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.
So music or meditation?
Continue reading Meditation or music? Or both?
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.
Continue reading Practicing daily
I wish you a healthy, peaceful, musical and happy New Year!
A new year has started, with new challenges and new resolutions. Last year, my good resolutions were to follow 12 zen rules and apply them to shakuhachi. I kept this in mind throughout the year, and started gradually a more consistent practice of meditation. This leads me to my good resolution of this year: be a better person. I believe that everyone can contribute to make this world better starting with oneself, and I’m trying to improve my share. I have been learning a lot since I’m meditating on a daily basis and it has been deepening my shakuhachi practice. Although I’m still a beginner, I’d like to share with you how meditation helps me to become a better shakuhachi player.
Continue reading Shakuhachi & Meditation
Kokū is considered one of the oldest compositions for shakuhachi, one of the three fundamental pieces together with Kyorei and Mukaiji.
Koku means “Empty Space,” or “Empty Sky,” (“Ko,” “empty”, and “Ku” “space”, or “sky”.)
There are many legends about this piece, and many different versions. Some versions are based on the story of the “Bell Ringing in an Empty Sky”. It refers to the death of the monk Fuke and his disappearance from his coffin. Only remains the sound of his bell coming from the empty sky. Other legends say that this piece has been composed in the 12th century by the monk Kyochiku, who heard this melody in a mystical dream. With the mist blocking the moon, it looked like the sound of the flute was coming from an empty sky.
Koku has a flavor of infinite mist and echoes. It is said that playing this piece helps one explore the boundaries of “mu” or nothingness, transcending reifications, the artificial cognitive boxes into which we place objects, situations and emotions.
Source: The International Shakuhachi Society
Continue reading Practicing Kokū 虚空
In a previous post, Music recordings, I wrote about the benefits of recording yourself during your practice. Have you tried it so far? How is it working for you? For me, it has really become part of my daily practice. Not that I record myself every day (!) but it has become one of the tools I like to use to practice. Like I use a tuner to control the pitch, a metronome to control the tempo and rhythm, I record myself to check how I sound. Or just to do a run-through.
In addition to my previous post, I’d like to add here a few tips to go further.
Continue reading Recording yourself
Good resolutions… 5 months later…
How are you doing with the good resolutions you decided to take in January? Did you manage to implement them in your life, are you still trying to do so of did you give up and postpone them for next year? My good resolutions were inspired by 12 zen rules. I can apply some of them regularly in my shakuhachi practice (see post) but for others, I’m still trying to find ways to apply them in my daily life too. Since I’m back from Japan, I’m particularly working on “#4 – Do less“, with the help of “#11 – Think about what is necessary“. Shakuhachi speaking, they are also very interesting. Continue reading Do less
Shakuhachi is often unpredictable in the beginning. Some days are better than others. In the same practice session, you have good moments and a few minutes later, you cannot make any sound anymore. It can be frustrating. Although there is no chance involved there, but a combination of subtle factors you will learn to master better and better with your practice. Concentrating on the mouth, lips, head position is necessary, but not sufficient. When you play shakuhachi, your entire body gets involved. The flute should become a part of your body. The sound you make comes from deep under in your belly, not only from your mouth and lips. It starts with your inhalation. So a good body posture is an important factor one shouldn’t underestimate, especially in the beginning. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you practice:
Continue reading Basic body posture
Going to Japan was an old dream. Since I met Fukuda Teruhisa Sensei in 2006, I was looking forward to the day I could fly again to Tokyo and study with him there. Life took its time to make this trip possible. Preparing it was already great. Doing it was overwhelming.
I’m back since a few days, after 3 weeks of travel and experiences. I didn’t have time to write and post when I was there. I always need time to reflect on my experiences.
What attracts me most in the shakuhachi, what touches me most beyond its fabulous sound, is the spirituality and the nature. Maybe they are both the same for me. Being in nature is meditating. I sometimes go to the the forest nearby where I live with a head full of thoughts, and I come back with a head full of birds’ songs.
Playing a traditional music which isn’t from your own country is like speaking a foreign language. Going to Japan was going to the source of this language and trying to discover and feel what inspired the people who created this music. Quite a program. In two parts. Tokyo, for the shakuhachi lessons, the culture, the modern life. Hokkaido for the nature. There were both as inspiring.
Continue reading Japan
Last weekend, I gave two workshops about blowing together, which is an important part of our practice in the Hijiri-ryū.
Blowing together means learning to listen to yourself and to the others at the same time. It isn’t always easy to hear your own sound among all the other sounds, but you’ll notice that the sensation of your own vibration will increase, and a new “internal ear” will be activated. It’s a matter of letting go of yourself to join the breath and sound of the others, and find your own voice inside the group.
The shakuhachi is very challenging on this aspect because it is mainly played solo, or with strings instruments (koto / shamisen) which have a more stable intonation. The fluctuations of the shakuhachi and the stability of the strings complement one another. In a group of shakuhachi, the first difficulty when you play with others is the stability of your own sound, and then, your capacity of embouchure control and adaptation to the “common pitch”. The common point of all players is the breath. Blowing together, even if the lengths of breath are different, becomes a way of supporting each other. It asks concentration to find the right balance in the group, but gives so much energy back. And the best reward is the music you can share.
Continue reading Blowing together