Category Archives: Chordophones

Chordophones

Chanzy

Name: Chanzy.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.6
Country: Tuva, Russian Federation.
Region: Far East Asia.

Description: A chanzy is a three-stringed lute instrument from the Tuva. It is most commonly used to accompany throat singing. Either played solo or in an ensemble. The chanzy is classified in the same family of lutes that Chinese sanxian belongs to.

Citations:

Kokyu

Name: Kokyu.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.321.6
Country: Japan.
Region: Far East Asia.

Description: The kokyu [胡弓] is a traditional Japanese string instrument, the only one played with a bow. Although it was introduced to Japan from China along with the shamisen. Its materials, shape and sound are unique to Japan. The instrument also exists in an Okinawan version, called kūchō [胡弓 くーちょー] in the Okinawan language.

Origins: The kokyu bares similarity to the related Chordophones, the leiqin and the zhuihu. In Japanese, the term kokyū may refer broadly to any bowed string instrument of Asian origin. As does the Chinese term huqin. Thus, the Chinese erhu, which is also used by some performers in Japan, is sometimes described as a kokyu, along with the kucho, leiqin and zhuihu. The specific Japanese name for erhu is niko.

Repertoire & Development: Since Shinei Matayoshi, a musician who played the kokyu and a maker of the sanshin. He invented and popularized a four-stringed version of the kokyū in order to expand the instrument’s range. The kokyū has become much more popular. A kokyū society, dedicated to promoting the instrument, exists in Japan.

The kokyū has also been used in jazz and blues, with the American multi-instrumentalist Eric Golub pioneering the instrument’s use in these non-traditional contexts. One of the few non-Japanese performers of the instrument, he has recorded as a soloist as well as with the cross-cultural jazz band of John Kaizan Neptune.

Playing Techniques: It has three, or more rarely four, strings and is played upright. With the horsetail-strung bow rubbing against the strings. In central Japan. The kokyū was formerly used as an integral part of the sankyoku ensemble, along with the koto and shamisen. Beginning in the 20th century the shakuhachi most often plays the role previously filled by the kokyu.

Construction: The kokyu is similar in construction to the shamisen, appearing like the smaller version of the instrument. The scale length of the kokyu is 70 cm [28 inches]. Has a neck made of ebony and a hollow body made of coconut or Styrax japonicus [Japanese Snowbell] wood, covered on both ends with cat skin or snakeskin in Okinawa.

Citations: Bibliography: Websites

Gottan

Name: Gottan.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.6
Country: Japan.
Region: Far East Asia.

Description: The gottan [in Japanese: ごったん gottan] also known as the hako [“box”] or ita [“board”]. It is a traditional Japanese three-stringed plucked instrument, often considered either a relative or derivative of the sanshin, itself a relative of the shamisen.

Repertoire: The gottan’s musical repertoire is often light and cheerful, including many folk songs. Like the shamisen, it was used for door-to-door musical busking, known as kadozuke. Often the gottan is compared to the kankara. An Okinawan instrument related to the sanshin. Due to its relative inexpensiveness [made from a used metal can] and ease of construction. The equivalent all-wood Okinawan instrument is the ita sanshin.

Citations: Bibliography: Websites:

Sanshin

Name: Sanshin.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.321.6
Country: Okinawa, Japan.
Region: Far East Asia.

Description: The sanshin [in Japanese: 三線 or literally “three strings”] is an Okinawan musical instrument and precursor of the mainland Japanese and Amami Islands shamisen [三味線].

Origins: It closely resembles the Chinese Sanxian and its name suggests Chinese origin. The Ryūkyū Kingdom [pre-Japanese Okinawa] had very close ties with Imperial China. In the 16th century, the sanshin then reached the Japanese trading port at Sakai in Osaka, Japan.

In mainland Japan, it evolved into the larger shamisen, and many people refer to the sanshin as jabisen [蛇皮線, literally “snake-skin strings”] or jamisen [蛇三線, “snake three strings”] due to its snakeskin covering.

Sanshin Tunings
Names in Japanese Translation Tuning
Hon chōshi 本調子 Standard C F C
Ichi-agi chōshi 一揚調子 1st String Raised Eb F C
Ni-agi chōshi 二揚調子 2nd String Raised C G C
Ichi, ni-agi chōshi 一、二揚調子 1st & 2nd Strings Raised D G C
San-sage chōshi 三下げ調子 3rd String Lowered C F Bb

Usage: It is is perhaps one of the more important musical instruments of Okinawa, Considered to be ‘Heart’ of the Ryukyu People. Played by youth and elders alike. Most Okinawan homes would usually have a sanshin present. It is the center of small informal family gatherings, weddings, birthdays, other celebrations, community parties, festivals.

The Sanshin is held in great respect among the Ryukyu culture. It is often viewed as a vehicle, an instrument that carries the “voice” of the deities and is regarded as a deity itself. Sanshin are generally designed to last more than a life-time they are an instrument of Legacy often passed down through the generations of a Family.

Construction: The sanshin is composed of the following components, the first being the body called [do 胴 in Japanese] of the instrument. The body resembles a double sided frame drum. Having a hollow body that is covered front and back with skin, in the manner of a banjo. The skin used depends on the genre of music and the skill of the player.

Traditionally skins were made using dog or cat skin but use of these skins gradually fell out of favour starting around 2006 due to social stigma and the decline of workers skilled in preparing these particular skins. Contemporary shamisen skins are often prepared with synthetic materials, such as plastic.

Citations: Bibliography: Websites: Sanshin / MIMO Musical Instrument Museum Online 

 

Shamisen

Name: Shamisen.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Sanxian >
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.321.6
Country: Japan.
Region: Far East Asia.

Description: The shamisen or samisen [In Japanese Kanji: 三味線], also [In Japanese: 三絃 sangen] both words mean “three strings”, is a three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument derived from the Chinese instrument sanxian. In the Kansai area of Kyoto and Osaka it is called a samisen and it is apart of the koto chamber music where it often called sangen. Since the mid 17th century it has been a popular contributor to a wide spectrum of Japanese society.

Etymology: It is played with a plectrum called a bachi. The Japanese pronunciation is usually “shamisen” but sometimes “jamisen” when used as a suffix e.g. Tsugaru-jamisen. In western Japan, and often in the Edo period [江戸時代, Edo jidai] sources, it is sometimes “samisen”.

Tunings: The shamisen is played and tuned according to genre. The nomenclature of the nodes in an octave also varies according to genre. In truth, there are myriad styles of Shamisen across Japan, and tunings, tonality and notation vary to some degree. Three of the most commonly recognized tunings across all genres are “honchoshi” [本調子], “ni agari” [二上がり] and “san sagari” [三下がり].

Shamisen Tunings
in Japanese Names Tunings
本調子 Honchoshi D G D
二上がり Ni Agari D A D
三下がり San Sagari D G C

Construction: The construction of the shamisen varies in shape, depending on the genre in which it is used. The instrument used to accompany kabuki has a thin neck, facilitating the agile and virtuosic requirements of that genre.

The neck of the shamisen is fretless and slimmer than that of a guitar or banjo. The body, called the dō [胴], resembles a drum, having a hollow body that is covered front and back with skin, in the manner of a banjo.

The sao [棹] or neck of the shamisen is usually divided into three or four pieces that fit and lock together. Most shamisen are made so that they can be easily disassembled and stowed to save space. The neck of the shamisen is a singular rod that is inserted through the body of the instrument protruding outwards at the back. Acting as an anchor for the strings. 

The friction tuning pegs used to wind the strings are long, thin and hexagonal in shape. They were traditionally fashioned out of ivory, but as it has become a rare resource, they have been recently fashioned out of other materials, such as various kinds of wood and plastic.

The skin used depends on the genre of music and the skill of the player. Traditionally skins were made using dog or cat skin but use of these skins gradually fell out of favour starting around 2006 due to social stigma and the decline of workers skilled in preparing these particular skins. Contemporary shamisen skins are often prepared with synthetic materials, such as plastic.

Citations: Bibliography: Miki, Minoru 2008. Flavin, Philip [ed.]. Composing for Japanese instruments – Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press. p. 89. ISBN 1580462731 ; de Ferranti, Hugh. 2000. Japanese Musical Instruments. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press ; Philip Flavin 2008 “Sokyoku-jiuta: Edo-period chamber music.” In The Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music. ed. Alison McQueen Tokita and David W. Hughes. Aldershot, England: Ashgate Pub. Company, pp. 169-195 ; Foreman, Kelly M. 2008 – The Gei in Geisha: Music, Identity and Meaning. Aldershot, England: Ashgate Pub. Company – Kishibe, Shigeo. 1969 ; The Traditional Music of Japan. Tokyo: Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai ; Malm, William P. 1984. “Shamisen.” NGDMI v.3: 361-363 ; Nogawa, Mihoko 2002 “Ziuta: Chamber Music for Syamisen.” In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 7. East Asia. ed. Robert C. Provine, Yosihiko Tokumaru and J. Lawrence Witzleben. New York: Routledge, pp. 691-693 ; Websites ; Shamisen – Grove Music Online ; Grinnell College of Music Instrument Collection

Sanxian

Name: Sanxian.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.321.6
Bayin: 絲 Silk.
Country: China.
Region: Asia Far East.

Description: The sanxian [in Chinese: 三弦, whose name appears as sanxian but it is pronounced “senhsien”, the literal translation means “three strings”] is a Chinese lute having only three strings and a long fretless neck. It is also popularly called the the “xian-zi”.

The sanxian is used in nanguan and Jiangnan sizhu ensembles, as well as many other folk and classical ensembles. The Japanese & Okinawan shamisen, Mongolian Shanz, and Vietnamese Đàn tam are considered direct descendants of the sanxian.

History: Similar instruments may have been present in China as early as the Qin dynasty as qin pipa. The term ‘pipa’ was used as a generic term in ancient China for many other forms of plucked chordophones or xiantao [弦鼗]. Some thought that the instrument may have been re-introduced into China together with other instruments such as huqin by the Mongols during the Yuan dynasty 1271–1368.

However, an image of a sanxian-like instrument was found in a stone sculpture dating from the Southern Song period 1217–79. The first record of the name “sanxian” may be found in a Ming dynasty text. The instrument was transmitted to other East Asian countries, for example to Japan where it is called a shamisen.

Variety: The xiao sanxian or [small sanxian] is found in the Jiangnan area of Central China. Xiao is not a precise term but the instrument may measure from 80 cm and 100 cm. The northern sanxian is generally larger, at about 122 cm [48 in] in length, while southern versions of the instrument are usually about 95 cm [37 in] in length. During the 20th century a four stringed instrument was developed.

Citations: Bibliography: Stanley Sadie ~ New Grove Dictionary Of Music, Page 293; A. C. Moule, A list of the Musical and Other sound-producing instruments of the Chinese. Journal of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, xxxix Shanghai, 1908 – 116, Hayashi Enzo; Dongya yuei kao Investigation of East Asian Musical Instruments Beijing, 1962 229ff – Alan R. Thrasher. John E. Meyers – The way of the pipa, structure and imagery in Chinese lute music – Kent State University Press, 1992 – 155 pages, Kent State University Press. pp. 5–7 ISBN 9780873384551 楊慎《昇庵外集》「今次三弦,始於元時」/ Yang Shen’s “Sheng Sheng Collection” “This time Sanxian, started in Yuanshi.” ; Websites: Sanxian / Met Museum article

Dan Tu

Name: Dan Tu.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Dan >
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.6
Country: Vietnam.
Region: South East Asia.

Description: The name of this instrument “Dan Tu” [in Vietnamese: Dan tu meaning “four”]. Tu refers to the number of strings, also called a đàn đoản [đoản meaning “short” referring to the length of the instrument’s neck. A circular moon-shaped lute with a short neck, similar to the guitar or ukulele. It is little used today.

A different instrument does exist with the same name, which is similar to the Chinese zhongruan, is used in Vietnam’s tradition of nhạc dân tộc cải biên. Towards the 1960s, Vietnamese musician improved đàn tứ’s ability to play Western-style music by creating a rectangular body with longer strings designed for Western Diatonic scale. It now becomes much more popular than the traditional version.

Citations: Bibliography: Websites:

Dan Sen

Name: Dan Sen.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Dan >
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.6
Country: Vietnam.
Region: South East Asia.

Description: The đàn sến is a Vietnamese plucked string instrument with two strings and a slender neck with raised frets. It is derived from the Chinese qinqin and is used primarily in the traditional music of southern Vietnam.

Citations: Bibliography: Garland Encyclopedia of World Music Vol. South East Asia P. 262 The đàn sến is the Vietnamese version of the Southern Chinese octagonal lute [qinqin] Websites:

Dan Tam

Name: Dan Tam.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Dan >
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.6
Country: Vietnam.
Region: South East Asia.

Description: The đàn tam [in Vietnamese: Tam meaning three; or in Ha Nhi: Ta in] is a three-stringed fretless lute. The Viet call it the Dam Tam, where as the Ha Nhi people call it the Ta in. It is used in tuồng theatre.

Playing Techniques: The player uses a plastic plectrum, which he uses for plucking downward or upward in quick intervals. The tones of the dam tam are bright and cheerful, they cary a great distance, as soon as the string is plucked. Let hand techniques include tremolos, trills, picking, stopping and especially sliding. The left hand techniques are played in combination with the right hand. Full tones, three quarter tones and quarter tones.

Construction: The Dan Tam has a body is traditionally partially covered by a python skin stretched over. The shape of the body of the Dan Tam is oval reminiscent of the Sanshin or Shamisen. It is directly related to the Sanxian. A moveable bridge is affixed underneath the three strings. The neck is fretless and it is made of hard wood.  only three wooden pegs for tuning. The three strings are traditionally made of twisted silk, but are now more commonly made of nylon.

Citations: Bibliography: Leiter, Samuel L. 2007 – Encyclopedia of Asian Theatre: Vol. 1, A-N, p. 448. ISBN 9780313335297 ; Vietnam-Culture.com / Dam Tim Article ; Met Museum / Dam Tam Article ;