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(snip)...An interesting exploration.
Just played through some modes, scales, and a few exercises using this idea. I like the pitch and timbre changes/differences. Thank you for mentioning this.
The first day I studied shakuhachi I was told that "meri notes are the heart of shakuhachi". And of course countless numbers of times after that explaining to me how they are different from not only the TYPES of sounds you find in the west but I was told that there is no equivalent in the rest of Asia. I don't know about that but the point was taken that they are different. However, it took me many years to understand that through the constant experience of them. I was taught that, contrary to the way some people play meri notes now, with the volume close to that of kari notes, one is to play with a smaller volume for meri and even smaller for Dai meri. And although the volume is smaller the note is more powerful in it's own way.
Not to be dense, but arren't meri and dai meri, by their nature, lower in volume that standard notes? I thought I read that somewhere here. Or are you suggesting that people strive to make them the same volume level, perhaps by overcompensating on notes that are naturally lower. I'm a little unclear about that. Having volume variation seems like a good idea to me. If everything is the same level of volume it sounds unnatural to me. One of the things that allures me in the shakuhachi sound is this expansion of sound, from small and introverted, to giant. It's like the notes can have a semi-physical shape to them, like balloons of varying size (and sometimes the balloons burst). Or maybe I'm just imagining things (probably I am).
Not to put words into Michael's mouth but I think he means we should embrace the fact that meri notes are not as loud and have different tone than the "regular" notes, rather than try to defeat it which is the goal of some modern players who seek uniformity of all notes. Some makers also attempt to defeat the meri notes by making unusual hole shapes to let more air escape.
As a beginner; even if I want to I can't sound meri notes or dai meri notes as hard as regular notes...Not that I want to though. The variation is indeed typical of the shakuhachi sound as is the atari and of course much more. That makes it so nice!
I agree with Michael/Brian, that we should embrace the softer nature of meri notes. Personally I have an unconscious tendency to want to project them. This doesn't happen when I am playing honkyoku or other solo pieces but crops up when I am playing ensemble pieces. I think it comes as a carry over from having played western wind instruments (we are taught to make the tone quality uniform throughout the playing range). It also comes from a desire to be heard when playing with another instrument. When I am playing with a koto it feels odd to have certain notes (ri-meri and tsu-meri in particular) disappear underneath the plucking of the koto. Unconsciously I want to bring them up in volume (which often results it making them way too sharp). This is a tendency that I have to constantly fight. Also in ensemble playing (or playing pieces that have fast passages) I have a tendency to flatten the note that follows a meri note. This is a bad habit (which I am also trying to correct) that, I believe is more of a mechanical problem. I'm correcting this problem by trying to be more aware of it and trying to play more with other instruments (or recordings).