These are three main tunings used for shamisen:
This is the standard tuning. The other two tunings below are based off of Honchoushi.
- The two outside strings are tuned to the same note, and the middle string is tuned to the relative fourth of that note.
- For example: C-F-C
- Notable pieces used in Honchoushi: Akita Nikata Bushi, Tsugaru Ohara Bushi, Ajigasawa Jinku, Soran Bushi, Hanagasa Ondo, and more.
- The middle string is raised two semitones from Honchoushi tuning.
- For example: C-G-C
- Notable pieces used in Niagari: Tsugaru Jonkara Bushi, Tsugaru Yosare Bushi, Tsugaru Aiya Bushi, Rokudan, Ringo Bushi, Yasaburo Bushi, Tanko Bushi, Tokyo Ondo, and more.
San Sagari 三下がり
- Thin string is lowered three semitones from Honchoushi.
- For example: C-F-Bb
- Notable pieces used in Sansagari: Tsugaru San Sagari, Sangai Bushi, Esashi Sansagari, Muroto bushi.
“Is there a standard shamisen key?”
Unlike other stringed instruments, there is no specific key which the shamisen is tuned to. Where the shamisen is pitched depends on the singer/instruments being performed along with it. The important thing is maintaining the correct pitch spacing between the strings. If that is done correctly, you can pitch your shamisen higher or lower, depending on your preference.