World Music Monday Instrument of the Week: the Shamisen


Each week, tune into World Music Mondays on WMSE (Mondays from 9am – 11:30am CST) to not only listen to world music, but to learn about a different instrument each week, curated by program host, Ruadhan Ward, an Ethnomusicology student and WMSE DJ. Read up on this week’s instrument, here…

The shamisen is a traditional, three-stringed instrument from Japan; descending from the Chinese sanxian, the shamisen was born in the 16th century.

The instrument has three distinct parts: the round body (the “do”), the neck (the “sao”) and the bridge (the “koma”). These parts disassemble for travel. The shamisen is plucked using a “bachi” — a large pick that resembles an ice scraper.

Originally made out of cat’s skin and ivory, the shamisen is now constructed from modern materials such as wood and plastic, although professional players still use silk strings. The shamisen is used in solo performance, kabuki theater and geisha song, to name a few examples. There are many tunings and playing styles that depend on the scenario and type of music being played, making the seemingly simple shamisen a delightfully versatile instrument. Here is a link to a shamisen demonstration.


Here is what we played on the last edition of Instrument of the Week:

1.) “Mushi No Aikata” by Hirokasu Suguira and Gosaburo Kineya from Japan: Koto-Shakuhachi-Shamisen

2.) “STORM” by The Yoshida Brothers from Best of Yoshida Brothers – Tsugaru Shamisen

3.) “Geisha” by an unknown artist off of the album Sounds of Japan

4.) “The Science Fiction of Ray Bradbury Attack” by God of Shamisen from Dragon String Attack

5.) “Appalachian Shamisen” by Takeharu Kunimoto


Tune in next week Monday at 10:30 for the next Instrument of the Week segment!