Saturday, April 05, 2014

Shamisen, Tsugaru style

Today’s coffee: Kauai coffee blended with Peru and Brazil

Yesterday was a shamisen binge day. I practiced, then had a lesson, then I practiced some more. This lesson was for a different style of shamisen from the one I’ve been learning up to this point. I’ve been learning Hauta, which is a style of playing to accompany singing. I would characterize this style of playing as polite and refined, although certainly full of character. Tsugaru style, on the other hand, is loud and wild; I also use a larger (and louder) instrument. Thankfully the string length is about the same.

Holding the shamisen Tsugaru-style. It's big.
For comparison, this picture was from one of my first lessons in Hauta style, in January of 2012; my teacher took the photo to remind me how to properly hold the shamisen. This instrument is little and cute; as you can see, you don't hold it the same way.
My teacher for Tsugaru style is a friend of ours, about the same age as my younger brother. That’s a first; I’m not sure I’ve ever been taught by someone younger than me. Not that it matters, since he’s awesome. He came to our house; first we chatted about various things, and he admired Keith’s new guitar. Then we started the lesson: the first thing is “how to play loud.” Actually, the word “play” is probably not appropriate here. I would use the word “beat.” (Keith retreated upstairs.)

Since Tsugaru style is much more forceful than Hauta style, I had to adjust to using the weight of my whole arm to play… er… beat, rather than just playing from my wrist, like I would with Hauta style. That led to some flailing around and not a whole lot of hitting the string I intended to hit. After putting on a shorter bridge with more widely spaced strings, I started to do a little better… so why not learn a song?

We played a game of “repeat what the teacher plays” as I started to learn the song—no sheet music. I found more points at which Tsugaru and Hauta technique differ. I also learned the proper use of the word “惜しい” (oshii) which means something like “almost but not quite” in an exclamatory fashion. I took a video so I can remember what the song is supposed to sound like; it’s on my dad’s facebook page if you’re interested.

But the most “oshii” thing was that right after he went home, I started to be a bit more accurate with hitting the right string… I guess I just need some more practice!

I'll try to think of something to write about next week that isn't shamisen, food, or tea ceremony. Actually, I spend most of my time doing other things, even if shamisen is fun and exciting and it tempts me when I'm supposed to be doing something else...

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