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I am a beginning shakuhachi player, and I bought the $135.00 shakuhachi yuu and have been playing it for a couple of weeks now. It will probably be at least a month or two before I can take a lesson from a qualified shakuhachi instructor. I used to play a metal transverse flute, but my tone was never quite focused, and I always had trouble hitting the high notes. After taking a lesson from a symphony flautist, I found out that I had "bad lips" for the flute, and that I would have to utilize a kind of side blown technique to compensate for my lips. After a couple of years or so I finally gave up because I still wasn't getting the sound I wanted. So I was very leery of taking up the shakuhachi, because I figured I would run into the same problems. But I was pleasantly surprised-my tone on the shakuhachi is clear and focused, to my ear anyway, and I don't have a problem hitting the notes in the kan register. There is one problem though, and that is that all of my notes are a 1/2 step flat. I don't believe it is my embouchure causing this. I can't really explain why, it's just my gut feeling. For instance, I can bend the otsu chi up to a concert "A", and even though the pitch is correct it doesn't feel right, and there is not much room for me to make that note any higher. It's possible I didn't join the two halves of the shakuhachi together all of the way, but there is no way for me to adjust it without damaging the joint (I'll let the instructor mess with that). But as far as I can tell it's in there all the way. So that may or may not be what is causing the problem. Can the pitch go flat if the 4th hole is not quite in line with the first 3? It's not off by much, but again, I can't adjust it. Is it my bad lips? My throat cavity? The shakuhachi? Any input before I see my instructor would be appreciated.
Beginners seldom have the strength to blow to pitch. It's just a matter of practice. Also the teacher can spot if there's anything else causing the flatness. Don't worry about it yet.
As Tairaku wrote, it is very normal for beginners to blow flat.
It can be as Tairaku hinted at, the fact that you may not have the strength to blow the tone up in pitch.
It could also be the position of your head, thus you play too meri. It is also bery normal for beginners to play in meri position as it is in the beginning easier to get a nice tone out of it.
Alternatively, try to blow a little more downward into the flute (changing from blowing more across the flute) at the same time as you try to focus the air. Some times that can make the pitch go up - despite the illogicalness of it.
If I were you, I would take a few lessons with a teacher who can then tell you if you are blowing in meri position or if you do anything else wrong... or it is something that will change the more you play. If you do not live near any teachers, you can take a skype lesson or two.
I don't think it is your lips causing the flatness of the pitch. You just have to find you way of blowing!
At first it is difficult to just get sound, and we discover that the closer our lips are to the utaguchi, the easier we can produce sound. This does tend to point our heads down more in an attempt to get our lips closer as Kiku points out. Ultimately, though, this makes it hard to play meri notes as it really closes up the top hole, filling it in with your lips, and limiting the air that can get into the bore. Try moving the flute forward a little so it is higher on your chin and remember to look up or at least straight ahead. It will be more difficult to get strong notes and volume at first, but it saves alot of unlearning of poor habits later. A good teacher will be able to see exactly what you are doing, though, and provide more precise directions. I am only commenting on what happened with me when I first got my flute. Sometimes with cheaper flutes, it is an instrument issue, but that should not be the case with a Yuu. It is probably poor manners to suggest a specific teacher, but I would suggest Michael Gould (Chikuzen). He gives internet lessons and is very good, although I am a little biased. I took lessons from him for a couple years and think he is the best around, but that is just my opinion. I recently had a child and had to temporarily pause my lessons due to both time and financial constraints for the time being, so I think he may have some openings. He has a real knack for identifying these kinds of things, even over the internet just by listening. Of course, I don't mean to detract from any of the other great teachers on the board or elsewhere. Internet lessons may seem limited, but Michael is really good at them and could probably schedule you in earlier than a few weeks. That is a long time to learn lots of bad habits without instruction, and unlearning is always more difficult than learning.
Last edited by lowonthetotem (2010-12-01 12:16:05)
Hey Biru... here's an old posting on Good Lips Bad Lips:
... I recently had a child and had to temporarily pause my lessons due to both time and financial constraints for the time being...
Congratulations! I remember those days well. My lessons stopped also. At least when you do finally get to study again, the time you have for yourself will take on a whole new meaning.
I appreciate all of the replies. It seems I had my lips too close to the utaguchi, which made it easier to play and get a sweeter tone, but it also caused all of my notes to be flat. Now I am playing in tune, but my tones are a lot more breathier and unfocused, and the amount of air I have to use to make the notes has increased a hundredfold. It's incredibly difficult to play now, especially in the kan register. Typical beginner complaints. I see I also have the dreaded protruding central vermillion turbercle, and that I will have to learn how to direct the air stream to the side-no doubt what my old flute teacher was refering to.