Category Archives: Shakuhachi practice

How to play “Kan”?!?!?

Why is the upper register Kan so difficult for many of us?

When I started learning shakuhachi, I was already a professional flutist, and still, as a beginner shakuhachi student, I found that the Kan register was a bit challenging, especially the two higher notes (Hi and I). There was something there that took me a bit more time to feel and master. Although the lips technique is quite similar to the flute’s technique, I needed to find some adjustments. What was going on?

Continue reading How to play “Kan”?!?!?

Tutorial Videos

When I opened my Virtual Shakuhachi Dojo on Patreon last February (https://www.patreon.com/shakudojo), I started to film tutorial videos for the patrons of the KAN Tier. Once a month, I address a specific topic or technique. So far I have published videos about abdominal breathing, embouchure for (absolute) beginners, the basic scale otsu, how to play in kan, how to attack a sound, how to warm up, meditation in nature. When you subscribe, you also get access to a PDF-file with basic exercises for practicing long tones, fingers, octaves and intervals. In the coming months, I’ll be filming how to practice these exercises and release the videos in my Dojo.

Why do you have to pay to get access to this content?

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Shakuhachi by Heart

The two last months I have been quite busy recording videos in the nature (read previous blog post about it here). It started a bit out of frustration: concert halls desperately closed for so long, impossibility to make plans to work in the short run, living on the hope that it would get better after the summer when most people got vaccinated to start to perform again,… But hope is not enough and I couldn’t just stay put and wait for the situation to improve. The current pandemic has given me the opportunity to challenge myself to find other ways to create and still go on, like creating a virtual Dojo on Patreon (visit it here).

Outside my confort zone

Some artists in bigger structures and/or better network manage to organise live streams, I don’t. Luckily I love birds and birdsongs. Playing and recording in nature turned out to be a very nice activity yet challenging. It means playing in the cold, in the dark, in the rain, in the mud, in the wind, without the supportive acoustic of a concert hall or any amplification… It means going out of my comfort zone and letting go of my blockages. It means playing by heart.
But it also means being surrounded by birdsongs, enjoying space, deep inner peace, being present to everything happening. This is so rewarding!

In this post, I’ll describe how I pushed my limits and I’ll give some tips to play by heart.

Playing by heart is a path to meditation.

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Practice Practice Practice

The student: -I don’t make any progress. How can I make progress?
Me: -Practice.
The student: -But I practiced!
Me: -What did you practice exactly?
And how?

Most of the times it turned out that the student didn’t practice that much after all. Or not WHAT I asked him/her to practice. Or not HOW I asked him/her to practice. Why? I wonder. Maybe is it not that obvious for everyone what practicing means?

So here are some thoughts about practicing shakuhachi. And about practicing in general, not only for shakuhachi. I am an amateur photographer and once I asked a friend who is a professional photographer how I could improve my photos and she answered “Practice this and that”. So practice practice practice. Meaningfully.

Even if you think that you know what practicing is, please read this post further. I’ll be happy to hear if it matches what you already know and/or if you have some more tips to share.

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Invitation to my virtual Shakuhachi Dojo!

In the Netherlands we entered 2021 in full lockdown. No fireworks, no party. With the hope that the world situation will improve dramatically in 2021 with vaccination, I started to dream more and more of a virtual space to develop my activities and connect with more people. This dream has become a virtual shakuhachi dojo on Patreon! Discover it here.

What it is exactly ?

It is a space where I will share every month the different aspects of my work with shakuhachi: recordings, meditations, tutorial videos and creations. Choose your abonnement and you will receive monthly benefits and exclusive contents. If I get enough Patrons, it will help me to realise some of my dreams!!

When you realise that the ultimate happiness is being yourself and that nobody can be better than you at it, then the competitive ego disappears. Remains the deep motivation to do your best at being yourself, for you and for the world. This is what this project is about.

Continue reading Invitation to my virtual Shakuhachi Dojo!

5 Steps for A Meaningful Shakuhachi Practice

The first meditation lesson I listened to this year was by Charles Freligh about “10 Principles for Daily Living”. It resonated deeply with my shakuhachi practice, especially when he came to talk about Authenticity.

Authenticity is a combination of vulnerability and courage to show who we really are.

The answer to his question “when do you feel most authentic?” was immediate: “when I play shakuhachi“.
At the end of his lesson, I realised that when I practice shakuhachi, I cover all the 10 themes he talked about.

I found it so interesting that I translated his lesson into a “5-steps meaningful (daily) shakuhachi practice”.

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Online Presentation on December 13th

Honkyoku for beginners

A bit more than a month ago, I released a booklet for beginners made of simplified versions of four short honkyoku. To celebrate the 4th anniversary of this blog on December 13th, I will be giving a ZOOM presentation about one of them, Yamato Choshi. My wish is to explain how to go from the simplified to the full version of this piece. I will be introducing along the Hijiri-Kai style. The presentation will be followed by a Q&A. To register, contact me or scroll down.

A few weeks after I released this booklet, I found this quote, from one of the greatest shakuhachi masters, Yokoyama Katsuya:

“It is important to grasp the main themes and melodies of a piece without getting lost or caught up in the pursuit of various techniques and minor themes.”

“Grasping the main themes and melodies” is exactly what my booklet for beginners is about. I think that it is not always easy to identify them when you are a beginner. The Japanese musical notation is very often seen as challenging. Actually, what is challenging is to notate a honkyoku!
As Yokoyama Sensei writes:

“Honkyoku are alive. It is very difficult to capture them on paper. Honkyoku sheet music is like a snapshot of but one aspect of the piece. It is helpful in giving us an idea of what the song is about, but it cannot come close to describing the totality.”

But what is a honkyoku at the first place? Here is a definition by Yokoyama Sensei:

Continue reading Online Presentation on December 13th

HONKYOKU for Beginners

Honkyoku is a traditional old shakuhachi piece which was played by the Komuso Monks to practice Suizen, the breathing meditation. There are no honkyoku for beginners. They are all difficult. But so beautiful. At least, some of them are short and can be played by beginners.

The Japanese traditional way to learn shakuhachi is to start with children songs and folk tunes. But most of my students don’t take shakuhachi to play this repertoire, they want to play zen music. As I did when I started to learn shakuhachi.

So I decided to write simplified versions of some short honkyoku to make them more accessible and to enable my students to understand the spirit and the right blowing experience of them. Because of too many information too soon in the learning process, the pure line of the music and the spiritually of the piece often disappear behind the technical difficulties.

After practicing these simplified versions, my students go to the original versions and they can follow the line and add the ornaments much easier. It is more rewarding.

Introduction to Kyorei, Yamato Choshi, Honte Choshi and Tamuke

Some time ago I thought that my teaching material for beginners might be useful for other students who don’t have a teacher to guide them. Therefore I have been working hard the last months to update those simplified versions of Kyorei, Yamato Choshi, Honte Choshi and Tamuke, add preparatory exercises, record them all and put them all together in a booklet for self-study with an audio playlist to play along with.

As the shakuhachi repertoire was originally transmitted from master to student most of the time without notation, listening to the master and repeating after him was the way to learn a piece. So I would like to encourage shakuhachi students to listen and play along as much as possible to integrate the sound, breathing, pitch and rhythm. The ultimate goal would be to learn all the four pieces by heart and play them with the audio files.

So here it is! A step-by-step guide to your four first honkyoku!

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SHAKUHACHI REPERTOIRE SPOTLIGHT #2 – CHOSHI 調子

When you start practicing honkyoku (traditional zen pieces), you will discover soon enough that none of them are easy. But some of them are short. These are called “Chōshi” or “Chō”. These short pieces are meant to warm up and tune in with yourself, the room and the audience if there is any. I like to call them “Meditation preludes“.

In the tradition of the Meian school of shakuhachi, the performer first warms up the bamboo and settles the mind for spiritual practice through the playing of a short introductory prelude piece. Expressing the essential spirit of Koten honkyoku, Chōshi (literally, small melody) serves to establish the pitch and to center the musician. This piece is characterised by a pure focus on breath.

(The International Shakuhachi Society www.komuso.com)

Here is a short selection of my favorite ones.

Continue reading SHAKUHACHI REPERTOIRE SPOTLIGHT #2 – CHOSHI 調子

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?

Continue reading Stress & Shakuhachi (Part 2)