Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sanshin lesson with Kossan


I know that sanshin, the three-string Okinawan banjo, is not really familiar instrument in the U.S., but what you are seeing on this pic is even less familiar. Ladies and gents, this is rokushin (meaning "six strings"). I have heard of it but have never actually seen it before. The strings are paired together like a 12-string guitar. Normal sanshin strings and also Amami sanshin strings, which are one octive higher, are used on rokushin.



My new friend who is also a zen monk, Kossan, kindly gave us another sanshin lesson in spite of his busy schedule. Thank you so very much, Kossan. I have discovered a shocking fact. It is "You don't use the ring finger (on left hand) to play the sanshin." I had no idea, but the question is "why not?" Although there are several string instruments which omit certain fingers to use, there are crystal clear reasons for that. For example, when you play the acoustic bass, which is my main instrument, you don't use the ring finger because the instrument is way too big and it is physically impossible to reach with the ring finger. (there are exception for this. Some bass players, especially young guys, use the newly developed fingering which utilizes all the fingers and our bassist Kazuo is also using this technic). Some bass instructors teach their students not to use the ring finger when you play the electric fretless basses. Though I don't teach that way, I kind of understand it because an electric bass is not as huge as an acoustic bass but still its string length is quite long, meaning you have to spread the left hand when you play. When you play the shamisen, which is Japanese three-string banjo used in the main islands, you don't use the pinkie because you have to place the nail of the index finger on the finger board. In this particular fingering, the pinkie does not reach further than the ring finger. Now let's go back to sanshin. The scale (the length of the strings) is a bit shorter than guitars so you can easily use all fingers on every position. There is no special fingering technic like shamisen. Mmm, incomprehensible. I searched on the net but there is no convincing explanations. To be honest, it is much easier and much more natural to use the ring finger. Well, what should I do? If I correct my fingering, I have to do it now.....

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