Tag Archives: Shakuhachi for beginners

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.

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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:

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6 good reasons to learn shakuhachi

6 good reasons to learn shakuhachi

1. It is a very special instrument: its sounds is unique and will open a new world for you.

2. It is a deep breathing training: bringing your awareness to your breath is relaxing and a deep breathing training is very good for your health. It will help you find a quiet moment for yourself.

3. It is a challenging instrument:

  • physically: to get a sound, to keep it, to get the proper pitch.
  • mentally: to go on and don’t give up because it’s more difficult than what you thought. You can do it.
  • energetically: it’s a mirror of your energy level, and it will help you to improve it.
  • spiritually: you’ll have to let go of your self and accept what is given by the flute. Playing the old traditional music is a spiritual act.

4. It is a very old tradition, which reaches people deeply.

5. It will improve your concentration in your daily life.

6. It will bring peace in your life. And you’ll be able to share this peace with the people around you by playing shakuhachi for them.