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The last couple of days have been the most painful (physically) in my life. I had intense pain originating in the area just above the chin and below the lower lip, where the shakuhachi typically rests. As it turns out I needed a double root canal and had a nasty infection in the area that needed to be delt with. The timing was horrible becuase I was supposed to catch a plane to BC for a library conference and to visit a friend, and hopefully to go pay a visit to Alcvin Ramos on the Sunshine Coast. I'm pretty sad, bummed out, and generally depressed about the whole thing. But I should be able to pick the shakuhachi up in a few days though, which is nice.
Although the shakuhachi did not casue any of the problems, my dentist gave me a serious warning not to put sustained pressure on that area. He also told me that sustained pressure on the area below the lower lip and above the chin bone was something that was often used as a torture technique, as there are some sensitive nerves in that area and once aggrevated they can casue extreme pain and possible nerve damage that can last for up to six months. No fun.
I am no dentist or nerve specialist, but from what the dentist explained to me it seemed quite possible that pressing against that area with any force, for a sustained period, even if minutes, could aggrevate the nerve. Maybe this is why they say you should rest the shakuhachi 'as light as a feather'.
Again, don't take this as proven fact, but there is a possible negative health risk for pressing the shakuhachi against that area too hard. I just thought I would mention it, to help others that are new to the instrument avoid possible pain. For me it was actually as good thing, as my pressing that area aggrevated an infection that I knew nothing about, and becuase of the extreme pain my dentist found out about it in time to stop it. Still, I think resting it as lightly as you can is highly advisable. Just my two cents.
Thanks for sharing your experience; it defenetly is a further reason for aimimg at the "resting as a feather" goal.
I think it is kind of tricky though and at least in my case it has taken a lot of practice to release some pressure from that area and I still find it very difficult, specially in the kan octave, but when achieved it defenetly improves your playing! (well, once you manage to direct the flow of air as efficiently as when you are pressing the Shakuhachi closer to your mouth opening!)
Hope you are recovered in no time
It's VERY difficult to refrain from jamming it into your face like a battering ram, especially when you are nervous, such as in performance or during a gruelling lesson. In fact I have never figured out how to stop that from happening, does anybody have any tips?
Technically what it does is make you play a little flatter.
I dont know how to stop it during performance. I think it might have something to do with habit as well, so if you play for long enough with a relaxed grip, that will become your normal playing position. Try this: tape up the holes and hold the flute with one hand. This takes away the factor of how you hold the flute and you can focus only on how the flute rests on your chin. I find that the more I relax, the harder it is to make a solid sound, which probably indicates how much I rely on the tension to make a sound. After practicing this way for a while, I can make a better sound.
Last edited by caffeind (2007-04-19 19:31:30)
I have found that after a fairly long practice session there will actually be a red imprint where the shakuhachi rests- I guess that's a sign that I am pressing too hard:)
I too hold the flute with only my right hand sometimes to develop a consciousness about how hard I'm gripping with my left. I've found that after doing this for about ten minutes my grip will be noticeably lighter throughout the practice session.
Unique bamboo. Unique chins and teeth. One size does not fit all.
Reduce tension but also file, sand, and polish. Especially with bigger flutes.
I find even just a token bit of custom shaping in the right direction makes a (placebo?) improvement in my relationship to a flute.
Something to think about...kinda scared to do anything to my main flute but it doesnt really bother me that much anyway, just looks a little silly after a practice sessiom. BTW Darren I checked out Al's blog and in one of teh pics you are playing a 2.85.. Is it possibly made by Murai-san? If so that would be really interesting- The bamboo for my 2.4 looks very similar to that of the 2.85, it could almost be the same flute just longer.
Sometimes bamboo shakuhachi have a sharp edge where the bamboo meets the chin/lip area. I have had good results with using very fine sandpaper to smooth this edge to make it more comfortable thus reducing the resulting pressure.
• I strongly recommend reshaping the 'chinrest' area of the mouthpiece. If done correctly, and in small increments, it can do no harm, and can greatly increase the comfort level for YOUR chin. There is no hard-and-fast standard for the amount of roundoff of the chinrest in the shakuhachi-making community, some makers even leave a bit more (Ichijo Kobayashi, for one) material there so that further shaping is an option.
There are very large individual differences in the shape and 'stiffness' of the chin area.
Here's a method I like:
1 piece 100 grit garnet paper (or aluminum oxide)
1 piece 150 grit paper
1 piece 220 grit paper
Some 0000 steel wool
A short piece of pine (or similar) 1 x 2 (which would be 3/4" x 1.5") 6-8" long.
Tear the paper accurately into 4" x 6" rectangles, and wrap the piece tightly (long way) around 3 sides of the sanding stick, which then becomes a very controllable set of files. Even better: make 3 sticks, cut the paper to fit one wide side of each stick along its length, and stick 'em on with double-stick carpet tape. They'll last a long time, and are great tools for makers.
Remove some material with the 100 grit--avoid changing the angle of the back-cut; just remove/round off some of the chinrest--then work it down through the 150 to the 220 to smooth out the scratches, polish with the steel wool, and apply a few drops of your favorite oil.
Test; play it for a week or two. Repeat if necessary.
• I think the only way to reduce undue pressure under stress (performing or intense lessons) is to play under those circumstances a lot. You can be as relaxed as you like in your own practice environment, but when you go into those novel situations, you are bound to tighten up (pun...). Another aspect of this that I've noticed: Top players, like Riley Lee, say, are quite relaxed in some areas, and very precisely tensed in others--I don't think being a totally relaxed noodle begets strong playing. It's where the tension is that matters.
Last edited by edosan (2007-04-19 23:31:06)
I guess I am more cautious. I use only 220 and 400 grit sandpaper...first with a sanding block and then just with the sandpaper and my fingers. Sand, feel, sand, feel, etc... until it feels/plays just right for me. This does not reduce the need to play as a feather, it just increases the comfort. I try to play in public every chance I get. It gets easier every time.
With all respect for the idea of shaving down the chin rest, most of the time the problem lies with the player. Ive seen and tried plenty of flutes of great players where the chin rest was much sharper than the edges on my flutes, which are moderately rounded. Furthermore, how do you know that the changes are actually an advantage? Could those changes simply be more accommodating for your weaknesses?
Ah, yes. The sin of accommodating for one's weaknesses...forgot about that.
Last edited by edosan (2007-04-21 09:09:35)
If we are talking about rounding off the sharp outer edge of the bamboo I do not see any harm in it. The critical portion of the top portion of the bamboo is the relative height difference between the lowest part of the uta guchi and the highest part of the chin rest opposite the uta guchi. The more the height of the chin rest drops below the lowest part of the uta guchi the more restricted ones meri range will become.
Meri notes are easier with a rounded chin, but I think a sharper edge forces you to push your bottom lip more and you can get more volume. If you are further away, you can push out more. If you push out more, you have more play for meri anyway. There is a a point where its too far of course. Not everyones lips and mouths are the same, not everyone learns the same way to blow. Im just following the method taught by my teacher, and the idea that I change myself before trying to change anything on the flute. I think its tempting to reach for sandpaper and modify a flute.
Last edited by caffeind (2007-04-21 18:53:15)