In the coming months, I will release a series of posts about a selection of pieces, from the very beginner pieces to some advanced ones. In addition to the information about the piece itself that you can already find in the “Repertoire” section, I will give some tips to practice them.
NB: Practice tips don’t replace the guidance of a shakuhachi master.
I rarely teach folksongs and sankyoku (only if the student asks for it). So this selection will mainly consist of honkyoku and some modern music (among them, some of Fukuda Teruhisa’s compositions and my own compositions).
Let’s start with the beginning!
#1. What pieces can you play only in the low register (otsu)?
When you are a beginner, the upper octave (Kan) can be challenging. There is only a couple of honkyoku (to my knowledge) that you can play entirely in the first register: HiFuMi Chō and Kyorei (depending on the version: some versions of Kyorei contain a “kan” section).
To provide my students with some extra pieces in the Otsu (low) register, I wrote “10 Easy Pentatonic Melodies“. The first 6 are exclusively in Otsu.
Let’s have a look at these pieces:
In some schools, Kyorei is the first and the last piece to be studied. You can already play it when you are a very beginner, because it doesn’t use a lot of tones and techniques. And because of its simplicity, it is difficult to perform it well: you need a quiet mind and a stable sound. You cannot hide behind ornaments and technical exploits.
But this ultimate goal should become your inspiration. Kyorei is also a wonderful piece to meditate.
I use the version handed down by Kurahashi Yodo II, stopping at what he calls the “original end” (if you happen to have the notation, it is the end of column 12). It makes the structure of the piece perfectly balanced.
To practice it, here are some tips:
- figure out the structure
- pay as much attention to your inhalation as to your sounds
- pay attention to every little movement at each moment: head, fingers, breath in, beginning of the sound, end of the sound
- don’t add any unnecessary movement (become aware of them and remove them)
- dont stop blowing if you don’t have a sound or if you loose it: try to find it back (move your lips, check your fingers: are they closing the holes properly?)
- learn it and play it by heart
HiFuMi Chō is already challenging for the “meri-kari” technique. It starts with a difficult note, “Tsu-no-meri” and goes even more down (“Tsu-no-dai-meri”).
In addition to the tips above for the practice of Kyorei, you will have to pay attention to:
- the different “meri” positions: 1/2 tone lower (“U“) , 1 tone lower (“Tsu-no-meri”, “Ro-no-meri”, “U meri“), 1,5 tone lower (“Tsu-no-dai-meri“)
- the “normal” position: don’t forget to go back to the normal position for the basic notes. It should feel like playing “kari” for certain notes!
- Practice each “meri” note with the whole “meri-kari” movement (starting from a basic note, going down AND going back up). Never practice only half of the movement.
- Know exactly which (head) interval you should be playing. Approximation doesn’t work (never works)!
- Record yourself and listen back
Last tip, useful for ALL honkyoku (and music in general):
Listen to recordings!
The shakuhachi is originally based on an oral transmission. The notation doesn’t contain all the information.
10 EASY PENTATONIC MELODIES
In order to help my students on their path to the honkyoku world, I wrote a series of original melodies. 6 are exclusively in Otsu, 4 use both registers. They are based exclusively on the basic notes (Ro-Tsu-Re-Chi-Ri-I), so no meri-kari technique. You will focus on the pitch, the breath, the fingers movements, and the rhythm. Some melodies are meant to be played in “honkyoku” style, a few can be played also in a “folksong” way (with a more regular rhythm). You may add ornaments if you like.
They can be ordered here (scroll down to the bottom of the page). They are written in Japanese notation, with a basic fingering chart (ordering them separately is not possible).
Here is a home recording of the 6 melodies in Otsu:
Happy blowing and see you next time!
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