Tuesday, June 24, 2008

June 24th 2008

Hi all.

I couldn't find any good news tonight. I looked around and found a lot of small articles, but nothing of real note. So, tonight I will talk about one of my hobbies.

When ever people ask me what my hobbies are (and it happens more than your think if you teach elementary and jr. high school) I always say that I have 3 hobbies: aikido, kendo, and shamisen. Aikido and kendo are both different forms of Japanese martial arts, and shamisen is a type of Japanese musical instrument.

I will save kendo and aikido for another rainy day. I want to talk about shamisen tonight. A shamisen is a Japanese 3 stringed musical instrument that was invented in the 15th or 16th century. A typical shamisen can be seen below.

A shamisen has only 3 strings and is played with what is called a bachi. The bachi can be seen to the right in the picture. A Bachi is basically a very big version of a guitar's pick. It is hold between the pinky and the ring finger with the thumb against the back of the blade. They made the bachi out of many different things, but a weighted plastic is the most common. The weight of the bachi is used to make a snapping sound when it hits the base of the shamisen. Also, the bachi can be played near the top of the base of the shamisen to create a small sound or further down to make a louder sound.

The base of the shamisen is called the dou and it is covered tightly with an animal skin. Depending on the type of the shamisen it could be a cat's skin or a dog's skin. Don't ask me where they get the skins...I always just picture the shamisen makers stalking about in alleys with fish or dog treats.

The dou is the hardest part of the shamisen to take care of. The skin is stuck onto the base of the shamisen with a glue, so if the shamisen gets too hot the glue melts and the skin is ruined. Also, a lot of direct sunlight will do the same thing. On top of that, if the skin gets a too wet or too dry it will stretch and break open. It costs a lot of money, and I would assume another animal, to re-skin the shamisen so the owner really has to take care of the shamisen.

The shamisen can be played in many different ways depending on the situation or the song. The string can be played with the bachi normally to produce a soft sound or it can be played with a little snap in the wrist to produce a snapping sound. The string can be played from below by pulling the bachi up. The string can also be played with the fingers of the left hand. Lastly, because the shamisen does not have any frets (the parts on the guitar under that strings) the fingers can be slided up and down the strings to produce a nice blending effect.

All the different ways of playing the shamisen produce slightly different sounds than just normally playing the shamisen. It gives the instrument a little flavor in the sound. See if you can pick up all the different ways of playing the shamisen in the video below.

I bet the shamisen sounded like an easy instrument to play when I first started, but I hope that you can see now that there is a lot of depth to the shamisen. Any way, tomorrow I should be back with news, if there is any news out there tomorrow.

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