Category Archives: Shakuhachi practice

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”.

Continue reading 5 Steps for A Meaningful Shakuhachi Practice

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!

Continue reading HONKYOKU for Beginners

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)

Stress & Shakuhachi (Part 1)

Stress is a natural emotion. But when it becomes overwhelming, it can be annoying. To my experience, if you don’t do anything about it, it doesn’t go better with the years. It can even get worse, if you find yourself in the same situation again and again. I know very sad stories about professional musicians who couldn’t overcome the stress of playing under pressure and got trapped into a vicious circle going downwards. It is not a matter of level or experience (the “you’ll get used to it“… is rarely true).

The shakuhachi can have a beneficial role in this situation – not that it will remove your stress magically, that would be too easy! – but because it works on long breaths and the breath is directly connected to our emotions. Take a look at what happens to your breath when you are nervous, surprised, scared, laughing, crying,…
My magical mantra to release stress in non-shakuhachi situations is “TSU-REEEEE………”

But with your shakuhachi, you can also experience stress: stress of performance (playing before people, before your teacher), stress of the sound not coming out when you want it and how you want it. It can lead to frustrating experiences, blocking you in sharing your music and enjoying doing it. Leaving it to chance (“maybe next time it will go better“) is not a serious option. Better have a closer look into it.

Continue reading Stress & Shakuhachi (Part 1)

SHAKUHACHI REPERTOIRE SPOTLIGHT #1 – Low Register

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:

Continue reading SHAKUHACHI REPERTOIRE SPOTLIGHT #1 – Low Register

ONLINE SHAKUHACHI

Spring

After a long Winter period, I was ready for Spring and couldn’t wait to get started. Next to the usual individual lessons, I had again some performances & workshops planed. They all didn’t resist the restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, like everywhere in the world for many many many other freelance artists…

What does this pandemic tell us about ourselves? Since the last weeks, I see that it forces us to think different and be creative. I see so many nice initiatives popping up online and in real (playing at your window for or with your neighbours). And for myself, I see it as a new challenge.
And it reminds me every day how important health is, how important it is to live a healthy life and care for others.
Protect yourself, and also protect the others. In our very individualist modern societies, the Coronavirus shows us how strongly we are all interconnected and that we cannot ignore that.

“Man sacrifices is health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present. As a result he does not live in the present or in the future. He lives as if he is never going to die and then dies having never really lived.”

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

So it is time to live in the present! To find new ways and enjoy being connected!
As well as my colleagues around the world, I will get more online the coming months. Starting with teaching. How does this work?

Continue reading ONLINE SHAKUHACHI

ISFP 19 – Workshops “Warm-up Routines” and “Intonation”

In a bit less than a month, the International Shakuhachi Festival Prague 2019 (ISFP 19) will start. This 5-day festival (September 12-16) is one of the few big shakuhachi events in Europe (another one being the European Shakuhachi Society Summer School). It will be held in various beautiful venues in the historical city of Prague (Czech Republic) and the program is awesome! Check it out here.

For the first time, I will be teaching and performing there and I am quite excited about it! I have been preparing my workshops for months and here is a short presentation about what I will be teaching. I am preparing teaching material and exercise booklets as well, which will be available during the festival.

In another post, I will present the pieces I will be performing.
If you are around, don’t hesitate to join! Continue reading ISFP 19 – Workshops “Warm-up Routines” and “Intonation”