“If you have only five minutes in your day to practice your shakuhachi, play RO” (Fukuda Teruhisa).
Otsu-no-RO is the lowest note on the shakuhachi, all holes are closed. Practicing RO is very good your for your breath and embouchure control, and also to concentrate on the way you hold your flute. It’s a good exercise to be aware of the tensions of your body and try to remove them, and find the just balance between relaxation and keeping the proper shape of the sound. It is recommended to blow RO at least 5 minutes, up to 10 minutes and it can be part of your daily meditation with shakuhachi practice.
Longer is of course possible, as long as you stay concentrated and don’t cramp. Blowing Kan-no-RO is also an interesting alternative I’ll develop later.
I found a few months ago on the website of Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos some very interesting variations to the practice of RO-buki. They give the possibility to train a large range of sounds while practicing only one tone… a shakuhachi achievement… Here are his tips, combining blowing and dynamics training:
RO-buki and Practicing Long Tones for the Shakuhachi (Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos)
RO is the first note on a shakuhachi, with all finger holes closed. “Buki” is the Japanese verb stem from “fuku”, which means “to blow”. Therefore “RO-buki” means “to blow RO”. The practice of RO-buki, specifically in the otsu-no-RO (lowest octave of RO) position, as the starting point of shakuhachi playing is very important. It prepares the embouchure for the demands of the music about to be undertaken. There are various forms of RO-buki that one can practice to develop blowing technique and dynamics.
The following are some exercises that I’ve learned through the years, and can also be practiced with all the basic tones of the shakuhachi. Breathing in through the mouth while relaxing the body and pushing the air down into the stomach. Out breath should be emphasized. If you feel your shoulders coming up, push them down and the air should go down to your diaphragm. At the end of your note push out as much air from your lungs as you can.
- “Sasa-buki”: Start out as quietly as possible, then gradually getting louder and louder and gradually trailing off to nothing again.
- “Kusabi-buki”: Start with a strong muraiki and trail off to nothing. Then reverse: start out as quiet as possible and increase volume to muraiki.
- “Kyosui”: similar to the the kusabi-buki, but starting with a more natural breath and trailing off into nothingness as gently as possible, accenting the silence at the end.
- “Tsuzumi”: Attack with a blast of air (e.g. muraiki) and quiet down to almost nothing and then ending on another muraiki.
- Volume control: Blowing each note as quitely as possible. This is especially challenging in the upper registers. Do not use kubi-furi (vibrato with neck) or breath vibrato as in Western flute playing, while doing long tones.
Good luck with your practice!