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No, its not some sort of koan!
My first meeting with my Shakuhachi teacher is in a week and a half. And that will be the first time I get a chance to actually try blowing on the bamboo flute.
Is there anything I can do in the meantime to prepare?
are you familiar with Honkyoku or japanese folk songs? If so, my advice is to sing them.
Or if you don`t know any..buy some mp3s & sing along with them.
Last edited by geni (2008-10-21 17:56:04)
You might try blowing out a candle repeatedly, moving the candle further and further away after each successful attempt. When blowing, visualize that your belly is a balloon and your navel is the mouth of the balloon. In the same way that a balloon inflates, you should try to cause your abdomen to extend (not your chest) and in the same way as a balloon deflates (equal pressure from all directions toward the opening) so should do the same with your abdomen. There should be little up an down movement in your chest. Try to blow long and steady with a focus of blowing out the ever retreating candle. With practice, this will familiarize you with the type of breath that is necessary for blowing the shakuhachi correctly and well. All the best with your first lesson.
That is a really helpful visual. I have been trying to the do the breathing from the belly, but do not get it all the time. I have heard that opera singers do the same thing. Once you've "got it down" do you find that you breathe that way all the time, or just when playing shakuhachi, i.e. when doing it on purpose. It feels very unnatural to me, and I have to coordinate it with deliberate intention, but I certainly see the value in it, and am trying to make "the breathing switch." My hope is that it becomes natural over time.
Airin, best of luck with your first lesson. Watch out for that bamboo, I have it on good authority that the stuff is highly addictive.
Last edited by Lorka (2008-10-21 08:35:57)
Hi Airin and welcome, moderation in all things is recommended (especially ...)
Lorka - the abdominal breathing does end up feeling natural, honest. Just try to adopt it as the way you breath all the time. In fact I don't know what "normal" is any more, sometimes I move my chest in and out just for the exercise, it seems like a lot of effort.
When I started practising breathing (not for playing shakuhachi, I started practising "standing up" at the same time) it was with counts of 4 (in 4,hold 4,out 4,hold 4), then slowly increase the counts, for shakuhachi it would probably benefit from increasing the count on the outs and the holds before the Ins.
Now all I have to do is convince the Mrs that my fuller figure really is the result of Chi - not cheese.
Last edited by Ambi (2008-10-21 12:02:07)
The following is from an article on my website at http://www.shakuhachizen.com/breathing.html.
Firstly, do most of these exercises away from the shakuhachi. The key is to experience breathing in a new way and then recreate this next time we play. I know your family or friends will look at you strangely but believe me it is worth it!
If you feel any tension in the chest or are slightly dizzy when playing shakuhachi, I recommend this exercise. In my experience, pupils donít feel tension or dizziness when doing this exercise. You can pace yourself and are not worried about getting a good tone.
Blow against the palm of your hand as if blowing ro-buki. Be aware of the following:
* Is the air warm or cold?
* Is the air-stream focussed or diffuse?
* Does the air-stream take a moment to get into gear or lose focus in the middle or near the end?
* At what point on your hand does the air-stream strike?
Then explore your breathing doing the following:
* Change the temperature of the air.
* Change between focused and diffused air-streams and vice versa.
* Get a clearer start and finish.
* Change the direction of the air up and down your palm.
Be aware of how your body feels. Do you feel the muscles working in your lower stomach? Do you feel your lips buzzing? Do you lose your posture near the end? Make a count in your head. Only blow for as long as you are comfortable.
I first learned about "belly-breathing" when starting to learn western flute
more than 25 years ago: my teacher had me lie down on the back and put
a book on my belly to help me get the idea. In my feeling, this way of
breathing is most natural.
I find this question of how to practice without an instrument very interesting
indeed: there are many situations when an instrument (e.g., shakuhachi)
is not at hand but there is time to practice. For those situations it seems
useful to concentrate on specific aspects of practice (to reduce complexity):
1. breathing technique,
2. fingering technique,
3. memorizing pieces.
We've had good advice on the first and also some on the last.
Is there any more advice available, in particular also on the second?
I think that fingering practice has to coordinate with other things internally. When I was learning the Great Scottish Pipes as a kid, I was told to hum a tune and move my fingers accordingly. In reality, this was wonderful for gaining relative pitch. The same can be done with a piece for shakuhachi. In my teaching practice, I will sing a piece along with the student who is playing concurrently, however I don't just sing the tone, but sing the name of the note as well. This creates another aid to allow the student to identify the note being played visually (reading), kinesthetically (fingering) and audibly (my voice/pitch/note name and their playing pitch). I know this doesn't address the question of fingering practice without an instrument directly, but adaptations can be made. Obviously familiarity with a piece, or an already instilled sense of relative pitch is necessary here.
These breathing excersises are nice! Especially the thing you mentioned on your website philthefluter; trying to get the same thing on your flute. I think I can do the breathing excersise ok, but on the shaku I seem to 'loose' air more fast.
More breathing exercises, compliments of Nyokai.
These breathing exercises are great. I was wondering what I could do to prepare before actually having a shakuhachi to practice with, too.
I'm new to this thread which I didn't notice until your post here now. I actually often practice shakuhachi with no shakuhachi. If I'm on the train I will study pieces just from the notation, either practicing those I have learned already, or preparing pieces which I am about to be taught. If I were at home of course I would use a shakuhachi, but on the train I will just play them in my head. It makes me very familiar with the pieces.
However, this is from having experience of playing already. If you are asking what to do before having actual experience, what you can do it to memorize the notation. That's very useful. You could draw spots on a stick for example, and practice memorizing which symbols of the notation represent which fingerings. That will give you a good head start. And memorizing the meaning of the other written symbols. Not all of them will make perfect sense before playing but a lot will.
Next thing you can do is listen to shakuhachi music. If you have a teacher, he may be able help you obtain recordings of practice exercises he will give you or the first piece of music you will study. (Lacking a teacher, if you will try to teach yourself, choose the music you intend to learn). Listening to this while looking at the notation could help. Or if that is too tricky, actually just listening to the music is a great help. Listen again and again, until you internalize it, so you know where it is going, and become familiar with the details and subtleties. The more familiar with it you become, the more easy it will be to play correctly. Depth of playing starts with depth of listening. I would say the most important thing about studying or playing shakuhachi, is listening.
Thank you, Justin! I have been looking at fingering charts online to begin memorizing the notation, but I hadn't thought of translating that so simply to the muscle memory (with the stick). I think that will be a huge help. I don't have a teacher right now (I know there are online lessons, but I have dial-up and I'm not really set up for that), although I would like one in the future, but I know that there are a lot of links to notation for different pieces that I can look up and use, so I'll do that, too. And listening. Thanks again for the suggestions!
You're welcome. Be aware that there are different notation systems. Without a teacher, as you look for different pieces you may encounter these different systems. Some have more differences than others. So bare that in mind. When you purchase notation, you may be able to purchase the notation chart of the same system. One shop is Mejiro in Japan, which stocks different notation, and you could ask them by mail if they have the relevant notation chart if you buy notation from them. Otherwise, sometimes collections already contain a chart. One thing you will notice is some notes have the same pitch but different fingering. I recommend trying to stay with the fingering notated even if you find an "easier" way. Otherwise you may end up loosing subtleties before you notice them!