Lesson #28 with Chikuzen

Yeah, lesson got postponed all the way to today (or rather yesterday).

The lesson today was on Murasaki Reiho, which is not in my repertoire book, so Michael sent the score as two JPEG files accompanied by an MP3 file of a recording.

From what I see, I definitely need to work on:

  • Timing. I need to be more mindful about whether a note is one beat, two beats, etc.
  • Pitch. A great deal of this is remembering the techniques to be on pitch when coming from another note. Another aspect of this is exaggerating the movements needed.
  • Air speed. Faster and faster.

Ah well. My next lesson will be on 6 May!

23 April 2014 ·

(Source: shakuhachiforum.eu)

10 April 2014 ·

Lesson #27 with Chikuzen

We started the lesson discussing the weather, and then a little of Michael’s time working in Japan. So random, haha.

Anyway, I mentioned the “dead notes” that Michael once observed in my playing, and this lesson became one about how to make my notes come “alive”, when needed. The basic idea is to play notes such that they are nearly in kan, but still otsu, and kan notes such that they are nearly in daikan.

The method Michael suggested was to play say, ロ in otsu with hole #3 open (effectively 三のウ), with overtones from kan mixed in. Then, I should close hole #3 and pull the flute in a little closer to get a ロ that was almost in kan.

As an experiment, Michael got me to play イ in kan with all holes open: with a more rounded embouchure, I got a breathy sound. Then, close all the holes and see how that changed my embouchure and such.

One of the things to watch out for was to compensate for being flat when playing 三のウ by looking diagonally while blowing. This needs to be exaggerated to get the effect proper.

So, lots of interesting things to experiment and practice. Next lesson: 7 April!

25 March 2014 ·

November Steps performed by the Saito Kinen Orchestra under the baton of Ozawa Seiji.

This was composed by Takemitsu Toru for the 125th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, with Yokoyama Katsuya as the shakuhachi guest player and Tsuruta Kinshi as the biwa guest player in the premiere.

Read the Japan Times’ article Retracing Takemitsu’s ‘Steps’ for more on the history of November Steps.

21 March 2014 ·

Lesson #26 with Chikuzen

This lesson was all about the Fukuda Rando piece Tsubaki Saku Mura. Nothing really new: I basically did an echo of Michael’s playing, and then tried by myself once over. Michael did introduce some points where he would play nayashi for ornamentation.

From the pointers that Michael gave me, a key here is to practice consecutive notes that appear in the piece until I can consistently get them right.

One thing that I may have to watch out for is the “death grip”. I think I had problems with my solo playing through because I was gripping the shakuhachi too tightly at times, leading to some muscle strain and a rather sore right thumb.

Next lesson: 24 March! DST is in effect, but we’re sticking to the current time with respect to my timezone (UTC+8).

11 March 2014 ·

Lesson #25 with Chikuzen

Yes, this comes a week late. Not because I forgot to blog, but because I delayed my lesson by a week.

Silly me decided to take a nap just over an hour before the lesson… and ended up sleeping for an hour, nearly missing the start.

Anyway, the first half was work on embouchure and attaining a better understanding of the appropriate position of my lower lip in relation to the opening of the flute.

In the second half, I did an echo of the Fukuda Rando piece Tsubaki Saku Mura. Apparently, the piece was composed in memory of a scene from Fukuda Rando’s youth, that of a white storehouse with camellias blooming in a village. The points that I would like to keep in mind:

  • At various points in the score, there is a circle like a Chinese/Japanese full stop at the side. This denotes that the previous note should take 3/4 of the beat and the next note 1/4.
  • The イ in the third column (and later when the section is repeated) should be played with only hole #2 covered.
  • When playing 三のウ, I should move my head to one side to achieve the correct pitch, i.e., the same pitch as ヒメリ.
  • Do not open hole #3 too much for ヒメリ
  • When playing the fast ツメリレツメリロ sequence, I only need to tap hole #2 for レ: leaving hole #1 partially open is fine.
  • At the end of the piece, instead of trying to sustain at the correct pitch, which can be difficult, I can play 五のハ instead, slowly opening hole #1 towards the end to maintain pitch.

Right. My next lesson will be on 10 March!

25 February 2014 ·

Lesson #24 with Chikuzen

As it will be Michael’s birthday this Saturday, I started off with the happy birthday song that I arranged last year. Quite fun!

Anyway, Michael noticed in my playing of Fukuda Rando’s Komori Uta that I was simply too flat for ロ and other notes, though I was on pitch when I played them 大メリ.

Seeing that I have been playing for the past 14 months, he decided that it was time to re-work my embouchure. This means working on blowing for a faster air stream by blowing harder and being aware of my tongue position. Initially, this will lead to a breathy sound, but I can then seal off the excess air with my lower lip.

Part of my practice will involve just blowing without the shakuhachi: when Michael did that, the air flow was audible, whereas mine was silent.

Besides this, we discussed the idea of being flexible when playing, and hence being able to adapt to the styles of various schools in the future. Hearing him relate conversations with top master players was a heartwarming experience.

Lest I forget, my next lesson will be on 17 February.

5 February 2014 ·


I am a shakuhachi enthusiast from Singapore. These are some notes of my journey with this Japanese end-blown flute that is traditionally made of bamboo.