What is "in-tune"?


Greetings, new to Bachido forum, new to Tsugaru shamisen. I am currently slowly learning first step of Rokudan.

As a piano technician, I practice tuning equal temperament (ET) for piano, there are typically 243 strings. Naturally, I wonder what is “in-tune” in terms of shamisen? There are many posts regarding “tuning” as of tuning of the 3 strings. This doesn’t tell me anything about the interval relationship of the strings, since C-G (5th) in ET is slightly smaller than pure 5th (3:2 harmonic). My impression is that, since the repertoire is traditional/folk style (non-chromatic), C-G for shamisen would more likely to be pure 5th.

I do have the Korg shamisen electronic tuner but I can’t tell what it’s tuning is (the sound is very unpleasant to listen to, so I didn’t make huge afford listen to it.) Because of my tuning training, I can tune the 2nd and 3rd strings from the 1st string by ear accurately. I tune the 2nd string (whether F or G, in terms of C scale) pure. I like it because it’s quieter (less beating on the trained ears.)

I don’t know what people use to tune their shamisen, if they used random tuning apps, they would probably tune their strings according ET. That is, with 2nd string slightly flat. Is that then in tune or not? Of course, human ears are prone to slight out of tune, I might as well be over-sensitive. Nonetheless, we use open strings a lot, and they are references to practice of pitch accuracy. Hmm, so I thought it worth asking. Thanks!


Hey there, Welcome to Bachido!

In essence:

Traditional tuning falls into three patterns.

Honchoushi, Niagari, Sansagari. For the sake of examples, we’ll be referring to a 4本 (yohon) or C tuning.

In Honchoshi, your first and third strings are tuned to the same key and the second string is raised to a relative fourth.

For example

C - F - C

In Niagari, your first and third strings are tuned to the same key, and the second string is raised up a step higher (so a relative fifth) than in Honchoushi.

For example

C - G - C

In Sansagari, your first and second strings are tuned like Honchoushi, but your third string is lowered (mechanically all relative fourths, right?).

For example
C - F - A#

Your tuning should be keyed to the singers’s voice or just to whatever key you happen to enjoy.


I tend to tune by ear if I’m just a little out of tune by listening to the relationship between the strings, and for the strength of the sawari at different positions.

If I’m really out of tune, or in a key that I rarely use/don’t recognize, I’ll use a chromatic tuner to get in the right neighborhood, before switching over to my ears. I occasionally use a tuning pipe, but I’m not skilled enough to go from fresh string to tuned with just it.

My teachers use a simple tuning pipe and their ears, the tech on hand for performances uses a korg device for quickly tuning.


I have only a elementary understanding of piano tuning but I think you don’t really have to worry too much about that with the shamisen unless you’re going to play with piano accompaniment. If that’s the case then you can just tune to the piano. If you’re playing alone then pure is probably the way to go since you want the resonant vibration on shamisen. Get that first string buzzing.


Korean friend! I guess… well, for the piano, you can call someone who can tune it, obviously paying… ahah!


To me just intonation always sounds better than than equally tempered… but to be honest I’m probably not skilled enough at playing / tuning the shamisen for it to matter. My method of tuning is usually to get the strings into the right range using my TC Polytune, and then adjust from there till they sound most harmonic to me. I think ideally that would result in a just tuning than equally tempered since there should be less beating in the perfect 5th interval.
If I’m playing with someone else then I try to sound as close to their tuning as possible.


As I can say because of being a piano student on Conservatory (and I love being in concerts), in classical music concerts, to tune an instrument, there are some people who press (generally) the A on piano sustained, long with the right pedal, and the other musicians play the same note. Well, don’t know for non-Western instruments…


Thanks for all your responses! I would agree that Just tuning sounds better. So it seems the way to go is to strike for playing that please the ears… it just seems that’s no reference and that certainly puzzles a classical trained learner…
My first string does buzz a lot… so I guess it’s a good thing.

Sakura, I am actually from Hong Kong, my name is just very Korean in English.


And a quick note on that buzzing - if you have an Azuma sawari (a dial thing in the back of shamisen that raises and lowers a block under the first string) you can adjust the buzz to your preference. The intent is to adjust it to get the longest buzz possible.


Korean in English?


Also if I invert Choi Chung Wan