App Review: iSanshin (i三線) for iPhone & iPod touch

We introduced two iPhone/iPod touch apps on December 20, 2009, and both developers were kind enough to provide us with a demo of their app.

The first app we’re going to look at is called iSanshin (i三線) from Pawana LLC. iSanshin sells for U.S. $1.99 and is currently at version 1.1. (iTunes Link)

Upon launching iSanshin, you’re greeted with the splash screen (三線 = sanshin).


When the app has completed loading you’ll find the main screen where you can get started with playing the virtual sanshin. Let’s take a look at the main screen to get acquainted with the app.

  1. This is the area where you will pluck/strum the iSanshin strings.
  2. The note is highlighted in blue because we’re in song mode (“Asadoya Yunta” by default) and correspond to the notes directly below it. Mainly, this area represents the sou, or the neck of the sanshin where all of its notes are.
  3. In song mode, this line of notes corresponds to the notes of the song you’ve set to play along with. It’s a great tool to learn to play along with a song you’ve selected as iSanshin will highlight the notes needed to play — kind of like karaoke but for your fingers.
  4. This is the ‘settings’ icon. (More on this down below.)
  5. This is the ‘play’ and ‘rewind’ controls. Selecting ‘play’ will start the song so you can listen to it before playing along in song mode. Selecting ‘rewind’ will take you back to the beginning of the song.
  6. The title of the current song you’ve selected.
  7. The tuning of the song you’ve selected.

Next, let’s look at iSanshin’s settings. Upon selecting the ‘settings’ icon, you’ll see the selections appear on the top of the screen.


  1. The ‘Songs’ settings in iSanshin show how the app can be a great learning tool for beginners of the sanshin. Songs featured in the app are (as of version 1.1):


    Asadoya Yunta,
    Tukinu Kaisya,
    19 no haru,

  2. The ‘Tuning’ settings in iSanshin features every tuning imaginable from ‘Custom,’ ‘Hontyoushi,’ (standard tuning) ‘2age,’ (2nd string raised) ‘3sage,’ (3rd string lowered) and ’12Age.’ (1st and 2nd strings raised). In the image below, the sanshin is currently tuned to ‘C’ 2-agi: C-G-C. Using the red or blue buttons, you can raise or lower the sanshin’s pitch to, say, B-E-B (or ‘B’ honchoushi). One thing I found a bit frustrating was that the app automatically resets to ‘C.’ It would be great to see an update where you can set it to ‘B’ and be able to switch between the different sanshin tunings.


  3. The ‘Settings’ in iSanshin’s settings let you tweak the main window of the app.


    ‘Sanshin Position’ lets you switch to having the menu on the right or left side.

    ‘Postion Mark’ gives you an option of ‘Kukushi’ [sic], ‘sol-fa,’ (see below image) or ‘None.’ By default, the app is set to kunkunshi.


    ‘Device Orientation’ has three options to choose from: ‘LandscapeLeft’ (default), ‘LandscapeRight,’ and ‘Portrait’ (see below image).


    ‘Ajust [sic] Sanshin Width’ (see below image) lets you customize the main window’s length and width. Great for those with larger fingers.


    The final setting is ‘SnapToNote’ which, honestly, I couldn’t find a use for. It sounds like it should snap to the closest note if you accidentally hit another one but it didn’t work that way.

When Apple opened its App Store, I either thought I’d have to somehow develop my own virutal sanshin app or hopefully someone else would release one. Well, we now have two apps1 available to us — both for a very reasonable price of U.S. $1.99. Currently at version 1.1, there’s still a lot of room for improvement which I hope we’ll see in consequent updates to the app. I recommend downloading the app and contacting the developer if there are any features you’d like to see in future updates. Errors in Rōmaji and spelling aside, I give props to the developer for making an English localization of the app.


  • Song mode with playback and lyrics is a great tool to learn songs
  • Realistic sound


  • Rōmaji (e.g. ‘kukushi’ should be normally written as kunkunshi) and spelling errors (e.g. ‘Ajust’ should be adjust) for the English version
  • Tuning should be able to adjust to whichever note you set it to (e.g. if set to ‘B-E-B,’ selecting ‘Hontyoushi’ should keep you in the pitch of ‘B’ instead of reverting back to ‘C-F-C’)

(Clip via PawanaLLC’s Channel)

1 The second app we’ll look at in a future post is Sanshin from Crimson Technology which, like iSanshin, is currently at version 1.1 and is priced at U.S. $1.99. (iTunes Link)

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