Mujitsu and Tairaku's Shakuhachi BBQ

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Tube of delight!

#26 2008-02-21 06:33:09

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

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

LOL, This is interesting Daniel...  Deja Vu actually... After 2 of us new students had been playing about a year she had us play the opening of a Craft Fair!  We did Rokudan, Chidori No Koku, Korokami and Haru no Hikari.  Neither of us felt like we belonged there!  She told us just to "get through the piece, if you fall off, get back on where you can,  If you loose your sound just keep playing".  That part i think is hardest part,  playing the piece and forgetting about what is comming out of the flute (as a beginner anyway).  But it works, as time goes by more and more of the piece comes out without incident.

In the words of my teacher (and hers)"Just Play!"  What comes out, comes out!

Ken

Daniel Ryudo wrote:

I think I mentioned the incentive that playing in front of other people gives one in an earlier post on this thread.  Our shakuhachi teacher here, Kyodo sensei, didn't give us much of a choice in that matter.  After roughly a year or so of shakuhachi lessons had passed we were all expected to play one or more gaikyoku pieces, individually accompanying koto and/or shamisen players, in front of an invited audience at an annual saraikai (end of year recital).  The sensei didn't have the sensibilities of the audience in mind at his first saraikai, as three of us were required to play the same three pieces (Kurokami, Shintakasago, and Rokudan No Shirabe) consecutively so the audience had to sit through each piece three times, but it actually ended up being two times for listening to the shakuhachi part as one of the participants wasn't able to get a sound out of his flute for the duration of the three pieces, though his fingers were moving the whole time.  After that embarrassing experience he never returned to the shakuhachi class but the other fellow and I continued learning the flute.  The other player, who was also my senpai (had started learning before me), and who acted as my interpreter in those early days of learning the flute, dropped out of the group four years later after playing a gaikyoku piece in front of an audience of over 500 people (a special occasion as my sensei's teacher, the iemoto, and his entourage of players had come down from Tokyo to give a concert); he didn't stop playing shakuhachi but quit the sensei's lessons as the stage fright had been too much for him. 

From the year of the second recital the sensei had us all play different pieces for the event; three of us still had to play three or four pieces on our own; if we couldn't get a sound, or lost our place in the piece, the sensei would start singing the shakuhachi part or playing the part until one figured out where in the piece one was; there was no stopping and starting over once the piece had begun. One's initial goal was just to be able to get through those pieces without looking like an idiot in front of the members of the audience (and to the koto/shamisen players one was accompanying).  Refinement of the pieces came later (and is still ongoing).  Many of the invited guests would sit through one saraikai and never return again as four hours of listening to beginners play squeaking flutes was something of an endurance contest, though there was (and still is) a great post concert meal of sashimi, beer, and sake free for all guests which often attracted some audience members who would show up after half of the show was over.  Over the years the playing gradually got better for those who continued playing, and with the increase in students now each of us usually only plays one gaikyoku piece individually.  We have our twentieth annual recital coming up later this year.

Last edited by KenC (2008-02-21 06:35:46)

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#27 2008-02-21 16:06:34

stevetree
Member
Registered: 2008-02-16
Posts: 10

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

I must admit, part of the attraction of shakuhachi at first was the challenge, the idea that it was difficult to get any sound out of it at all.  Sometimes, it still is.

But the main reason I am learning to play it is because I like to hear it.

Much as I learned to cook because I like to eat.

And I'm learning to make shakuhachi because... well, I think that's just my natural born craziness coming to the surface.

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#28 2008-02-21 21:34:07

Karmajampa
Member
From: Aotearoa (NZ)
Registered: 2006-02-12
Posts: 574
Website

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

Mary Lou Brandwine in her essay 'The Bamboo Way' has some wonderful thoughts relevant to this thread.
http://www.shakuhachi.org/bamboo_way_chikudo.htm

Kel.


Kia Kaha !

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#29 2008-02-24 01:45:29

jumbuk
Member
From: South-eastern Australia
Registered: 2005-12-15
Posts: 85

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

It's certainly not easy, but that's not a bad thing if you are approaching the instrument as part of a Zen practice.  Even if (like me) the Zen is not the thing that brought you to the instrument, my experience is that you will learn something about your capacity for patience and humility.

As a musical instrument, once I started to get a reasonable tone, I understood why I was practicing.  I love my wooden simple system flutes (mainly for Irish music) , but the shakuhachi has a tone that transcends anything else I have heard or played.  And once the meri technique becomes second nature, the seeming chromatic limitations disappear.


... as if nothing is happening.  And it is!

Paul Mitchell, Jumbuktu 2006

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#30 2008-02-29 10:02:29

Vevolis
Member
From: Toronto, ON
Registered: 2007-12-24
Posts: 175
Website

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

I've just started playing and I have three training DVD's as well as Perry Yung's manual. I haven't passed Perry's guide into the DVD's because I’m still not comfortable with my Ro Tsu Re Chi or Ri. Don't even ask me about the second octave or the mystical third. My wife asked to try the Shakuhachi (She's played flute for several years) and was able to make a beautiful note I wasn't even familiar with. All notes open. When I play the note, all open, it's a good full tone flat, naturally. I move my embouchure all over the place but can't replicate it. She tells me to simply blow down the Utagachi without forming anything on my lips. I hear the sound harmonically.

The Shakuhachi is like an endless pudding cup. There's always something sweet wedged in the corner and is worth the effort to jab it with a spoon. That is the poorest metaphor for anything, ever.

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#31 2008-02-29 11:01:49

Alex
Member
From: Barcelona - Spain
Registered: 2005-10-17
Posts: 138

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

Hello everybody,

I think there is a very important thing in blowing Shakuhachi and how hard it is to learn that I don't see mentioned very often, even IMO is quite crucial. This is, "blowing" using the diaphragm.

I use brackets because it's not blowing in the conventional sense like we would blow a candle but rather a kind of sustained sigh, warm air as opposed to cold air.

In this sense I read that although most people just use the chest to breathe, there are some people who naturally use “abdominal breath” and hence would have a natural advantage to learn Shakuhachi as they don’t have to change the way they get air in and out of their body.

So, if chest-breather beginner just blows and blows into the Shakuhachi ignoring this issue s/he may get a sound but it wouldn’t be as focused and sustained as a “deep sight”, as I read someone put it, so they would be getting a wrong approach and could be wasting a lot of time.

Just a thought


"An artist has got to be careful never really to arrive at a place where he thinks he's "at" somewhere. You always have to realise that you are constantly in the state of becoming. And as long as you can stay in that realm, you'll sort of be all right"
Bob Dylan

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#32 2008-02-29 16:16:04

Tairaku 太楽
Administrator/Performer
From: Tasmania
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 3222
Website

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

Excellent point Alex. This is one of the most important things and the main thing that separates "good" from "bad" players.


'Progress means simplifying, not complicating' : Bruno Munari

http://www.myspace.com/tairakubrianritchie

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#33 2008-02-29 19:35:41

Jeff Cairns
teacher, performer,promoter of shakuhachi
From: Kumamoto, Japan
Registered: 2005-10-10
Posts: 517
Website

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

With regard to breathing, I think that most teachers instruct their students in this regard as one of the primary things to focus on.  Mine suggested that during the out breath, one should push the diaphragm downward.  I took this idea and added some imagery to it with some slight changes.  I suggest that my students imagine their stomach as a deflated balloon.  When they breath in , the breath comes in the navel and the balloon inflates as a balloon would; outward from the center.  So the breath begins in the middle abdomen and can continue into the chest at the end.  Upon the exhale, again the balloon analogy is used; the balloon deflates from the imagined tension at its outer surface through the navel until it's completely deflated.  From there the process begins again. And as far as the breath itself , I instruct when blowing long tones, to use what others call a warm breath.  Basically it's like saying 'hhhaaaaaaaaa' without vocalizing.


shakuhachi flute
I step out into the wind
with holes in my bones

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#34 2008-02-29 21:40:50

Kerry
Member
From: Nashville, TN
Registered: 2005-10-10
Posts: 183

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

Jeff Cairns wrote:

the breath comes in the navel and the balloon inflates as a balloon would; outward from the center.  So the breath begins in the middle abdomen and can continue into the chest at the end.  Upon the exhale, again the balloon analogy is used; the balloon deflates from the imagined tension at its outer surface through the navel until it's completely deflated.  From there the process begins again. And as far as the breath itself , I instruct when blowing long tones, to use what others call a warm breath.  Basically it's like saying 'hhhaaaaaaaaa' without vocalizing.

Jeff,
This is such a great lesson! Thanks.
See, shakuhachi 'doesn't have to be' so hard.....smile
-kerry


The temple bell stops, but the sound keeps coming out of the flowers. -Basho

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#35 2008-02-29 22:17:10

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

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

they use the some approach for playing sax & flute.

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#36 2008-02-29 23:04:03

edosan
Edomologist
From: Salt Lake City
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 2185

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

Kerry wrote:

This is such a great lesson! Thanks.
See, shakuhachi 'doesn't have to be' so hard.....smile

The technique is not particularly hard; what's hard is developing the unconscious habit of DOing it efficiently...

eB


Zen is not easy.
It takes effort to attain nothingness.
And then what do you have?
Bupkes.

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#37 2008-03-01 06:21:24

Jeff Cairns
teacher, performer,promoter of shakuhachi
From: Kumamoto, Japan
Registered: 2005-10-10
Posts: 517
Website

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

edosan wrote:

The technique is not particularly hard; what's hard is developing the unconscious habit of DOing it efficiently...

eB

Fortunately, there is a trick to making this an unconscious habit...constant repetition.  The sometimes considerable effort of maintaining the practice will (thanks to that effort) diminish in time to the point where the practice is second nature leaving an all new departure point that awaits its absorption and forgetting through practice.


shakuhachi flute
I step out into the wind
with holes in my bones

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#38 2008-03-01 09:50:24

edosan
Edomologist
From: Salt Lake City
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 2185

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

Constant repetition....how novel!! smile


Zen is not easy.
It takes effort to attain nothingness.
And then what do you have?
Bupkes.

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#39 2008-08-17 23:11:18

RayB
Member
Registered: 2008-08-17
Posts: 1

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

(I heard something about Ray Brooks... yes?)<<<<<<

SETH, I enjoy reading your posts. I had quite a few emails asking me why I have stopped playing. To quote mark twain..."The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated"

I play shakuhachi everyday but no longer teach and play very few public performances. Nor do I put in the hours that I used too. For myself, I have found that Shakuhachi is a solo meditive tool that has pointed to what i have always been looking for. What I have always been. The very last place one looks. The shakuhachi is really only a tool for this and really has no other use (for me). Its not important "that its too damn hard" as your question states. Its neither hard nor not hard. Where you are at is perfect. Ichi-on Jobutsu, that is what it comes down too. Seeing that a good note or a so called bad note, rises and falls in something that is perminant.

All the very best

Ray

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#40 2008-08-18 06:50:33

Justin
Shihan/Maker
From: Japan
Registered: 2006-08-12
Posts: 540
Website

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

Ray, it is a pleasure to read your post. Welcome to the forum! You sound like ... can't find the words. Sound great! It's really a pleasure to hear it.

Best wishes

Justin
http://senryushakuhachi.com/

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#41 2008-08-18 09:55:42

Vevolis
Member
From: Toronto, ON
Registered: 2007-12-24
Posts: 175
Website

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

After my second lesson (Both of which I could barely play a note), I'm noticing that you have to be very focused and relaxed at the same time. I've been taught to "reverse breathe", like when someone tries to punch you, you blow air out and pivot your pelvis downwards to avoid having the wind knocked out of you. Instead, you relax your pelvis and pivot it downwards and breathe down into your lower back, your shoulders relax and your chest shouldn't be filling with air, it should be filling down below. You kind of slouch your posture down and back when you breathe in, and you straighten your pelvis (lifting your spine) and you focus the air up and outwards.

Playing a note, focusing on reverse breathing and when I started to play a piece; including timing and another language... it starts to become like playing a drum set with different rhythms and parts, my focus just kinda... farts out.

You can't play this instrument if you're not relaxed... and you've got an empty vessel in your head which you can FILL with frustration while practicing and you can dump it every few blows.

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#42 2008-08-18 14:21:54

chikuzen
Dai Shihan/Dokyoku
From: Cleveland Heights,OH 44118
Registered: 2005-10-24
Posts: 402
Website

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

Edo-san:"constant repetition"?  I can't breath anymore with a rise and fall in my cheat unless I consciously raise and lower it. My chest doesn't move even as I breath in my sleep. I'm not sure I'm happy about this condition. My stomach sticks out more because the muscles are expandable and to top it off I now have a hernia (alien baby?) that pops out between my sternum and navel. I almost suffocate just bending over to tie my shoes. I was told by an older friend in Japan in 1982 (born 1898; now deceased) that shakuhachi players were notorious shallow chest breathers. I didn't understand her at the time as I just started playing shakuhachi. 


NOT GUTLESS


Michael Chikuzen Gould

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#43 2008-08-19 08:00:54

Dun Romin
Member
From: Holland
Registered: 2008-04-19
Posts: 136

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

This really is a very interesting threat. Chikuzen, I feel/regonise with you/r breathing all the way, but don't you worry, all oldschool classical trained operasingers have this same very developed diafragm-muscle 'problem' and as far as I know they considere(d) it as a positive sign of being a good top-sporter....eh.....singer.
But all present, how important it really is if playing shakuhachi is 'to damn hard', you're desparate sometimes, you feel like a masochist. Why you keep up playing it? Do you not feel rewarded then?
For me, I bring in a (visible) trained singers-diafragm, I like to perform, etc., etc. all that sort of things. But starting on the shakuhachi I soon discovered all this didn't matter any longer; I excersise, breath, study, get annoyed, or whatever, just to keep on going, because the instrument itself is rewarding me over and over again. Whatever you are looking for, I guess the drive for you to keep playing is not determined by the difficulties, but by your presonal rewardings. smile And I want to thank you all for sharing here, what you are rewarded by.


Tomorrow's wind only blows tomorrow. (Koji)

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#44 2008-08-19 09:05:26

Justin
Shihan/Maker
From: Japan
Registered: 2006-08-12
Posts: 540
Website

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

chikuzen wrote:

I can't breath anymore with a rise and fall in my cheat unless I consciously raise and lower it. My chest doesn't move even as I breath in my sleep. I'm not sure I'm happy about this condition.

Hi Michael
Next time you see a baby, check out how it breathes. You might find it breathes the same way. It's common for Tai Chi practitioners, and meditators too, to return to this condition. I think it is that we are retaining less tension in our body. Don't think it's anything to worry about (except the hernia maybe!)

I think the Chinese Daoists treasure their little pot-bellies.

Justin
http://senryushakuhachi.com/

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#45 2008-08-19 15:37:59

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

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

Wow, Chikuzen, please take care of yourself!. You are too valuable a member of this community and a great teacher.
I highly recommend a little book called "The Science of Breath" by  Indian author Ramacharaka. I practice robuki while doing walking meditation (walking extremely slowly and exercising deep body awareness) and full "yogic" breathing. Breath is truly a science in itself and we are so far removed from the natural way...
As far as the original theme of this thread, I find that I do best (as an extreme multi instrumentalist) when there is no reason or choice. It's like falling in love and not being able to take your eyes off the object of you desire. The first recording of Shakuhachi I ever heard was "music for Zen Meditation" by Tony Scott, and it was love at first ear :-)   From then on I never asked myself if it was difficult or whatever, and I never felt I had a "choice".
Whenever "choice" appears I worry, because my experience is that if I am in tune with myself and the "Tao", the matter of choice simply does not come in. I feel that  choosing an instrument with a specific view to perform is poor motivation... like choosing a wife to show her off?... Performance should be a by product... simply a celebration of your relationship with the instrument and a sharing of the magic of sound. Mastery can not be a goal either, it's also a byproduct of your love affair with the instrument (maybe that's the whole point of that wonderful little story that was told early on this thread).
  I've had funny experiences whereby a professional musician picked up the instrument and could not produce a sound, while a kid got a great sound right away!. I guess that's the Zen nature of the instrument. We must remember that "difficult" is just a concept. Let the instrument simply be a mirror of where you are at at that very Moment, try to bypass judgment of any kind... and for God sake... never give a damn about anybody else's opinions and judgments about it.
Many blessings to you all...

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#46 2008-08-19 16:43:42

Mujitsu
Administrator/Flutemaker
From: San Francisco
Registered: 2005-10-05
Posts: 885
Website

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

jdanza wrote:

We must remember that "difficult" is just a concept. Let the instrument simply be a mirror of where you are at at that very Moment, try to bypass judgment of any kind... and for God sake... never give a damn about anybody else's opinions and judgments about it.
Many blessings to you all...

Many thanks for bringing this up Pepe. The idea of the "difficulty" of shakuhachi being just a concept has particular significance for me.

During a health crisis when it was difficult for me to breathe, I was forced to put this idea to the test. I was helped tremendously by modern medicine. However, I felt it was also very important to use the shakuhachi as a metaphor to help me remember how the most difficult things can also be the easiest because they are right in front of our eyes, often too close for us to notice.

In one sense, the shakuhachi is obviously very difficult. However, we've all experienced those special moments of effortlessness. It seems there must be some clues there.

Ken

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#47 2008-08-19 16:58:36

Tairaku 太楽
Administrator/Performer
From: Tasmania
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 3222
Website

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

jdanza wrote:

I guess that's the Zen nature of the instrument. We must remember that "difficult" is just a concept. Let the instrument simply be a mirror of where you are at at that very Moment, try to bypass judgment of any kind... and for God sake... never give a damn about anybody else's opinions and judgments about it.
Many blessings to you all...

This has always been my attitude towards music but it is at odds with the traditional Japanese thinking where we have guys who are pushing 60 still worrying about what other people think about their music. One of the quandaries of being a Westerner and playing this instrument.


'Progress means simplifying, not complicating' : Bruno Munari

http://www.myspace.com/tairakubrianritchie

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#48 2008-08-19 17:25:03

Kiku Day
Shakuhachi player, teacher and ethnomusicologist
From: London, UK & Nørre Snede, DK
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 922
Website

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

Mmmm... nice to hear your take on this, Pepe!

jdanza wrote:

I practice robuki while doing walking meditation (walking extremely slowly and exercising deep body awareness) and full "yogic" breathing. Breath is truly a science in itself and we are so far removed from the natural way...

This sounds very interesting. I will cretainly try that tomorrow morning!

jdanza wrote:

I feel that  choosing an instrument with a specific view to perform is poor motivation... like choosing a wife to show her off?... Performance should be a by product... simply a celebration of your relationship with the instrument and a sharing of the magic of sound. Mastery can not be a goal either, it's also a byproduct of your love affair with the instrument

Wise words!
I was in the midst of doing the entrance exams for the Royal Academy of Music in Cph when I heard a recording of shakuhachi. I immediately took off to Japan to learn and never finished the exams. One important aspect among many wonderful aspects in shakuhachi playing that really appealed to me was, that shakuhachi music was not for performance. After years of training to perform on piano and flute, I felt this was a quality of liberation I never experienced before in music (perhaps even in my life). I only began performing and teaching when that path opened without a desire for it. This non-ego aspect of shakuhachi makes it a truly wonderful instrument.

jdanza wrote:

Let the instrument simply be a mirror of where you are at at that very Moment, try to bypass judgment of any kind... and for God sake... never give a damn about anybody else's opinions and judgments about it.

The shakuhachi is the best mirror of all. Not even looking at the mirror or thinking about how I am will show me where I am more than the first note from a shakuhachi. It can be very tiring, but it is also fantastic.

Regarding breathing. I have noticed I can get into periods where my mind is so much on the breathing that it interferres with it. But your situation sounds more serious, Chikuzen. Take care!


I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ's breath moves through
listen to this music
Hafiz

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#49 2009-01-29 15:21:07

froggyantbear
Member
Registered: 2008-12-28
Posts: 12

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

Tairaku wrote:

It's good that shakuhachi is hard. Look at the instruments which are easy such as didgeridoo, acoustic guitar, djembe, etc. they have created musical plagues.

I must say this statement has given me great satisfaction upon hearing it. As someone who has spent 6-8 hours a day practicing guitar till my fingers bled in the dark(to "feel" the fret instead of seeing it), just to come out to see any Tom Dick and Harry could perform a entire concert show with 3 chords and BAD BAD BAD form is so unfair to aspiring musicians who actually put passion into honing their craft.

I however would highly disagree that a didgeridoo is a simple instrument to play. Its simple to get a sound out of it, but to get a good sound and the right vibration through your body takes long and hard practice and high levels of self-awareness and breath/diaphram control. And If educated, one can hear the distinction between a drone of a master and beginner. Like the chinese saying: "The judge of a master is in his simple punch" and so is the one breath of a shakuhachi master.


Tairaku wrote:

Every 16 year old girl in the universe who knows D, G and A7 on the guitar wants to tell us about her problems.

radiognome wrote:

Hey, lay off, they're finding themselves

Although I do support musical expression whatever the form may be, I agree with Tairaku in the sense that simple instruments
halts self discovery. (This is assuming that the point of music is not just self expression but self discovery) If

a) Society sets a low standard on what can be termed music
b) Simple formulas that are widespread to make music easily makeable

Chances are people are going to stop improving, being self/instrument-aware, and through hard practice discover other
means of self expressions that they didn't even know existed in them!

Isn't that what really drives us all here? Or all musicians? Excitement/joy of discovery!
Instead the ease of modern instruments tempts people's attention onto fame, money and this so called exterior "music"
thing they can make.

Tairaku wrote:

Praise appropriate deities for difficult instruments.

The chinese precursor to the shakuhachi is so much easier to play, perhaps they ACTUALLY made it harder
for use as a meditation tool to train self awareness. There is nowhere you can hide with the shakuhachi, its like a reflective
lake to yourself. There is few instruments that I have come across that holds you immediately
responsible for your entire being.

Too Damn Hard? I say its a helping hand for the pursuit of enlightenment. And the cure for this plague of musical zombies.

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#50 2009-01-29 18:09:55

YuccaBruce
Member
From: Tucson
Registered: 2008-07-06
Posts: 39
Website

Re: Is shakuhachi just too damn hard?!?

Anything worth doing has inherent ease and difficulty.

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