Tuning Your Sanshin

Looks like there are still a lot of you who are finding us through a search for learning to tune your sanshin. We posted an entry about a neat little freeware app called Sankichi-kun at the beginning of the month. The only thing is that the app is in Japanese so here’s a quickie explanation chart for the app (note that you’re looking at the Mac OS X version).

Sankichi-kun English Explanation Chart
  1. Tuning for Sankichi-kun is in the key of C which may be a tad too high of a pitch for most people. I usually practice in C but we’ll often perform in B and sometimes lower (A#, A) for female singers. This is the default, or “honchoushi”, tuning for sanshin.
  2. Click on this karakui to tune in “ni-agi” (ni-age in Japanese language), the raising of your 2nd (middle, nakajiru) string. You’ll find this particular type of tuning on koten ongaku (classical music) songs.
  3. Click on this karakui to tune in “san-sagi” (san-sage in Japanese language), the lowering of your 3rd (bottom, miijiru) string. We use this a lot on minyou (folk, shima uta) songs.
  4. This area indicates the current tuning (i.e., honchoushi, ni-agi, san-sagi) you’re in.
  5. This is the uujiru, or top string.
  6. This is the nakajiru, or middle string.
  7. This is the miijiru, or bottom string.
  8. This is a view of the available notes you can fool around with. For tuning purposes, you’ll be clicking on the notes at the top (合 ai, 四 shi, 工 kou) which are your open strings. With these notes, you can play “Asadoya Yunta” among other songs. Pretty neat. 🙂
  9. These buttons at the bottom of Sankichi-kun are extras. Clicking the one on the left-hand side will “take you to the beach” and clicking it again will “take you back home”. The button in the middle will quit the app. The pull-down button on the right-hand side has pre-set tunes you can practice with or just enjoy listening to.

This basically explains Sankichi-kun but if you have any other questions feel free to email me at karakuipress[at]gmail[dot]com or leave a comment on this post. Maybe I’ll upload a video of my tuning of the sanshin in the near future. 😉

Tuners for the sanshin.

Here’s additional information on gear you can use to help with your sanshin tuning.

  1. AW-1 Micro Tuner from Korg — all the cool kids are using it.
  2. TU-12 Chromatic Tuner from BOSS — the ol’ standby which I’ve owned for over 15 years but used mostly for guitar/bass tuning.
  3. Pitch Instrument (P-13E) from Tombo — your grandfather’s father’s tuner! Durable, easy to carry around in your pocket.
  4. iPod from Apple — Me? An Apple fanboy? It’s possible to make an audio file of different pitches and have it on the ready in your iPod. Yes, really. 😉
Korg Micro Tuner on a sanshin.

A reference pic for those who may be wondering what that thing (it’s the AW-1 Micro Tuner from Korg) is on the ‘ten’ of a person’s sanshin. Now you know. 🙂


We’ve been receiving a lot of requests for a video tutorial on tuning your sanshin so here it is: Tuning your sanshin, Part 1.

Download a higher quality of it at Revver.


  1. I received a sanshin for my inlaws of Okinawa. I am trying to read your notes et to understand but it is a bit difficult as I am not a musician and as I usually learn more easily by earing or following others. Would you email me you video

    thank you

  2. Is the AW-1 micro tuner from Korg available locally (in Honolulu)?

  3. Thank you very much : it is much clear. for me now. I bought a tuning machine and it works. The major problem I have is that when my sanchin is tuned it doesnt stay because it is hard to keep the karakui in place in a whole. I just have to touch de karakui and the tuning is gone because the cords don t stay in the whole: so I always have to push the karakui in the whole at the same time I am tuning the cord because it is not stable. It is normal. Or do I have to do something to make the karakui stayed the way I place it. I wish you understand me as I am french and english is not my normal language.
    thank you.
    I wish that you place a video on the web that shows how to tune and how to learn the basic for playing sanchin
    thank you for everything

  4. @Lise Fecteau: Thank you for the comment. Having an instructional video on tuning the sanshin is definitely something that’s in-the-works here at Karakui.com. Since I don’t own a video camera, I’m experimenting with my MacBook’s built-in iSight camera and either iMovie or QuickTime. Hope to have something up in a month or less if I feel confident about the result.

  5. I live in the USA and I was wondering where I could purchase the Pitch Instrument (P-13E) from Tombo here. Any information would be helpful.

    Thank you,
    Dianne Goldrick

  6. Awesome site, trying to learn the sanshin myself. But I’m having a hard time becuase I’m not very musically inclined. Anyone know of any good sanshin guides for beginners that is also in english?

  7. @Steve: Thank you for the comment. There’s a lack of information in English for learning the sanshin as much of it has been passed directly from teacher to student (at least in Hawaii). I’m planning (it’s been on my to-do list) to get a website out with English tutorials for the sanshin but for now, feel free to pick my brain if you have any questions.

  8. This is a great site. I was wondering if you knew anywere (site or otherwise) I could get some tabs for my sanshin. I’m teaching myself, but it’s been going pretty slowly.

  9. Richard,

    I still remember the first time we took lesson from Shinsato sensei. Now you’re a sensei. I also took lesson from Derek Shiroma and I enjoyed Minyo music.

    Do you give lesson? I like to learn just one song ASATOYA – YUNTA. I’ve been with the Paranku club for 20 years and we always dance to that song.

    I would appreciate your reply. thank you, mavis

    Would appreciate your reply.

    Mavis Yamada

  10. @MAVIS YAMADA: Haisai!

    I’m no longer affiliated with any groups and am taking a break from Okinawan music. Derek Shiroma-sensei is an awesome person to learn sanshin from and you should definitely learn from him if possible.

    For now, I’m content in keeping my sanshin activities online. 🙂 If you have any questions about anything let me know.

    Take care,

  11. Haitai!

    One Okinawian friend sent me a sanshin which has the FCF tone. Now I am trying to tune it, but I couldnt manage. How can I find the tone?

    Can anyone help me please?


  12. Hey Richie,

    I was wondering if you can answer this question in regard to my Sanshin.

    When I hold my Sanshin in playing position, I notice that the sou (neck) jiggles lightly. It stops doing so as soon as I tune it.

    Is this a bad thing? I hope this isnt the end of my Sanshin.


  13. @kuu: Hmm. I wish I could take a look at your sanshin to determine what the problem is. Have you tried taking it apart? Could be that the himo that keeps the tiiga tied to the chiiga is partially on the sou? If you can provide a video that will be most helpful too.

  14. Is it alright to take the sanshin apart? I hope It wont damage it or affect the sound. Is it easy to take it apart and put it back in?

    I am unsure as to what the himo is. I can try and take a short video or some kind of picture of it. I dont think that the tiiga is partially on the sou.

    It is just that when it is untune and put it into playing position, that is when it starts. When I tune it, I dont have that problem.

    Now that I remember, when I first got my sanshin, I felt the Sou “sink” or go down a little and I thought it was going to come apart but it didnt. The sound is great though.


  15. You know, now that I think about it, the sou is a bit standing upon the chiga and leaves just a small, tiny gap in between it. I dont know if that could be it to what you are referring to.

    Sorry to have excluded this in the earlier message.

    Thanks again!

  16. @Kuu: I think it’s that tiny gap between the chiga and sou. What you can try doing is pushing the sou in towards the chiga so that it’s flush. And, it’s ok to take apart a sanshin. Taking it apart is a good way to look at the sou too. I’ll post photos (or video) of taking apart a sanshin later.

  17. I am glad to find your site and the video on how to tune the samisen. I had some few lesson many years ago. I am back in the US and brought my samisen with me but have not played it because I did not learn how to tune.

  18. There is app for tuning…Cleartune 3.99US works great.

    I need the fingering chart for the 12 note finger exercise… Does anyone have it?

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