The samisen is early taught. Girls of seven or thereabouts are made to learn it while their fingers are still very pliant. But the lessons are hard to learn as the tunes have to be committed to memory, for there are no scores to refer to. There is no popular method of notation; the marks which are sometimes to be seen in song-books are too few to be of use to any but skilled musicians.
The lighter samisen does not require much exertion to play; women can thrum it for hours on end; and they make slight indentations on the nails of the middle and ring fingers of the left hand for catching the strings when those fingers are moved up and down the neck to stop them. But with the heavier kind the indentations are deeper, and the constant friction of the strings hardens the finger-tips and often breaks the nails, while still worse is the condition of the right hand which holds the plectrum.
The plectrum, the striking end of which is flat as in the one for the slender-necked samisen, is heavily leaded and weighs from twelve ounces to a pound when used by professionals; and the handle, which is square, is held between the ring and little fingers for leverage and worked with the thumb and the forefinger.