Stress & Shakuhachi (Part 2)

This is a follow up to my previous post about Stress & Shakuhachi. As I wrote before, this is a topic which cannot be covered in one or even several posts. And I am not a psychologist nor a professional coach. The aim of these posts is to help you setting things in motion if you are overwhelmed by stress when playing in front of your teacher or in public and end up panicking instead of enjoying.

So, how can you work on it?

The Different Modes

Whenever you play your shakuhachi, it is good to know in which “mode” you are. Never heard of different modes? Just the “blowing or not blowing” mode? Here you go:

  1. Warming-up mode: this is the first mode you should ALWAYS start with. I wrote a bunch of articles about it and even a booklet with exercises to help you build-up a routine. Don’t forget: don’t practice during warming up.
  2. Meditation mode: I also wrote some articles about this topic. Meditation with the shakuhachi can be part of your warming-up and it is a great way to listen to yourself and to get to know yourself better. The focus goes inside, to the sensations, and not outside to the musical result (don’t practice!). Personally, I find it interesting to explore the relationship between my inner sensations and the sound result, to focus on releasing tensions, and connect more deeply to my entire body.
    In case of stress, meditation can help you to learn how to take some distance from your emotions: notice them, don’t fight them, investigate where you feel them most and send a deep breath to these places.
    Connect to your meditation mode BEFORE starting playing (with some training, you can reach it in a few seconds), connect to your safe place, release tensions and get ready to play. In other words, don’t jump into playing, concentrate and calm down first. A few seconds of silence can feel like ages on stage, but actually, it also invites the audience to prepare to listen to you.
  3. Practice mode: the most popular mode. Practice practice practice. Ideally, practice should be done with full concentration and in a CONSTRUCTIVE way. No need to practice for hours if you know how to practice efficiently. This will save you time and energy. And don’t let “practice mode” be your only mode of playing shakuhachi.
  4. Performance mode: the mode you should adopt during a concert, a lesson and also at home, for yourself. By performance mode, I mean playing a run-through of the piece WITHOUT practicing nor analysing. This mode is rarely taught, and I personally spent a very very long time performing in practice mode! How frustrating was that.
    What is performance mode? It is putting all your attention on what the music means to you and how you want to express it with your sound shape, dynamics, breath, structure of the piece, inner story, etc., and for this, you need to BE FULLY PRESENT IN EACH NOTE. Which you can’t be if you are still running a background voice commenting (negatively) everything you are doing at the same time.
    In other words: ENJOY. Share the love you have for the music you are playing. The most enjoyable performances I have ever seen were not always mistakes-free performances, but when artists were obviously enjoying themselves on stage. This was so contagious. I remember listening to a performance of the Stockhausen’s Stimmung with a big smile on my face and glitters in my eyes. I totally lost track of time, just being in the flow and in the music with the artists. Isn’t it what we all wish?
    For this, you need to consciously accept that it is no longer the moment to practice. It means letting go of self-criticism during the performance, fear of mistakes (accepting they will probably happen and that is not a big deal), and getting ready to enjoy the experience. Clinging to perfection can lead you to being destabilised by mistakes. Rely on the preparation you did at home. Your body knows what to do, don’t block it with your mind (instead teach your mind to stay focused on your intention in the music), trust yourself and stay in the flow whatever happens (steady concentration). Maybe you’ll need to encourage yourself all the way through (take a deep breath in) and it is fine. Go for it!
    In a way, it is not that different from the meditation mode, only in the fact that in a performance setting, you have a musical goal to achieve.

    The SWITCH between practice mode to performance mode is definitively something useful to PRACTICE at home.

TO SUM UP, check if you are in the right mode at the right moment!

NB: Performance mode during a lesson, from a teacher perspective .
1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes give room for improvement and show me where I can help my students, how I can evaluate their difficulties as well as their strong points. And give them constructive feedback.

2. Don’t play to please or impress your teacher, play as you understand and feel the music. It’s more effective and true.

3. I believe in a teacher-student relationship based on mutual trust and mutual listening. Never on fear (of the student), despise (making fun) or power (from the teacher on the student) or putting pressure. Challenging to stimulate, not to block.

A few more tips (oh no, it’s going to be a long post again…):


If you have a recurrent hard time with stress, take a moment to visualise the lesson or performance going well. Visualise every detail of it. Concentrate on the difficulties in a positive way, encourage yourself as you would encourage a friend, congratulate yourself for what you accomplish well. Take a closer look at what you are really afraid of and how you can accept it. What do you need to feel safe playing in front of somebody, no matters what?


Pay attention only to what you can control, and let go of what you cannot. Even when top soloists perform, some people will love the performance and others won’t. You cannot control how people will like what you are doing, so let go of it. Play the way you believe in. Be true to yourself and you will be convincing.

Let go of perfection

“Perfection comes from a need of control and is paralysing. It is the enemy of good.”

“It is never good enough and can become a reason not to do anything.”

“Imperfection is being authentic.”

(David Gandelman, meditation teacher)

In addition to these wise words, for me perfection is a subjective concept. What is perfect for me is not necessarily perfect for you, and vice-versa. It is a matter of taste and perception.

So I prefer talking about EXCELLENCE. Which is for me playing as close as I hear the music in my head, putting all the intentions, ideas, beauty, etc., I see in it.

“Doing your best is the best you can do. Be at peace with it.”

Record yourself

I already wrote about it before, but I wanted to add a quick story to it:
We all have good and bad days. Once, I decided to record myself in a “good day” and also in a “bad day”. When I listened back, there was hardly any difference. A little in the tone and length of breath (the same kind of physical difference when you work out in a good or a bad day), but not the huge thing I was expected. I was really surprised.
However, what was really different was my perception of my performance when I played. In the “bad day”, I felt that it cost me more energy to keep the right level of concentration, tone quality, etc., it was less easy, less enjoyable, but the perception of the result (that it was much worse than in the good day) was wrong or distorted. Due to all my practice before, it was almost as good.
If you deeply integrate this, then you can really let go of feeling affected by good and bad days, and rely entirely on your practice and concentration (still good to check on your energy level though, but then you know you can play at your level whatever the circumstances).
Also don’t forget that under pressure, your perception is also under pressure, hence not optimal to be entirely reliable.
So record yourself multiple times, to know your range: most likely, under pressure, you’ll play average. With some extra training, you’ll play great (=according to your level).

Heart chakra

If you like working on chakras, I noticed that, during moments of stress or under pressure, the most important one for me to balance is the Heart Chakra. This specific chakra is the bridge between the three Chakras of Earth and the Three Chakra of Spirit. If the bridge is broken or weakened, my energy doesn’t circulate well.
It is also the place of self-love and self-confidence, which is much needed to counter self-doubt. In stressful moments, I noticed that I need to send more energy to this point, from which it can radiate to the upper body (shoulders, arms, fingers) which is the physical connection you have with the flute, and steady the breath.

Letting go of expectations

There is a crucial point in your preparation before performing, the point when you have to declare yourself READY and be at peace with whatever will happen during the performance. It means that you accept that it might go differently from what you expected and that it is OK.
This is not easy.
Don’t tell yourself that you cannot do it because you are a perfectionist (or practice “letting go of perfection” as a top priority).
Because it is definitively a point you need to reach BEFORE playing for somebody, teacher or audience. Don’t be afraid of your vulnerability, because we are all vulnerable in challenging situations. And isn’t it part of what we admire in live performances?

Take your time and Relax

If you’ve come to shakuhachi because you find it relaxing to listen to it, you might become a little frustrated to discover that playing it is much more difficult than anticipated. Don’t underestimate the flute’s apparent simplicity: it is a true music instrument, as difficult as violin or piano or flute, which you wouldn’t expect playing excellently after only a few months or a few years, would you? So give you time, be gentle to yourself and concentrate on long breaths… ROOOOOOOO……

And what next…..?

I would love to hear if this is helpful for you. Please leave your comments in the section below.

Happy shakuhachi journey!

4 thoughts on “Stress & Shakuhachi (Part 2)”

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