Shakuhachi is often unpredictable in the beginning. Some days are better than others. In the same practice session, you have good moments and a few minutes later, you cannot make any sound anymore. It can be frustrating. Although there is no chance involved there, but a combination of subtle factors you will learn to master better and better with your practice. Concentrating on the mouth, lips, head position is necessary, but not sufficient. When you play shakuhachi, your entire body gets involved. The flute should become a part of your body. The sound you make comes from deep under in your belly, not only from your mouth and lips. It starts with your inhalation. So a good body posture is an important factor one shouldn’t underestimate, especially in the beginning. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you practice:
- Have an active posture. If you sit on a chair, don’t lean back. Keep your back and your spinal column straight whether you sit on the floor, on a chair or stand.
- Focus on deep abdominal breathing. You can practice first without the flute to get used to it, until it becomes natural. Make sure you keep your shoulders low and your throat relaxed.
- Feel your center of gravity and base your breathing (and your active posture) on it. Feel “rooted” in your breathing.
- Train your lips’ position, also without the flute if you are a beginner: stand before a mirror and practice making a small opening in the middle of your lips.
- Blow long tones with full attention. Try to find out when it works/doesn’t work and why. Look in the mirror if necessary.
- Release excess tension wherever you feel it: arms, wrists, fingers, shoulders, lips,…
- Practice regularly all these steps, until they become natural.
Tips for beginners… and more advanced players.
You’ve learned that in the beginning when you started playing shakuhachi… and how much are you using all these now that you’re busy with challenging pieces and Japanese notation? How is your posture and breathing when you struggle with a difficult section in the piece? Do you have any body tensions? What can you improve in your posture? Take a moment to consider these questions, focus on them when you’re playing, and maybe you will discover that working on some of them can help you to overcome some technical difficulties.
Enjoy your shakuhachi journey
Playing shakuhachi is a wonderful journey, with mountains and valleys, hard times and beautiful moments. I like to regularly go back to the basics, like a full check-up. Looking again in a mirror to see how to improve the quality of a particular tone, experimenting to find more different tone colours (place of the tongue in the mouth, tension of the lips, or any other parameter)… This is my way of going on further and further on the road of my shakuhachi journey. Enjoying it a lot.