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I know this topic has come up before, but I want to revisit it a little. I've been playing for about 2 1/2 years now, taking lessons once or twice a month with an excellent teacher(s). Lately I feel like I've hit a wall. I blow Ro, practice scales and runs, and work on several pieces, but I don't feel like I'm going anywhere. When I first started playing, the improvements were dramatic. Wow, I can hold a note for 10 seconds, or wow, that ro sounded sweet! Now, I feel like I'm not improving much at all, or at least I'm not noticing it as much. What advice do you proffesionals offer for someone in my situation or who feels this way? What should I be practicing at this point?
Last edited by Larry (2006-08-15 19:45:09)
I imagine that many of us have or have had those feelings at one time or another and if you are at some intermediate level it may be harder to judge your progress compared with those dramatic improvements that you could feel in the beginning days of your practice. I'm not really a professional in that I don't make a living from shakuhachi, and I don't know if there is any "should" in terms of practice; it all depends on where you want to go with your shakuhachi playing; some people may be satisfied with trying to master one honkyoku on shakuhachi as a meditative practice while others may be interested in becoming more and more proficient in a certain style of music. If you want to practice the traditional Japanese repertoire it would probably be wise to begin with the shorter, less complex gaikyoku or honkyoku and gradually start working up through them, perhaps something you are doing already with your teacher. I was not so attracted by the gaikyoku pieces initially but as the result of a strict regimen laid down by my sensei I gradually developed a fondness for some of them them over the years (in addition to reacting against that regimen and getting into unstructured improvizing with other musicians, which has also been a lot of fun for me); I think it was good that I was in a shakuhachi group with other students and could get feedback from them too. Your teacher can probably get you recordings of gaikyoku pieces that you can try playing along with. Honkyoku I was into from the beginning but it's only in the last few years that I've been trying to memorize them, taking Yokoyama Katsuya's advice that to truly know the honkyoku you have to internalize them. It's quite challenging trying to memorize a piece, and I think you will gain a sense of accomplishment if you can play a honkyoku from memory. There are also minyo pieces, folk songs; various materials are available from places like Monty Levenson's website. Do you have many chances to play with other people? One can learn a lot from playing with other musicians, whether they are shakuhachi players or players of other instruments. Of course, listening to as much music as possible is important too, especially the kind of music that you enjoy playing or would like to be able to play. Personally, I find that playing outdoors is good -- out in nature, in the mountains, by a river, in a forest...; the original komuso must have received a lot of their musical inspiration from their journeys through the Japanese countryside. Inspiration is important in facing the walls we come up against but consistent, quality practice is also an element that cannot be neglected -- perhaps you are already doing this. John Kaizan Neptune has some good comments on practice which are linked to this forum somewhere... Good luck
Not a professional by any means, but I consider myself a quite proficient guitarist. Occasionally I get the feeling like my playing is not progressing as quickly as I'd like. Try playing something different than what you usually do, or record yourself as a watermark to compare to earlier recordings. Actually, that doesn't matter so much - how you feel about your own playing is more important. Are you where you want to be? Look at what you hope to achieve from playing the instrument and work explicitly towards that goal.
Here are the links to the Neptune practice pages, in case you don't already have them:
Neptune Page 1
Neptune Page 2
I also recommend learning some Minyo tunes. There's a great deal of artfulness and lyrical beauty in Minyo if you work at it a bit, and LISTEN to good recordings of the tunes you'd like to learn. It's also good exercise (although not for everyone) to transcribe the pieces to paper. Minyo is also good because they are almost all short pieces and easy to memorize.
Other pieces I like for a worthwhile change are the compositions of Fukuda Rando (early 20th century); beautiful synthesis of Japanese music with western influences. Also, many are recorded by Yokoyama Katsuya and they are magnificent--something to strive for. Fukuda also wrote some pieces for shakuhachi trio and quartet--excellent.
If you don't get a buzz out of trying to play like Yokoyama-sensei, you'd better take up trombone...