Difference Between
versus

Shamisen vs. Biwa: Know the Difference

Hifza Nasir
By Hifza Nasir & Shumaila Saeed || Published on June 21, 2024
The shamisen is a three-stringed Japanese instrument played with a plectrum, known for its sharp, percussive sound, while the biwa is a pear-shaped, lute-like instrument with four to five strings, producing a deeper, more resonant tone.
Shamisen vs. Biwa

Key Differences

The shamisen, a traditional Japanese instrument, features three strings stretched over a long, fretless neck and a square or rectangular body covered with skin, similar to that of a banjo. Players use a large plectrum called a bachi to strike the strings, creating a distinctive, twangy sound that is both percussive and melodic. On the other hand, the biwa is characterized by its pear-shaped body, short neck, and four to five strings, played with a plectrum, producing a deep, rich sound. The biwa's body is also covered with skin, and it has frets, which allow for more varied tonal expressions.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Jun 21, 2024
While the shamisen is often associated with various forms of Japanese traditional music and theater, such as kabuki and bunraku, its versatility has also led to its use in contemporary music genres. The instrument is celebrated for its expressive range, capable of conveying a wide array of emotions. Conversely, the biwa has a strong association with narrative storytelling, particularly the epic tales of the Heike Monogatari, where it accompanies vocal performances. The biwa is revered for its evocative sound, capable of creating an immersive storytelling atmosphere.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Jun 21, 2024
The shamisen's body, made from different types of wood or sometimes other materials, is distinctively covered on both sides by cat or dog skin, contributing to its unique sound quality. The skin's tension can be adjusted to change the instrument's tone. Whereas the biwa's body is traditionally made from mulberry or other hardwoods and covered with cat or dog skin on the front side only, this construction gives the biwa a sonorous quality that is deeply resonant and melodic.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Jun 21, 2024
Regarding playing technique, shamisen players often utilize a variety of striking methods, including rapid strumming and percussive tapping on the body, to create a diverse range of sounds. In contrast, biwa players use a combination of plucking and strumming, with the plectrum often striking against the strings and body for rhythmic emphasis. The biwa's frets enable precise melodic control, allowing for intricate musical expressions.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Jun 21, 2024
Despite their differences, both instruments hold significant cultural importance in Japan, symbolizing the country's rich musical heritage. The shamisen and the biwa each offer unique auditory experiences, reflecting the complexity and depth of Japanese traditional music and storytelling.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Jun 21, 2024
ADVERTISEMENT

Comparison Chart

Shape

Long, fretless neck with a square or rectangular body.
Pear-shaped body with a short neck.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Jun 21, 2024

Strings

Three strings.
Four to five strings.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Jun 21, 2024

Sound Production

Played with a large plectrum (bachi), producing a sharp, percussive sound.
Played with a plectrum, producing a deep, resonant tone.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Jun 21, 2024

Material

Body often covered with cat or dog skin; made of wood or other materials.
Body made from mulberry or other hardwoods, covered with skin on the front.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Jun 21, 2024

Use

Associated with kabuki, bunraku, and contemporary music.
Strongly associated with narrative storytelling and epic tales.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Jun 21, 2024
ADVERTISEMENT

Shamisen and Biwa Definitions

Shamisen

Used in traditional and contemporary Japanese music.
The fusion band incorporated the shamisen to add a traditional touch to their sound.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 05, 2024

Biwa

Often associated with storytelling and epic narratives.
She accompanied the ancient tale with her expressive biwa playing.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 05, 2024

Shamisen

A three-stringed Japanese instrument with a distinctive.twangy sound.
The shamisen player captivated the audience with her skillful performance.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 05, 2024

Biwa

Has a body covered with skin on the front side.
The carefully crafted biwa resonated beautifully in the intimate setting.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 05, 2024

Shamisen

Features a square or rectangular body covered with skin.
The shamisen's resonant body amplified its unique sound.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 05, 2024
ADVERTISEMENT

Biwa

Played with a plectrum.featuring four to five strings.
The biwa player's deft fingers moved smoothly over the strings.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 05, 2024

Shamisen

Emphasizes percussive and melodic techniques.
The musician's rapid shamisen strumming filled the room with rhythm.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Mar 05, 2024

Biwa

A pear-shaped.lute-like Japanese instrument with a deep.melodic tone.
The biwa's rich sound added depth to the traditional performance.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 05, 2024

Shamisen

Played with a large plectrum called a bachi.
He held the bachi firmly as he struck the shamisen's strings.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 05, 2024

Biwa

Utilizes plucking and strumming, with precise melodic control.
The intricate melodies he played on the biwa were mesmerizing.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 05, 2024

Shamisen

A Japanese musical instrument resembling a lute, having a very long neck and three strings played with a plectrum.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 05, 2024

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.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 05, 2024

Shamisen

(musical instrument) A kind of three-stringed Japanese fretless lute.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 05, 2024

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
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 05, 2024

Repeatedly Asked Queries

What are the physical characteristics of a shamisen?

The shamisen has a long, fretless neck, a square or rectangular body covered with skin, and three strings.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Jun 21, 2024

What distinguishes the sound of a biwa?

The biwa produces a deep, resonant tone, ideal for accompanying narratives and creating atmospheric music.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Jun 21, 2024

How is the shamisen played?

The shamisen is played with a large plectrum called a bachi, using techniques that include striking, strumming, and tapping.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Jun 21, 2024

What materials are used to make these instruments?

Shamisen bodies are often made of wood and covered with cat or dog skin, while biwas are typically made from hardwoods like mulberry and similarly covered with skin.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Jun 21, 2024

How important are these instruments in Japanese culture?

Both instruments are highly regarded in Japanese culture, representing centuries of musical tradition and storytelling.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Jun 21, 2024

What kind of music is the shamisen used for?

The shamisen is used in traditional Japanese music, theater (such as kabuki and bunraku), and contemporary genres.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Jun 21, 2024

Can the biwa be used in modern music?

While traditionally used for storytelling and classical music, the biwa can also be incorporated into modern music compositions.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Jun 21, 2024

Are shamisen and biwa easy to learn for beginners?

Both instruments require dedicated practice to master, with the shamisen's percussive style and the biwa's melodic control posing unique challenges.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Jun 21, 2024

Can the shamisen and biwa be played solo or in ensembles?

Both instruments are versatile and can be played solo or as part of an ensemble, depending on the musical context.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Jun 21, 2024

How does the biwa's design contribute to its sound?

The biwa's pear-shaped body and skin-covered front, along with its frets, contribute to its rich, melodic sound.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Jun 21, 2024

What is the historical significance of the biwa?

The biwa has a long history in Japan, closely associated with the narration of epic tales and court music.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Jun 21, 2024

Share this page

Link for your blog / website
HTML
Link to share via messenger
About Author
Hifza Nasir
Written by
Hifza Nasir
Shumaila Saeed
Co-written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

Popular Comparisons

Trending Comparisons

Poster vs. InfographicPoster vs. Infographic
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
December 25, 2023
A Poster is a large printed image or notice for public display, while an Infographic is a visual representation of information or data.
FPTP vs. PRFPTP vs. PR
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
February 16, 2024
FPTP (First Past the Post) is a simple plurality voting system where the candidate with most votes wins; PR (Proportional Representation) allocates seats based on the proportion of votes each party receives.
Japanese Eyes vs. Chinese EyesJapanese Eyes vs. Chinese Eyes
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
December 25, 2023
Japanese Eyes and Chinese Eyes refer to linguistic structures in Japanese and Chinese respectively, each reflecting unique aspects of grammar and syntax.
Login vs. LogonLogin vs. Logon
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
December 25, 2023
"Login" and "Logon" are often used interchangeably to describe the process of gaining access to a computer system, but "login" can also refer to the credentials used for access.
2 Pole Motors vs. 4 Pole Motors2 Pole Motors vs. 4 Pole Motors
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
December 25, 2023
2 Pole Motors have one pair of magnetic poles and run at higher speeds, while 4 Pole Motors have two pairs of poles and operate at lower speeds, offering higher torque.
Pulley vs. SheavePulley vs. Sheave
Hifza NasirHifza Nasir
April 4, 2024
A pulley is a wheel on an axle designed to support movement and change of direction of a taut cable, while a sheave is the wheel part of a pulley system that specifically interacts with the cable.
Poem vs. PoetryPoem vs. Poetry
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
December 25, 2023
A poem is a piece of writing that expresses ideas and emotions with a distinctive style and rhythm; poetry is the art form of writing such pieces.
Nuclear Family vs. Joint FamilyNuclear Family vs. Joint Family
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
January 9, 2024
Nuclear Family is a family unit consisting of parents and their children. Joint Family is a larger family structure comprising parents, children, and other relatives living together.
NM3 vs. M3NM3 vs. M3
Hifza NasirHifza Nasir
April 19, 2024
NM3 measures gas volume under Normal conditions (0°C and 1.01325 bar), while M3 measures volume under the conditions at which it is measured, without standard adjustment.
Vital Proteins Collagen vs. OrganikaVital Proteins Collagen vs. Organika
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
February 9, 2024
Vital Proteins Collagen is a brand offering collagen supplements for health and beauty, while Organika is a broader health and wellness brand with diverse products including collagen.
Pycharm Community vs. Pycharm ProPycharm Community vs. Pycharm Pro
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
February 4, 2024
PyCharm Community is a free, open-source IDE for Python development, while PyCharm Pro is a paid version with additional advanced features like web development support and database tools.
Slazenger Logo vs. Puma LogoSlazenger Logo vs. Puma Logo
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
February 15, 2024
The Slazenger logo features a panther, symbolizing agility and tradition, while the Puma logo depicts a leaping puma, representing speed and strength.
Gorilla Glass 3 vs. Gorilla Glass 5Gorilla Glass 3 vs. Gorilla Glass 5
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
January 1, 2024
Gorilla Glass 3 offers improved scratch resistance and durability compared to its predecessors, while Gorilla Glass 5 focuses on enhanced drop protection and toughness.
Catapult vs. TrebuchetCatapult vs. Trebuchet
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
January 4, 2024
A catapult is a ballistic device using tension or torsion to launch projectiles, while a trebuchet is a type of catapult using a counterweight for greater force and distance.
Data Roaming vs. Cellular DataData Roaming vs. Cellular Data
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
December 25, 2023
Data Roaming allows usage of mobile network services outside of the home network area, while Cellular Data is using mobile services within the home network.
Fluid vs. LiquidFluid vs. Liquid
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
February 13, 2024
Fluids encompass all substances that flow (including gases and liquids), while liquids specifically refer to fluids with a definite volume but no fixed shape, adapting to their container.
DDR3 vs. DDR3LDDR3 vs. DDR3L
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
January 29, 2024
DDR3 is a type of RAM with standard voltage (1.5V), while DDR3L is a low voltage variant (1.35V) compatible with both 1.5V and 1.35V slots.
Pebble vs. StonePebble vs. Stone
Dua FatimaDua Fatima
May 30, 2024
A pebble is a small, smooth rock worn by water or weather, typically found on beaches or rivers, while a stone is a larger, more varied rock that can be rough or smooth, used in construction or as a tool.
Explain vs. DefineExplain vs. Define
Dua FatimaDua Fatima
June 22, 2024
Explaining involves detailing or clarifying a concept, often including context and examples, whereas defining means stating the exact meaning of a word or phrase, typically in a concise manner.
PPM vs. PPMVPPM vs. PPMV
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
February 10, 2024
PPM (parts per million) measures the concentration of one substance within a million parts of another. PPMV (parts per million by volume) expresses gas concentration as volume per million volumes of air.
5'11" vs. 6'0"5’11” vs. 6’0″
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
February 4, 2024
The difference between 5'11" and 6'0" is one inch, with 5'11" being 71 inches and 6'0" being 72 inches tall.
NDM vs. FTPNDM vs. FTP
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
February 15, 2024
NDM (Network Data Mover) automates and secures data transfers across networks, while FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is a standard network protocol for transferring files between computers.
Crane vs. HeronCrane vs. Heron
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
June 24, 2024
Cranes are large, long-legged and long-necked birds known for their elaborate dances, while herons are typically more solitary, stealth hunters with a distinctive S-shaped neck.
Traditional Trade vs. Modern TradeTraditional Trade vs. Modern Trade
Shumaila SaeedShumaila Saeed
December 25, 2023
Traditional trade involves local, small-scale, often personalized commerce; modern trade is characterized by large-scale, technology-driven, and impersonal retail environments.

Featured Comparisons

New Comparisons