Whether I’m practicing for myself of for a performance, I always start my practice session with a warming-up. I have different routines and I always start with one of them. I think it’s very important to have a routine to start your practice, something you don’t need to think about, but also something you do regularly and gets you into the concentration needed for your practice. Like a sporter, you need to warm up your muscles and breathing with easy exercises. My students know how much I love long tones and playing long tones with them. Long tones offer a wide range of variations such as dynamics, attacks and sound colours ; you can focus as well on your muscles tensions, body posture and breathing ; you can listen to the silence between the tones and the relationship between tones and silence ; you can also play them to meditate. Like any meditation, it can be short or long. I sometimes spend an hour playing long tones!
When I’m preparing for a performance, I’m more inclined to focus on technical skills that when I’m practicing for myself or for a meditation concert. Here is my routine. Continue reading Warm-up Routines
It took 7 years between the day I first heard shakuhachi on a CD and my first shakuhachi lesson. And then another 8 years before I could make enough space in my life to consistently practice shakuhachi daily. As a flutist, I was of course already practicing regularly my Western flute, but didn’t have much time left for the shakuhachi. And I can assure you that from the moment I eventually had time to practice shakuhachi (almost) daily, it made a huge difference. I know this is quite obvious, but it really works. It’s true for every single music instrument, but it’s really critical for sound quality and intonation for the shakuhachi. In order to make progress, you need to practice regularly, even for short sessions. The shakuhachi is a flute asking you to make your own mouthpiece with your lips and mouth muscles. This is very subtle work, and if you don’t train regularly, you can’t build up properly the strength and endurance needed, neither the right balance between tension and relaxation. Playing shakuhachi is physical and should engage your entire body, like sport.
Maybe this sounds quite demanding, but I’ve seen many people getting disappointed (or even very frustrated) to discover that the shakuhachi was not “a kind of recorder” with which you can immediately and easily get a sound (don’t get me wrong, playing the recorder properly is also not easy, although the sound production is much more easier).
But sometimes, as shakuhachi is a particularly challenging instrument, you can have the feeling you’re not making much progress and it can be difficult to find motivation to carry on practicing. So here are some tips to help you hopefully to establish a daily routine and stick to it.
Continue reading Practicing daily
Kokū is considered one of the oldest compositions for shakuhachi, one of the three fundamental pieces together with Kyorei and Mukaiji.
Koku means “Empty Space,” or “Empty Sky,” (“Ko,” “empty”, and “Ku” “space”, or “sky”.)
There are many legends about this piece, and many different versions. Some versions are based on the story of the “Bell Ringing in an Empty Sky”. It refers to the death of the monk Fuke and his disappearance from his coffin. Only remains the sound of his bell coming from the empty sky. Other legends say that this piece has been composed in the 12th century by the monk Kyochiku, who heard this melody in a mystical dream. With the mist blocking the moon, it looked like the sound of the flute was coming from an empty sky.
Koku has a flavor of infinite mist and echoes. It is said that playing this piece helps one explore the boundaries of “mu” or nothingness, transcending reifications, the artificial cognitive boxes into which we place objects, situations and emotions.
Source: The International Shakuhachi Society
Continue reading Practicing Kokū 虚空
In a few days the annual European Shakuhachi Summer School will begin gathering almost 60 shakuhachi aficionados (teachers and participants) together from all over Europe and with Maekawa Kogetsu as an representation of Myōan and Kinpū ryū. And it all happens in the small provincial town Vejle, Denmark – out in the fringes of Europe. Hurray for celebrating shakuhachi all over Europe! See you there! Kiku Day, Chair of the ESS.
I’m very honoured to be invited to this ESS Summer School where I will teach solo and group pieces from our Hijiri-kai school. The venue is a boarding school, which will enable us to blow and spend time together as a group. There will be a lot of different styles represented, traditional and modern music, solo and chamber music, pieces with koto, improvisation and original compositions. It is a great opportunity to listen to a lot of music and meet each other.
Although a big part of the traditional repertoire of shakuhachi consists in solo pieces (honkyoku), blowing together is very important in our school. Fukuda-sensei is tirelessly writing new pieces and arrangements for us when we gather in the Summer Schools organised in France by Daniel Lifermann for La Voie du Bambou. I’m very pleased to share some of his music and the spirit of it this summer in Denmark.
These pieces are meant to be performed by players of all levels, everyone playing according to his capacities. Generally, there isn’t a fixed rhythm except the rhythm of the breath (like in most of the honkyoku music), which allows some fuzziness, like a natural echo or reverberation. Playing together means listening to each other in order to tune in one multiple voice. It’s very good to confront your pitch control with the others’!
Here are the pieces: Continue reading ESS Summer School 2017
In a previous post, Music recordings, I wrote about the benefits of recording yourself during your practice. Have you tried it so far? How is it working for you? For me, it has really become part of my daily practice. Not that I record myself every day (!) but it has become one of the tools I like to use to practice. Like I use a tuner to control the pitch, a metronome to control the tempo and rhythm, I record myself to check how I sound. Or just to do a run-through.
In addition to my previous post, I’d like to add here a few tips to go further.
Continue reading Recording yourself
Good resolutions… 5 months later…
How are you doing with the good resolutions you decided to take in January? Did you manage to implement them in your life, are you still trying to do so of did you give up and postpone them for next year? My good resolutions were inspired by 12 zen rules. I can apply some of them regularly in my shakuhachi practice (see post) but for others, I’m still trying to find ways to apply them in my daily life too. Since I’m back from Japan, I’m particularly working on “#4 – Do less“, with the help of “#11 – Think about what is necessary“. Shakuhachi speaking, they are also very interesting. Continue reading Do less
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:
Continue reading Basic body posture
Last weekend, I gave two workshops about blowing together, which is an important part of our practice in the Hijiri-ryū.
Blowing together means learning to listen to yourself and to the others at the same time. It isn’t always easy to hear your own sound among all the other sounds, but you’ll notice that the sensation of your own vibration will increase, and a new “internal ear” will be activated. It’s a matter of letting go of yourself to join the breath and sound of the others, and find your own voice inside the group.
The shakuhachi is very challenging on this aspect because it is mainly played solo, or with strings instruments (koto / shamisen) which have a more stable intonation. The fluctuations of the shakuhachi and the stability of the strings complement one another. In a group of shakuhachi, the first difficulty when you play with others is the stability of your own sound, and then, your capacity of embouchure control and adaptation to the “common pitch”. The common point of all players is the breath. Blowing together, even if the lengths of breath are different, becomes a way of supporting each other. It asks concentration to find the right balance in the group, but gives so much energy back. And the best reward is the music you can share.
Continue reading Blowing together
Ups and downs
That’s life, isn’t it?
My last weeks were quite hilly, in matter of ups and downs, and so was my shakuhachi practice as well.
Last Thursday, I was very excited because I did a big step forward. At least, it’s how it felt at the moment. Since last summer, I’m trying to broaden my range of tone colours and increase the resonance of my sound. I started this practice in the hills of the Plateau de Langres in France (which is not flat by the way), listening to the echo, and then everywhere, over and over again. And last Thursday, I found the right tone quality to make the radiator resonating. That was great (I had the feeling it was a matter of more harmonics in the sound, but I’m not quite sure). On Friday however, although the radiator was singing again on each Tsu I played (while still heating the room properly), I felt I was in a down day. My energy was low, my sound was not as good as the day before… you have those days… I asked myself what could have changed: I actually spent more physical energy before starting my shakuhachi practice on Friday than on Thursday. Could be an explanation.
Continue reading Ups and downs
A quick post in addition to my previous one, Music recordings.
I’ve been quite busy this week recording myself and listening back… and you? What I notice, and noticed already before, is that the more you record yourself, the less you have surprises when you listen back. Sounds logical. I like to see the shakuhachi as a mirror of yourself, of your inner self. How you are doing, feeling: stressed, tired, excited, quiet, happy… But also on an external aspect, listening back to yourself is like looking at your image in a mirror. If you are really concentrated and listening to yourself when you record, you shouldn’t be too much surprised of the outcome. How carefully are you listening to yourself when you play? How carefully are you listening to your breathing and your silences, which are also part of your music?
Learning is listening. Teaching is listening.
This is what I recorded yesterday. Just for sharing, I’m still working on this piece (Ifu-Saji). Recording myself (and learning by heart) helps me a great deal to go deeper in the piece. Feel free to give constructive feedback.