so I can’t be much help here, but the only discouragement I have seen for a higher koma is that it makes it harder to play Tsugaru. Other styles more commonly use the 9mm with Tsugaru favoring the 7.7mm or so for ease of faster playing.

  7. Its the thing that looks like this :||
    Once you get there you can start over or if you want to just finish play the open 000 chord three times.

  8. It’s not so much an indicator on its own, you do have to take into account the hatomune, the itomaki, the skin, etc. but it is one of the factors. Christopher is probably right though, he’s awesome at identification. The measurements do line up, so it’s very possible.

Hope this helps!

Ian thanks so much. Just a few comments …

  1. The 10th is the octave?? So are each position not a half note then? I took piano like when I was 5 or something so my music theory leaves much to be desired sorry.

  2. Wait so taller komas are better for Ttsugaru style? I definitely much prefer the shorter koma for now for the lower action likely cos I’m a noob.

  3. Ah lol … I was looking for the ||:

… you repeat to the very beginning then I’m guessing.

  1. Hmmm … ok I have a lot to learn about the different types then. I really like mine so it’s more just to get some context. I still want to change up the doukake and stuff. Just to make it more my own.

You’re welcome!

Well, I’m pretty sure the 10 is the octave, at least on mine, which is a standard size Tsugaru. That way position 10 on the ichi no ito is the same as an open san no ito. I’m pretty sure the neck length on yours is the standard size, so that shouldn’t be an issue.

Actually, the shorter (7.7mm) is better and preferred for Tsugaru, sorry if that wasn’t clear. It’s exactly because of the lower action that it’s better for it.

Yep! Take it right from the top.

And yeah, there’s plenty of types of shamisen for plenty of things. There’s one called a Heike Shamisen that’s a special size literally made to play one song, Heiki Ondo. I mean, it can do the others, but it’s made for that. :stuck_out_tongue: The customization is really fun though, you can pretty much make it fit whatever aesthetic you want. Express yourself! :smiley:

Oh wow. I totally overlooked that the shamisen positions do not go 1,2,3 … 12. They go 0, 1, 2, 3, 3#, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10b, and 10 where 10 is the octave like you said, Ian.

I came across this post to figure this out …

No wonder my current position 4 sounded so off. I inspected the itos, koma, otomakis even the sawari metal thingy. It’s cos what I have as 4 is an E when it should be an F lololol (put another way, I’m striking “3#” and not "
4." Gonna need to order more cheater fret dots lol.

Now as I understand it, this is the scale interval for a Tsugaro shamisen. I think we established mine is not Tsugaro and maybe it is Nagauta. But should this matter in terms of scale interval on the sao? I can’t think of why it should.

Man, I’m still LOL’ing at my noob move with the position markers lolol. I was going crazy wondering what the eff with my 4 … even thought maybe my shamisen was broken lol.

For reference for noobs like me, here are the position intervals for G and C …

(If you replace the position numbering with just straight 1,2,3,etc. thats where my markers are at lol duh noob)

[ERROR] - it should be “9B” and not “10B” before the “10”; thank you Patrick for the correction.

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Ohh, I see where that got confusing. A nagauta should follow the same scale, so the markers are the same.
Glad it got cleared up!

Just 2 points : it is 9b and not 10b before the 10. And yes, the same scale fore everybody, that’s the reason why the koma is closer to the edge of the dou for nagautas…

Patrick thank you for the clarifications. I’m going to make an edit notice on that post for other noobs like me.

Regarding the koma for Nagauta, I’ve always read 3 fingers from the edge of the dou. Should this still be the same for Nagauta or was this just for Tsugura?

Generally 2 fingers for nagauta. You can try until the position 10 gives the octave.

Oh excellent point Patrick! Although even at 3 fingers, I can feel a lot of tension already on the koma - and I don’t have huge fingers. Ok, maybe too much information there lol. Thank you again very much.


Patrick’s advice is spot on for koma placement, as is Ian’s general advice.

Re: Koma & Shamisen type

Ivory Koma are light, very thin and very delicate. They probably will not break under tension from strings, but can break if you drop them. Treat them with care and be mindful of humidity.

As far as I know, koma height is a function of your tradition and personal preference. For reference, 3 Bu is about 9 and a half millimeters.

As a min’yo player, my teacher recommended “Anything higher than 2.6 (2 bu 6 rin)is fine”. Most min’yo players tend to use something in the neighborhood of 3.0 if memory serves. I know that my performance koma clocks in there.

Tsugaru commonly varies between 2.5 and 2.8, but some players prefer higher actions (~3.0).

Nagauta tends to be 3.3 - 3.6.

Kouta doesn’t use a bachi, so higher koma heights (4 bu) prevail.

Jiuta and gidayu are about as tall as Nagauta, but tend to be thicker and heavier.

Materials also vary much as they do with bachi, with the addition of Water Buffalo horn used as the primary material for Jiuta and Gidayu (which also utilize metal weights made from lead or gold).

Thank you again Christopher for the great information.

It’s almost counter-intuitive to my beginner brain. I would think the “harder” play of Tsugaru would call for higher action for the volume and projection. Inversely, I’d think the accompaniment nature of Nagauta (I think they typically use it as background music for bukake and such?) would call for lower action.

For now, I like the lower action likely since I’m still a beginner.

Bukake ??? Do you mean kabuki ?

LOL yes kabuki. I’m not even gonna ask what a bukake is. Too afraid.

Bukkake just means splashed.

It also has other, contextual meanings that are best discussed elsewhere.

More to the point, a higher action does affect the tone and volume, creating higher pitches and much louder projection if played appropriately. It’s also true that many of the songs are delicate and gentle.

It’s also true that Tsugaru is mostly characterized by aggressive, forceful playing but that’s not to say Nagauta doesn’t have a few pieces.

Skilled Nagauta players can and do shred

The harder play we associate with tsugaru leads to heavier strings, a thicker skin, and a heavier, (some might say harsher) sound.

More personally, I also feel like lower action on the strings helps to emphasize the percussive character or tsugaru pieces.

Even the shreddiest Nagauta pieces sound like strings. Whereas almost any Tsugaru piece has extremely audible snapping from the powerful tataki.

My tsugaru teacher actually plays hard enough that even when he misses a string (rare as that is) the slap on the skin is so hard that there’s no missed beat.

Holy cow. Thanks Christopher for sharing that video. That playing was mesmerizing. Can totally hear (and see) the percussive aspect of shamisen from that video. The use of the bachi - its shape and attack technique totally makes sense now. Insane control of volume. That tremolo section looked inhuman lol.