BiwaVocab for Satsuma-Biwa

Sound Information System by Junko Ueda

The Traditional Tuning

Traditionally, the Satsuma-Biwa is tuned in a relative way, so with fixed intervals. The exact pitch however is depending on the voice range of the performer, since he/she is singing and playing the Biwa simultaneously. The samples below are frequently used in the traditional repertoire. Explained is the so-called Go-Hon tuning system, which is based on the note B. For more information on the notation system, please look at the page Notation. (The five-line Western notation gives only an approximate indication of the pitch).

The Traditional Tuning

Open Strings
Here you can hear a most popular traditional tuning, which builds up from the bass with: a fourth down - a fourth up - a fifth up. In this way, the 1st and 3rd open strings are tuned in the same pitch, while the 2nd and 4th string have one octave difference. As mentioned before, the score is written in a relative way. In the recorded sample the strings are tuned: B-F#-B-F# (the so-called Go-Hon).
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Basic Notes

1st String
First you hear the open string sound followed by the notes where the left hand fingers are placed softly on Chû 1 until 5.
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2nd String
First you hear the open string sound followed by the notes where the left hand fingers are placed softly on the positions Chû 1 until 5.
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3rd String
First you hear the open string sound followed by the notes where the left hand fingers are placed softly on the positions Chû 1 until 5.
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4th String
First you hear the open string sound followed by the notes where the left hand fingers are placed softly on the positions Chû 1 until 5.
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Pitch Bending on Basic Notes

Pitch bending on the 1st String
Again, first you hear the open string sound followed by the notes where the left hand fingers are placed softly on Chû 1 until 5. However, this time each note is performed with a pitch bending up respectively down. The recording demonstrates the approximate highest possible pitch with each fret.
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Pitch bending on the 2nd String
First you hear the open string sound followed by the notes where the left hand fingers are placed softly or pulling inwards on the positions Chû 1 until 5. Each note is performed with a pitch bending up respectively down. The recording demonstrates the approximate highest possible pitch with each fret.
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Pitch bending on the 3rd String
Again, each note is performed with a pitch bending up respectively down
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Pitch bending on the 4th String
Again, each note is performed with a pitch bending up respectively down
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Alternative traditional tuning

Open String
Here you can listen another traditional tuning, which is used the traditional pieces like ‘Dan-no-Ura' and 'Yoshitsune'. This tuning builds up from the bass with: a unison - a fourth up - a fifth up. Now, the 1st and 2nd open strings are tuned in the same pitch. In the sound sample below the strings are tuned: F#-F#-B-F# (the so-called Go-Hon).
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Basic notes and glissandi on 1st string
Compared to the tuning introduced at the top of this page, only the 1st string is tuned differently, so only the 1st string is needed to be mentioned here.
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