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.
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.
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”.
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:
In this post, you will find 5 meditations with shakuhachi on the Chakras of Earth: the Root Chakra, Sacral Chakra and Solar Plexus Chakra.
Those three Chakras are related to the abdominal breathing which is used to play shakuhachi.
Hence theses meditations on the Chakras of Earth will improve your awareness of your abdominal breathing. If you practice them regularly you will feel more grounded and you will be able to connect to your breath more easily in any situation.
Beside the physical awareness, the Chakra meditations also work on an emotional level, which will be also explained.
NB: In order not to spam my followers who are not interested in this topic, the next Chakras Meditations will be published as Pages and not as Posts. You will find them back here.
Chakra Meditationwith shakuhachi is a meditation technique I have been developing in the last few years and started to share online this year during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is inspired by Chakra breathing meditations but its purpose is not to provide Sound Healing, nor it is a musical practice. It is a technique to improve and go deeper into your daily meditation with shakuhachi.
Practitioners do report feeling better afterwards. And it can help you a lot to improve your shakuhachi playing through increasing your physical awareness and relaxation. All you need is a few minutes a day… and a shakuhachi.
In these challenging times of Covid-19 pandemic, I notice that meditating on the chakras with shakuhachi gives energy and helps people to feel more grounded and better prepared to tackle negative emotions. I experience it myself every Monday evening with my online group during our common shakuhachi meditation.
“Can you hold the body and spirit as one?” Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu
These courses will enable you to practice with me at home, at your own time and rhythm.
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.
While having to keep physical distanciation for who knows how long, meeting online via Zoom or Skype has become a good alternative to connect to each other.
Earlier this year, the “RO-BUKI Wave Across The World” gave me the idea to create a Shakuhachi Online Community to blow and meditate together once a week. During the sessions, the focus goes inwards, to connect to your body, to your inner peace through your breathing, and to blow with full awareness what your heart tells you (solidarity with the world’s sufferings, healing, compassion, love, emptiness, silence,…), uniting your sounds and efforts with those of the other participants.
The experience of the last months – before the summer break – worked beyond expectations (I didn’t have any actually). It brought a new dimension in my shakuhachi path. Meditating together is not teaching, it is sharing. I deeply enjoyed the connection to fellow shakuhachi players from different countries. Level doesn’t matter. Some participants are my students, some are not. How good this feels.
Once a month, we had a Q&A session which brought very interesting reflexions and interactions in the group.
So it’s time to resume the weekly meetings, starting on September 7. Grab your favorite shakuhachi and let’s RO together!
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.