Sangen (三弦)

"Sangen" is another name for the shamisen, a Japanese traditional musical instrument.

The architectural style using a set of three pieces of lumber, or steel, is also called sangen.

The instrument is often expressed as "三弦" (which reads as "sangen") or "三絃" (which also reads as "sangen") in the community of "sankyoku" (the instrumental trio, i.e., shamisen, koto (the thirteen-string Japanese zither), and shakuhachi (the bamboo flute) or occasionally kokyu (the Chinese fiddle) instead of shakuhachi), and this is particularly true in the community of Jiuta (songs of the country accompanied by shamisen) and Sokyoku (the music of the koto). Specifically in a formal document or a performance program, this instrument is expressed as "三弦" or "三絃." Normally, however, the use of the term isn't so strict, and the term "shamisen" is also used for sangen.

In today's Japanese music, the term "sangen" is used also on the occasion that the instrument is played for music other than Jiuta. For example, the term sangen is used in some titles, such as "Sangen shijuso kyoku" (A sangen quartet), composed by Seiho KINEYA for shamisen as performed in Nagauta (ballads sung to shamisen accompaniment), Jiuta, Tokiwazu (dramatic narrative chants accompanied by shamisen) and Gidayu (a style of chanting with shamisen), and "Sonata for two types of sangen," composed by Bondai FUJII for shamisen performed in Jiuta and Nagauta).

The sangen is occasionally called 'mitsuno-o,' literally meaning three strings, in a Japanese classical expression.

In Gagaku (ancient Japanese court music), sangen is used as the general term for wagon (the Japanese harp), gakugoto (the koto used in gagaku) and gakubiwa (biwa (the Japanese lute) used in gagaku).

And sangen is another name for the sanshin, a traditional three-stringed instrument that has been handed down in Ryukyu (another name for Okinawa).

For details, please refer to the article on the shamisen.

The explanation below is about the sanxian, a traditional Chinese instrument.

Sanxian literally means three strings, and this is a traditional, lute-like Chinese stringed instrument with a long neck.

It's also referred to as xianzi in China.

The full length of the sanxian ranges from 90 cm to 120 cm, but generally that of the southern one is about 95 cm while that of the northern one is about 120 cm.

The Sanxian has a rounded body (resonator) covered with snakeskin, and it has a long, fretless neck.

It has silk threads for strings.

It is susceptible to humidity.

The larger one has a range of about three octaves.

Historically, the sanxian has been popular as an instrument for the accompaniment of songs.

Many musicians put silica gel in the instrument case to absorb humidity.

The sanxian is rarely used in today's Chinese orchestra performances.

Compared with other stringed instruments such as the biwa (the Japanese lute), there is little original solo material in the sanxian's repertoire.

The sanxian and Chinese lute have many performance skills in common, so the tunes traditionally composed for the Chinese lute are occasionally performed with the sanxian.

If a tune is performed on the sanxian with tremolo picking, its original tune is in many cases composed for the Chinese lute.

For their various uses, various sizes of sanxian exist, such as the large northern Chinese sanxian.

Also, in the twentieth century the four-string sanxian was devised.

The sanxian is used in ensembles, such as those of nanguan and Jiangnan sizhu.

Generally, the sanxian is used in classical Chinese music, but it has also been used by He Yong, a rock musician of today's China.

Comparison with the Japanese shamisen
The sides of the sanxian's body consist of snakeskin, but the shamisen uses cat skin;
Incidentally, the Okinawan sanshin uses snakeskin.

The sanxian is played with a pick on the performer's forefinger, while the shamisen is play with an ivory pick; however, plastic picks are now popular for use with the sanxian.

The tone of the sanxian is heavier and thicker than that of the shamisen.

The sanxian employs various tunings, and in most cases it adopts a method similar to niagari (raising the second string, originally a tuning method of the shamisen) or another method similar to hon-choshi (the main tuning, originally for the shamisen).

This sanxian, introduced in Okinawa, was changed into the sanshin, and the sanxian introduced in Sakai, Izumi Province, Osaka in the sixteenth century was the origin of today's shamisen.

The sanxian is sometimes called "the Chinese shamisen."

The dan tam, a Vietnamese instrument, is similar to the sanxian.

The sanxian compares to the banjo of Western countries, including the United States.

[Original Japanese]