Ask Difference

Shamisen vs. Biwa — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on November 3, 2023
The shamisen is a three-stringed Japanese lute, while the biwa is a Japanese short-necked fretted lute, often used in narrative storytelling.
Shamisen vs. Biwa — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Shamisen and Biwa

ADVERTISEMENT

Key Differences

The shamisen, with a slender neck and no frets, produces a distinct twangy sound, unlike the biwa's deeper tone. Both the shamisen and the biwa have a pear-shaped body, but the shamisen's is smaller and covered with skin, whereas the biwa's is larger and wooden.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023
Shamisen players pluck the strings with a large plectrum called a bachi, which is also used in playing the biwa, though the biwa's bachi is often larger and more triangular.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023
The shamisen is associated with several Japanese music genres, such as kabuki and bunraku, and the biwa is often linked to traditional narratives, like the Tale of the Heike.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023
Both instruments are integral to Japan’s musical culture, but the shamisen has gained more international recognition compared to the biwa.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Comparison Chart

Number of Strings

Three
Four to five
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023
ADVERTISEMENT

Body Shape

Smaller, skin-covered
Larger, wooden
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Sound

Twangy, sharper
Deeper, resonant
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Frets

None
Fretted
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Cultural Association

Kabuki, Bunraku
Narrative storytelling, The Tale of the Heike
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Compare with Definitions

Shamisen

Three-stringed lute played with a bachi
She practiced the shamisen for hours.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Biwa

Fretted instrument with a pear-shaped body
He was a master of the biwa, enchanting audiences.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Shamisen

Lute with a distinct, twangy sound
The sound of the shamisen is unmistakable.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Biwa

Often used to accompany epic narratives
Narrators of ancient tales used the biwa as their accompaniment.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Shamisen

Integral to Japanese folk music
Folk tales often feature the shamisen.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Biwa

Instrument with four to five strings
The biwa has more strings than a shamisen.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Shamisen

A traditional Japanese stringed instrument
The melody of the shamisen wafted through the festival.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Biwa

Associated with traditional Japanese culture
The biwa is deeply rooted in Japan’s cultural heritage.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Shamisen

Instrument used in kabuki theatre
A shamisen player accompanied the actors.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Biwa

A Japanese lute used in classical music
The biwa's resonant tones filled the concert hall.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Shamisen

The shamisen (三味線), also known as the sangen (三絃) or samisen (all meaning "three strings"), is a three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument derived from the Chinese instrument sanxian. It is played with a plectrum called a bachi.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jan 14, 2022

Biwa

The biwa (Japanese: 琵琶) is a Japanese short-necked wooden lute traditionally used in narrative storytelling. The biwa is a plucked string instrument that first gained popularity in China before spreading throughout East Asia, eventually reaching Japan sometime during the Nara period (710-794).
Tayyaba Rehman
Jan 14, 2022

Shamisen

A Japanese musical instrument resembling a lute, having a very long neck and three strings played with a plectrum.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jan 14, 2022

Biwa

A plucked lute, originating in the classical and traditional music of Japan, characterized by a pear-shaped body and four or five high frets, giving the instrument a distinctively twangy tone.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jan 14, 2022

Shamisen

(musical instrument) A kind of three-stringed Japanese fretless lute.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jan 14, 2022

Shamisen

A Japanese stringed instrument resembling a banjo with a long neck and three strings and a fretted fingerboard and a rectangular soundbox; played with a plectrum
Tayyaba Rehman
Jan 14, 2022

Common Curiosities

How is the sound of a shamisen distinctive?

The shamisen has a sharp, twangy sound due to its taut, skin-covered body and three strings.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

What is a biwa?

A biwa is a Japanese lute with four to five strings, used in traditional music and storytelling.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

What kind of music is the biwa associated with?

The biwa is often associated with narrative storytelling, particularly the epic "The Tale of the Heike."
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Are shamisen strings made from silk?

Traditional shamisen strings were made from silk, but modern ones can be made from nylon or other materials.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Can a beginner learn the shamisen?

Yes, beginners can learn the shamisen, but it requires practice to master its unique playing techniques.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Is the shamisen played solo or in ensembles?

The shamisen can be played both as a solo instrument and in ensembles.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Are there different types of shamisen?

Yes, there are several types of shamisen, varying in size and associated with different musical genres.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Is it difficult to maintain a biwa?

The biwa requires regular maintenance, such as tuning and taking care of its wooden body.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

What is a shamisen?

A shamisen is a three-stringed Japanese instrument, traditionally played with a plectrum called a bachi.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Is the biwa fretted?

Yes, the biwa has frets along its neck which allow for a variety of pitches.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Do shamisen and biwa music require vocal accompaniment?

Both instruments can be accompanied by vocals but are also played instrumentally.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

What is the biwa's role in Japanese culture?

The biwa holds a significant role in Japanese culture as a bearer of history and storytelling.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

What is the main playing technique for the biwa?

The biwa is played with a plectrum, striking or plucking the strings and using the frets for melodic expression.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

How is the bachi for the biwa different from the shamisen's?

The biwa's bachi is often larger and has a more triangular shape compared to the shamisen's bachi.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

How has the shamisen's popularity evolved?

The shamisen has become more internationally recognized, often featured in fusion and contemporary music genres.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 03, 2023

Share Your Discovery

Share via Social Media
Embed This Content
Embed Code
Share Directly via Messenger
Link
Previous Comparison
Tomato vs. Tornado
Next Comparison
Drunk vs. Sot

Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

Popular Comparisons

Featured Comparisons

Trending Comparisons

New Comparisons

Trending Terms