Have you ever wondered what instruments are used in anime music? In this blog post, I will be going over a few different instruments and how they are used.
Anime is a Japanese animation style that has been around since the late 20th century. It typically features stories about people fighting to defend their homeland or against an impending world disaster.
Anime often contains intense visuals, exaggerated physical reactions, and extreme close-ups of faces with enormous eyes. The soundtracks for these productions can vary from lighthearted comedy to intense drama, but one thing remains constant: the use of Japanese traditional music in all styles of production.
Table of Contents
- What Instruments Are Used in Anime Music? The Rundown
- What Are Some Examples of Biwa Use in Anime?
- What Is the Sanshin Instrument?
- Anime with Sanshin:
What Instruments Are Used in Anime Music? The Rundown
What Is the Biwa?
The biwa is a very special instrument that comes from a variety of parts of the world, but in its home country Japan, it’s common to refer to an actual “biwa” as bei-ga. Bei-ga literally translates as the “beautiful sound” and by sounding out this word in an effortful, drawn-out fashion (bee-wee), it makes sense. The Japanese see the sound of this instrument as one that carries luck into their lives and brings peace and joy.
Played with decent technique it has a well-rounded tone. It is tuned to A, C, E, A or A, C(sharp), E, A.
The sound of the biwa is a very versatile one and it can be easily played in an emotive style.
The sound is very mellow and calming, often used in anime to convey a sense of peacefulness.
The biwa has four strings and is played with a plectrum. The body of the biwa is quite large and the instrument is held between the player’s legs or on the lap. The strings are plucked with the right hand, while the left-hand covers the soundhole with the palm to bring in the desired sound.
The instrument has a neck with tuning pegs and is often played with wooden plectrums. When not being used, it can be stood upright on its four legs or hung from the wall by a piece of silk.
What Are Some Examples of Biwa Use in Anime?
In the Studio Ghibli film “Spirited Away”, the biwa features prominently in the soundtrack and is used to convey feelings of sadness, nostalgia and longing.
In the popular anime series Naruto, the sound of the biwa often signifies moments of peace or contemplation.
More recently, in the critically acclaimed anime film Your Name., the biwa is once again used to create a very serene and nostalgic mood.
What Is the Shamisen?
The shamisen is one of the more recognizable of obscure Japanese instruments used in the music we hear in anime. It is a three-stringed lute that often has a snake or dragon carved into the body. The shamisen is played with a plectrum and is used to create a wide range of sounds, from percussive beats to delicate melodies.
The shamisen originated in Okinawa and was brought to Japan in the 16th century. It is often used in traditional Japanese music, but can also be heard in modern anime tracks.
How Does the Shamisen Sound?
Shamisen is often used in Kyōgen, a traditional form of Japanese theatre. A shamisen can be used to create a wide range of sounds, from mellow and melancholic tones to bright and cheerful melodies. They are often used to accompany singing or storytelling and can be used to create both background music and solo pieces.
What is the Koto Instrument?
The koto is a sizeable instrument that features thirteen strings. This instrument is approximately 160 centimeters long and about twenty centimeters wide.
The koto can even be as long as 200 centimeters. This instrument’s face is curved and musicians adjust the pitch by moving the bridges that are placed under the strings.
To play this beautiful instrument, musicians wear finger picks and pluck the strings. The finger picks for the koto are very similar to the guitar, but they are worn differently.
Musicians use their left hand to suppress the strings and create beautiful music.
What Does the Koto Instrument Sound Like?
The koto is a very traditional Japanese instrument that is often used in classical music. This instrument has a mellow sound that can be both soothing and calming. The koto can also create bright and cheerful melodies, making it a versatile option for anime music. This instrument is often used to accompany singing or storytelling, making it the perfect choice for anime music.
What Is the Taiko Instrument
The taiko is a Japanese drum. This percussion instrument comes in many different shapes, sizes, and types. The sound it produces is characterized by its loud bass tone. The presence of four slits on the body of the drum changes the pitch of the noise created when you beat it. You can alter these tones with precise movements to create an array of different sounds.
Taiko is an integral part of Japan’s history. It has been played at festivals, court performances, and even in battle. The invention of the instrument is quite unclear, some say the taiko drum was invented by Buddhist priests to use in rituals. But it quickly became a popular instrument with the common people who used it for parties, celebrations, and other occasions.
When it comes to instruments used in anime music, it is clear that taiko drums are the most popular and the sound is instantly recognizable. These large drums can be heard in many different anime soundtracks and shows.
What Is the Sanshin Instrument?
The sanshin is a three-stringed instrument that has strings that are made of silk, nylon, or metal. It can be played with both hands on the neck of the instrument while another hand is used to pluck the strings. The sanshin was generally reserved for special occasions or ceremonies in Okinawa where it is still performed today.
How is the Sanshin Used in Anime?
In anime, Sanshin is usually played when a character from Okinawa appears or during scenes that depict traditional Okinawan culture. In anime, they tend to play uplifting songs with a quick tempo that can add energy and excitement to scenes.
Sanshin has been used in both children’s shows and adult shows, making it a versatile instrument that can be used in many different genres of anime.
Anime with Sanshin:
1.) Children’s Anime
In the children’s show Himitsu no Cocotama, a Sanshin is seen hanging on one of the walls in Kohina’s house while she was packing her things to leave for school.
In the show GeGeGe no Kitaro, an episode called “The Yōkai Mountain” features a Sanshin being played by a yōkai named Kamaitachi.
2.) Adult Anime
In the adult anime show Naruto Shippuden, an episode called “The Two Saviours” features a Sanshin being played by an Okinawan woman.
In the adult anime show Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club, the third episode shows an Okinawan woman playing a Sanshin while some of her friends play taiko drums and dance along to traditional music.
3) Mixed Anime
For example in the children’s anime show Inazuma Eleven, a Sanshin is played by the character Endou Tatsuya from Okinawa. The episode in which he appears is called “Takeshi Returns”.
In the anime Yuru Camp, there are several scenes where a Sanshin is played in the background.
What Is the Shakuhachi Instrument?
The Shakuhachi is a traditional Japanese bamboo flute. The sound is VERY recognizeable. It is made from a single piece of bamboo and has five finger holes and one thumb hole.
The Shakuhachi is played by blowing into the mouthpiece and creating different notes by changing the length of the pipe. When it is played, the instrument produces a haunting, melancholy sound.