Shamisen, Japanese plucked lute, originally used by street singers and by geishas, a traditional class of professional female musicians in Japan. The shamisen has a small rectangular body with rounded sides, a long, slender neck without frets (small strips which mark string positions), and three silk or nylon strings tuned in intervals of fourths or fifths by means of ivory pegs. Both sides of the body are traditionally covered in catskin and the instrument is played with a large axe-shaped plectrum, or pick. The shamisen, constructed in sections so that it can be taken apart for transport, was traditionally used to accompany storytelling, including the Japanese puppet theater. It was also used for long lyrical songs (nagauta) which formed part of 19th-century kabuki dramas. In the 19th century, the shamisen also began to be used as a concert instrument, with composers writing for both the solo shamisen and for ensembles of traditional Japanese instruments which include it.
Sahnai (also sanai, shahnai, shehnai), Indian double-reeded wind instrumentsimilar to the Western oboe. The name sahnai is of Persian origin, and some theorize that the instrument may have been taken to India from Persia by the Mughals, a tribe of Mongolian origin, which occupied much of northern India from the 16th century to the 18th century. Others believe the sahnai may have developed from an earlier Indian instrument.
The sahnai has a wooden tubular body of about 45 to 60 cm in length, backed by metal, ending in a wider bell shape. Of its eight or nine holes, only seven are used for playing; the others are left open or are closed with wax to define the pitch of the instrument. The method of playing the sahnai is complex and strenuous, involving the partial closing of the holes to create semitones and quartertones, and requiring considerable lung capacity and breath control.
The sahnai produces a rich, expressive sound, with the characteristic timbre of the reed. It is considered to be an auspicious instrument and is used in celebrations and festivals, particularly at weddings. It is often paired with a shruti, a sahnai with several closed holes, with the shruti supplying a droneat a suitable pitch.
Closely related to the sahnai is the nagasvaram of South India, which is also double-reeded but longer at 60 to 76 cm (2 to 2.5 ft). The nagasvaram has 12 holes, of which 7 are used for playing, and the body ends in a metal bell. It produces a higher-pitched, sharper sound than the sahnai, and is usually only performed outdoors. Also considered auspicious, the nagasvaram is frequently played at temple festivals and processions, and on ceremonial occasions.
Bagpipe, musical instrument in which wind is supplied to one or more reed-sounded pipes from a bag inflated by the performer, either through a blowpipe or by a bellows. Because the wind supply is continuous, the sounding pipes normally cannot be silent, and repeated melody notes must be articulated by inserting grace notesbetween them. The simplest bagpipes have a cane pipe with a single reed cut in the side; often two parallel pipes are present, one a chanter (melody pipe) and the other a drone (harmony pipe). Bagpipes were generally known in Europe and western Asia by the time of the Roman Empire (from about the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD), often as shepherds' instruments. Single-reed cylindrical chanters and drones remain typical of western Asian and North African bagpipes and of such Eastern European bagpipes as the Bulgarian gaida. Western European bagpipes, such as the Spanish gaita gallega and the Breton biniou, developed as double-reed chanters of conical bore, but typically retained cylindrical, single-reed drones. Most can play a scale of nine notes.
The earliest surviving Scottish Highland pipe dates from 1409. Except that it lacks a bass drone, it resembles the present-day Highland pipe, which has a conical-bore, double-reed chanter with eight finger holes, and three drones (two tenors and a bass tuned an octave lower). The Irish union pipe, or uillean pipe, is a complicated bellows-blown instrument with a conical double-reed chanter, usually with nine closed keys. The open bottom of the chanter rests on the player's knee. When all the keys are closed, the sound stops; when the chanter is lifted off the knee, the chanter overblows to a higher octave. In addition to its three cylindrical single-reed drones, it has three “regulators”: conical double-reed pipes that produce chords when their heavy keys are opened with the edge of the player's right hand.
The bellows-blown Northumbrian small-pipe has seven closed keys on a cylindrical double-reed chanter closed at the bottom, thus permitting silences. Only three of its four cylindrical single-reed drones are played at one time (each has a shutoff valve). Its probable ancestor, the courtly musette of 17th- and 18th-century France, usually had two cylindrical double-reed chanters (the second provided higher pitches). Its four cylindrical double-reed drones were bored in a single chubby pipe. The south Italian zampogna has two chanters and two drones, all double reed.
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