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#1 2008-06-30 10:01:02

From: Scarsdale, NY
Registered: 2005-10-24
Posts: 270

Here today gone tomorrow...

In James Schlefer's workbook (his first one) he presents a few anecodotes / stories relevant to pursuing shakuhachi.

One short anecdote really resonated tremendously with me:

A student tells his teacher "I sound terrible today!  No note will come out beautifully!  What a disaster!"

The sensei bows his head knowingly and says : "This will pass..."

A month later the same student is in a lesson and says "I sound wonderful!  Everything is coming so easily!  Even my meris are right on pitch!"

The sensei bows his head knowingly and says: "Yes, this too will pass..."

I've been playing / studying for a good number of years now and I stull suffer from an amazing sudden variance in the quality of my playing.  This past Saturday I was stunned by how well I was playing.  I wanted to run out into the street just to make sure someone heard how good I was.   I began regretting not entering the Grand Prix competition in Australia.   It was awesome!

And then last night, one day later ... just awfull.  My sound was so dull I couldn't even finish the peice I was playing as I got depressed.    I spent the evening soaking in nostaligia for the sound I had created just one day ago...

A few questions for pros and amatuers alike:

1)   Am I the only one haunted by this problem?

2) What causes performance variance?  Is this unique to shakuhachi?

3)  Does performance variance subside as one progresses? Wil it ever go away?

4)  Any tips / tricks / suggestions to minimize this proplem?

Thanks in advance!



#2 2008-06-30 11:09:19

Performer & Teacher
From: Boston MA
Registered: 2005-12-21
Posts: 830

Re: Here today gone tomorrow...

YOu are not Alone! I feel the some way.
Regular practise helps to keep the level up.
I think it helps to keep a kind of journal - or even better - to record yourself (mp3 Juornal).
You can track your progress.



#3 2008-06-30 11:28:02

From: Cape Coral, FL
Registered: 2008-04-05
Posts: 529

Re: Here today gone tomorrow...

I have only been practicing for a few months, so it is less surprising that I should vary like this.  It does seem that when anyone is listening, I stink.  I think it has alot to do with being tense.  When I play poorly, I get tense and thus continue playing poorly.  I don't get tense becuase I am frustrated but more because I "try harder" to get it right.  When I play well, I relax some and may even play better.  It is particularly gut wrenching when I had a lesson.  Of course, I couldn't get anything out well, as least to my ear, even things I had practiced and felt I could do consistently and flawlessly.  Oh well.  The teacher was nice enough to say things like, "Good" and "well-done."  What a sport.

It reminds me of playing tennis.  I've never been great.  When I was kid I wanted to be great and when I played with my dad, I'd get so upset at every mistake.  I started playing with my dad once a week recently after years and years of not playing, and I still am not great.  Now, I just laugh when I make stupid mistakes, but I make them less often.  I haven't been practicing.  The deciding factor seems to be the level of relaxation.

"Turn like a wheel inside a wheel."



#4 2008-06-30 11:50:28

Jim Thompson
From: Santa Monica, California
Registered: 2007-11-28
Posts: 421

Re: Here today gone tomorrow...

Hi Seth,
     Question #1:  No. My guess is everybody experiences it. I remember the first time I felt free and creative on a gig I was elated. I thought to myself"I've arrived. My hard work has paid off." When I went back the next night fully expecting to pick right up where I left and it wasn't there for me I was utterly shocked and depressed and couldn't understand what happened. Over the years I've learned not to worry about it. The Groove God visits when it wants to and you have absolutely no control over it. I've gone to gigs saying I feel great and wound up not playing very well. I've gone to gigs feeling crappy and somehow found myself in a full on groove. We have to accept this fluctuating reality. If there were no downs there would be no ups. It's the downs that make the ups so sweet. Learn to love it.   Pull out your Zen philosophies and put 'em to work. Let go to the flow of things and try to stay light about the whole thing. It's all good.            #2:  We are in a constant state of flux mentally and physically. Our environment is in a constant state of flux. Nothing in the universe is totally stable. Why would our playing be stable?    #3: Variance will never go away. Just the other day somebody told me a story about seeing Hozan Yamamoto in Colorado one year. It was early in the morning and he couldn't get a sound and had to apologize and bail. Maybe he was dehydrated from too much "party", but can you imagine a player as great as him not being able to get a sound?       #4: Practice, practice, practice and on the days it's not happening have chuckle and go do something else. Herbie Hancock Quote: " It's important to recognize when your soul doen't want to play"     Seth, a healthy curiosity is  one of the greatest gifts one can have. I enjoy your provocative questions.
       Hope that helps

" Who do you trust , me or your own eyes?" - Groucho Marx



#5 2008-06-30 13:51:30

From: Vancouver, Canada
Registered: 2008-06-19
Posts: 85

Re: Here today gone tomorrow...

Hello Seth
  #1 - You don't have a problem, other than the fact that you are judging your playing.
A Shakuhachi competition is a ridiculous concept and it goes totally against the spirit of the instrument. Life and your Spirit are Talking through the Bamboo... our job is to just listen humbly and gratefully. Don't play for any other than Spirit, and least of all to ego. Everything goes through Cycles and Changes.
Of course this brings up the subject of Shakuhachi concerts, but that's another thread :-)

#2 - Your heart your mind your body changes in weather humidity and maybe even what the heck Mercury is doing today. Is it unique to Shakuhachi?... Just look at any relationship you have...

#3 - Yes it subsides. No, it never goes away.

#4 - There is no problem... Celebrate your imperfection with a good sense of humor and compassion.

As far as practicing goes, I've posted a blog for my students at … =242220414
It is specifically meant for drumming but I think it applies to any discipline. Check it out if you have time.

  My Indian drumming Guru, Trichi Shankaran, is one of the humblest men I know. Once he finished playing the most amazing concert and I was talking excitedly about my experience; He looked at me with a loving smile and said: You think that was good?... you should have heard my guru...
That taught me the beautiful lesson that no matter where we are at, we always have someone to look up to. Music is an endlessly humbling and fascinating Path... Only those who Know know how little they Know.

May all beings be peaceful and happy...



#6 2008-06-30 21:18:45

From: Western Massachusetts
Registered: 2006-01-05
Posts: 75

Re: Here today gone tomorrow...

Thanks for posting this Seth!  While i'm just a bit over the 2 year mark, I run into this  and often wondered if it was just me.  Of course my teacher tells me "this will pass", but that is what teachers do :-). Right?  Its comforting to know it happens to the pro's also.

I did start a small journal a while back.  That way i can reflect back and see that i actually have those good days also.

Of course today i sit here during a heat wave, AC blasting, the house dry as a bone .  A good day to play outside i think.




#7 2008-07-02 20:09:21

From: Los Angeles
Registered: 2007-11-16
Posts: 215

Re: Here today gone tomorrow...

Hey Seth,

I'm in the throes of first year on the shakuhachi, and I know what you mean about performance variability.  I do have some ideas as to why it's happening, not that I can really think my way through the issue just by having a hunch as to what's going on.  I have the most experience as a singer of all my musical instruments, I guess, and there are three ways you can get a sound out:  carefully, but without enough force and emotion; really strongly, but in a way that will blow you out after awhile; and somewhere riiight in the middle.  That's the secret.  How to get in that sweet spot?  Practice, practice, practice, take deep breaths, walk outside, laugh at yourself and that ridiculous piece of wood with 5 holes in it and do something else for a while. 

I'm running into difficulties because I'm trying to refine stuff that I 'cheat' at the first time around: flubbed ataris, playing a phrase in two breaths instead of one, crummy meri notes.  Suddenly a piece that was 'easy' is harder again!  Maybe you experience these sorts of progressive difficulties because you are able to raise the bar higher the next time around?  Or maybe it's just that lack of sweet spot...and that is so hard to control.  Shakuhachi seems to have a much narrower performance parameter for generating a good note.  Ah, but when you get it, it's so worth it.  smile



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