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.
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.
#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 Chōand 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.
You might have noticed that, since the third anniversary of my blog, I added a “support” button on my home page and at the end of each post. A few people have started to donate and I am very grateful to them. The decision of adding a “Support” or “Donation” button was not an easy one . When I started this blog, I had no idea whether I would stop after 3 posts nor how it would be received. And here we are, more than 3 years later, and I am very proud to say that my blog is being read every single day somewhere in the world (in more than 100 different countries) almost since the beginning!! This is the greatest support I could ever have dreamed of and this is way beyond my expectations. However, to reach this state and to be able to continue to develop the blog, I upgraded the free version to a paid one, as well as for my Soundcloud account, on which I uploaded dozens of recordings in order to help my students to study the repertoire and also to share our Hijiri-Kai music on this website. Upgrades cost money, and the writing of the posts plus the recording and editing of the music, cost time and energy. Time and energy that I am more than happy to spend! But as a professional full-time freelance musician, I also need to earn my living.
The alternative to offering the possibility a voluntary donation would be adding ads. It is not what I want for this blog and I will keep it “ads free” as long as possible. The donation fits better to my shakuhachi philosophy: I feel connected to the Komuso (begging monks) tradition through this online version!
When you subscribe to my blog, it is actually called a Membership. As I like this idea a lot, I have been thinking about it for a while – especially since the global lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In these particular and difficult times of social distancing, I feel even more how we all are connected, and how important it is to keep blowing together and stay in touch. So I have come up with a few ideas to make possible that a donation through my blog becomes a real Membership. After the amazing experience of the Robuki wave across the planet, I would like to use this opportunity to set up an English and a French community group!!
As it is difficult to make long term plans at the moment, I’d like to start with a trial period of 2 months (May-June 2020) and see how it goes.
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.
The idea to combine chakra meditation and shakuhachi occurred to me already a couple of years ago. The shakuhachi is such a special instrument, whether it gives energy, peace, spiritual awakening or helps you fall asleep. When I started to be interested in this topic, I found some music composed for shakuhachi related to chakras, but this was not what I was looking for, so I kept on searching further. I eventually created my own chakra meditation practice with shakuhachi in a very simple way. It is not related to special frequencies like some other musical chakra meditations, but aims to help you open your entire body, heart and soul when you play shakuhachi. I introduced this practice during the last Fukiawase session, and my students seemed interested in it. So this encourages me to share this practice in this post.
When you learn shakuhachi, there are some difficulties that almost everyone is confronted to. And there are also some points that deserve a special attention (the ones your teacher keeps on repeating over and over again).
Here is a list of the subjects and issues I address the most frequently during my lessons: Continue reading My “Top 7” Tips for playing shakuhachi→
There is a lot of discussions going on about what shakuhachi is or is not, should be or shouldn’t be: is it a meditation instrument? is it a music instrument? or both? should we or shouldn’t we pay attention to the musical result when we play it?
The first thing I would like to say about it is that we are all different people, so it looks normal to me that we have each a different approach of the shakuhachi, different goals, different needs, and that we like different things in it. I think that the shakuhachi is a great instrument to teach us to be non-judgemental. But I read and hear a lot of judgements here and there, about what shakuhachi is and is not, and that surprises me. I think we can express what we like in playing and listening to shakuhachi without considering that our way is the only way. In my teaching, I try to help my students to find their own way, not to imitate me or Fukuda Teruhisa. Our school and repertoire is wide enough to provide different aspects of the music for shakuhachi, but not all aspects. And the most important to me is that my students play in alignment with themselves, and take lessons from me only if they find what they like in our school.
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.