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Anybody have any experience/advice with the five hole shakuhachi. I've played the conventional western flute for 35 years, but tone production on this thing has got me stymied.
 

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I play, and it is a booger to play.
The Japanese say it takes at least a year to get a sound on it- which is typical of the mind set here.

It doesn't take a year.

However, getting the sound and vibrato on it are quite different from a western style flute, that is for sure.
Vibrato is achieved by essentially nodding your head up and down very quickly.....
The tone depepnds a LOT on the particular shakuhachi (who made it and how skilled are they) and the quality of the bamboo, is it lacquered inside, etc...

Also getting a GOOD shakuhachi will significantly raise your chances of success. In stores that specialize in these, the price can range from 800.00 to several thousand dollars.

If you are interested to learn more, check out John "Kaizan" Neptune. You can probably email him if he has a website. He is the foremost authority on it (and a HECK of a player!) in the English-speaking world.

Also there is a group here called "Candela" and one of the members is agreat shakuhachi player. He is very accessible and I met him once at a small club here in Fukuoka where they performed. Sorry I cannot remember his name, but he and Candela are based here in Japan, as is John Neptune.

Good luck!
 

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I have a customer that is really into these and he plays the Shakalute which is a shaka mouthpiece mounted to a flute tenon and placed on a modern standard flute. Nice sound. PM me if you need his info.
 

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Forum Contributor 2015-2017, Distinguished SOTW me
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I traded a 1926 Buescher alto about 30 years ago for one made in Japan. I brought it with me to Texas in 92 and it cracked from the desert heat, making it unplayable. There is a guy in California who makes them, his name is Monty Levenson and has made them since the 60s, google his name. He has beginner flutes that do not cost much - and if you like it, more expensive ones. Some from Japan can cost up to $3 or 4 (K)
I just googled his name and he is still around. Good meditation instrument if your into that. Tony Scott, the clarinet player, made a meditation record where he plays both instruments and there is a lot of classical records from Japan available.

There should have been a K behind the $3 or 4 - meaning thousands.
 

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It took me a while also to get the correct embouchure. It still the same deal as with the transverse flute--you have to aim the air at the sharp edge of the utaguchi. Usually this translates into the bottom lip covering more than 3/4 of the hole, with the clearance between the air jet issuing from between the lips and the utaguchi edge about the same as on the concert flute.

One issue is that the dip in the utaguchi varies considerably from instrument to instrument--standard is 3-4mm, but it can be anywhere from 1mm to 6mm or so, and each requires quite a different head-to-instrument angle. The inset angle of the utaguchi also varies. Even for experienced players, switching instruments often takes a fair amount of adjustment.

One good way to start is pull the flute back so that the entire top hole is covered by the bottom lip and blow as if you were playing a concert flute; then slowly move the flute forward so that the hole is uncovered little by little. At some point you should find yourself getting warm, with a bit of whistling, and refine from there.

Once you start getting a sound, you should know that the flute is never tongued traditionally; articulation is done by means of finger taps, head dips, plosive breathing, or some combination thereof. Randall has the vibrato thing half right--there are various techniques; the most common being a side-to-side head movement, another being the up-and-down head movement that he describes, and finally a throat vibrato is sometimes employed, but rarely, depending on musical style.

There are different schools, or "ryu", which employ different techniques and study different "honkyoku" or classical pieces. The main two are Kinko and Tozan, with the former being older and more traditional; the latter much more modern, although you wouldn't know it at first encounter. The flutes differ somewhat as well between the schools, in the shape of the utaguchi insert and to a smaller extent the tuning characteristics and hole placement. Also, Kinko instruments usually use dark or black lacquer inside the bore; Tozan flutes are almost always red.

With only five holes you have to do quite a bit of work to get all the notes. There are quite a lot of half-hole, third-hole, quarter-hole fingerings, with different parts of the holes covered and uncovered, and lower holes covered in hybrid half- and cross-fingerings. A very important technique is rolling the head in and out (called "meri" and "kari")--you can vary the note up to a full tone that way, and it is also used for ornaments and expression within notes.

There is also much more variation in breath in shak playing than in western playing. Meri and kari require quite different breath velocities and pressures, and there are various plosive techniques used. The embouchure and breath are used very creatively--in ways unknown or taboo on the concert flute. Basically shakuhachi music is more about expression within notes and phrases than about melodies. Traditional shaks, in fact, are almost never in any kind of recognizable scale--only in the late 19th century when they started to become ensemble instruments, was any effort made to have them meet any intonational standards, and that has changed again recently as they have begun to be used in Western music. Prior to WWII, more or less, they were made strictly by length, with the 1.8 shaku instrument falling pretty closely on concert D, but with the longer instruments getting progressively sharper, so that already the 2.0 shaku, which should have been in C, was about 20-30 cents sharp. The newer standard tweaks the traditional lengths so that the notes conform to the diatonic scale.

By the way, on a good flute you should be able to play three full octaves, with a few notes conspicuously absent in the highest register. Each flute is different, however, so fingerings have to be found for each instrument that work for the more difficult notes.

All that aside, it is quite difficult to help you without knowing your flute. As Randall rightly points out, the quality varies tremendously, as each flute is handmade. At all levels below really high quality instruments, a significant proportion are pretty much unplayable to one degree or another. I spent most of my weekends for a number of years among shakuhachi makers and players learning to construct the beasties, and I have played scores of them. Many were really only fit to become chopsticks.

Toby
 

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spartacus said:
I traded a 1926 Buescher alto about 30 years ago for one made in Japan. I brought it with me to Texas in 92 and it cracked from the desert heat, making it unplayable. There is a guy in California who makes them, his name is Monty Levenson and has made them since the 60s, google his name. He has beginner flutes that do not cost much - and if you like it, more expensive ones. Some from Japan can cost up to $3 or 4.
I just googled his name and he is still around. Good meditation instrument if your into that. Tony Scott, the clarinet player, made a meditation record where he plays both instruments and there is a lot of classical records from Japan available.
Monty makes excellent flutes, as does Tom Deaver. You can get very decent "cast-bore" instruments (bamboo) that play well and consistently (and in tune) for something like $600 (up). Bamboo flutes are very prone to cracking, even in Japan, but especially in dry places that suffer temperature extremes. You can either get the flute banded pre-crack to prevent the problem, or (generally) a cracked flute can be banded after the fact. There are pretty decent wooden shaks made here in Japan (which cost about $120-150) that deal well with adverse conditions. You can get them pretty much in all sizes from 1.2 to 2.3 shaku, maybe even more.

Toby
 

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bruce bailey said:
I think Monty makes the Shakalute head. I have dealt with him and he is a great guy.
That's right on both counts. Just FYI, I have an "okuralo", which is a hybrid shakuhachi/concert flute which has the keywork of the latter and the head of the former, held vertically. A few were made in the 1920's in the era of "Taisho Democracy" when there was a craze for all things Western in Japan, and a corresponding movement to integrate Japanese and Western culture. It is a wonderful curiosity, but to be honest, it doesn't really improve on either instrument. Much of the character of the shak comes from the bore configuration, not the blowing edge as such. The shak is an interesting inverted cone design--related to the old simple system flute but much larger in diameter. Whereas the concert flute comes in at around 17mm for the length of the tube (after the head joint contraction), the normal 1.8 shaku flute starts at around 20mm at the blowing edge, creeps up about 0.5m about 5 cm down the tube, then starts a fairly (but not quite) linear contraction down to 14.5mm at the bottom tone hole, rewidening to (usually) 17mm at the end. Somehow this allows a very wode-bored instrument to achieve the third octave (although the third octave fingerings are pretty crazy). And it is the wide bore that, to a great extent, allows for the power and expressiveness of the flute. Just putting a shak utaguchi at the top and keeping the bore cylindrical doesn't really cut it, and in addition makes the top octave about 20-30 cents sharp, as it is with all end-blown flutes since they don't have the space at the other end of the blow hole to compensate (which on a normal flute you adjust with the crown).

Toby
 

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kymarto said:
Bamboo flutes are very prone to cracking, even in Japan, but especially in dry places that suffer temperature extremes. You can either get the flute banded pre-crack to prevent the problem, or (generally) a cracked flute can be banded after the fact. There are pretty decent wooden shaks made here in Japan (which cost about $120-150) that deal well with adverse conditions. You can get them pretty much in all sizes from 1.2 to 2.3 shaku, maybe even more.

Toby
Mine was banded and had the black lacquer inside, and it came apart in two pieces - and it looked as if it was made close to the root as it was incredibly thick bamboo. I even rubbed it with a special oil monthly to keep it from drying out - but the cracks went all the way thru:x

I had another bamboo flute (bass) - 18" long and about 2" inch in diameter that was kept next to it and it did not crack.

Do you have a source in Japan to buy a replacement or should I stick with Monty if ZI decide to do it again - it is a wonderful relaxing instrument to play.
 

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I play as well- have been for 12 years or so. I love the shakuhachi. Toby's comments are right on.

I can also confirm what's been said about Monty Levenson (shakuhachi.com). There's a lot of good info on his site, including a list of some very good teachers scattered around the country.

Anyone interested in an instrument should also check out japanshakuhachi.com for a dealer located in Colorado (David Sawyer), and nyogetsu.com for Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin, an excellent player, teacher and dealer in New York.

How about a shakuhachi summer camp featuring some of Japan and America's best teachers? shakucamp.com.

Reedoubler should easily be able to find players in Southern California, and therefore some instruments for sale locally.

I played western classcial flute for twenty years before taking up the shakuhachi. I got interested in Zen practice (which historically is associated with a sect of shakuhachi playing monks called komuso) and thought, hey, I'm a flute player already, how hard could it be to play a five hole flute? It's a different world entirely. Not so easy, but very satisfying (especially if you like to practice).

Mark
 

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Oh, and regarding cracking, I keep my flutes in plastic bags with a cello "dampit" inserted. Never had a problem with cracking.

Mark
 

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Sparatacus,

Even if the flute is cracked straight through and you can see daylight inside it can be repaired. Hose clamps are tightened around it to bring the edges together; then channels are filed and silk thread (the old way) or stainless wire (the new way) wrapped in the grooves to keep the shape. Then the bore is relacquered, the channels filled and wrapped with thin bamboo strips and it is better than new (because it can't crack again). However it costs $400-500, so you probably don't want to do it on a student flute.

As far as flutes go--here is a link to an excellent shop in Tokyo. I haven't been there for a while, but I assume that it is the same: they have root-end shaks starting at around $500 and going on up...up...up...

http://www.mejiro-japan.com/system/index_e.php

Also tools for making shaks if you are ever feeling particularly masochistic.

You can deal with them in English, and I would be happy to go check out the flutes for you if you see something interesting. You can message me here or privately at [email protected]. Obviously you can email them directly as well to inquire about what they have. Tell them Toby says hi.

In terms of cracking, though, it is not a question of if but when. All bamboo cracks eventually, although you can delay it several hundred years if you keep the flute away from extremes of temperature and humidity, and as komuso say--keep it in a slightly damp, airtight plastic sleeve.

My colleague accompanied Yamamoto Hozan--one of the greats--on a concert tour of the US some years ago. The musicians had just finished a practice session and were sitting around having a cigarette when they heard what sounded like a rifle shot. Yamamoto knew that sound. He walked over to find the top section of his flute cracked clear through from top to bottom. It happens, no getting around it. The wooden ones are pretty much immune to that, but of course they don't have the fine feel or response of the good handmade bamboo flutes. Still, they are in tune and play pretty damn well. That might be the best option for Texas.

Toby
 

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Wow - had never really heard much about this instrument till the other day when I heard Brian Richie from the Violent Femmes on the radio talking about how he played it - the interview was all about him playing shakuhachi, totally aside to his Violent Femmes work. Less than a week later a post turns up here. Richie was saying he is getting more and more into playing jazz with it.

Cheers
Rod
 

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kymarto said:
Sparatacus,


As far as flutes go--here is a link to an excellent shop in Tokyo. I haven't been there for a while, but I assume that it is the same: they have root-end shaks starting at around $500 and going on up...up...up...

http://www.mejiro-japan.com/system/index_e.php

Also tools for making shaks if you are ever feeling particularly masochistic.


My colleague accompanied Yamamoto Hozan--one of the greats--on a concert tour of the US some years ago.
Toby
Yamamoto was in Santa Cruz, Ca and I had a front row seat. He brought tears to my eyes. I still have the record I bought at his concert.
UCSC has a library with a giant foyer enclosed in concrete and glass, and when it was closed on Sundays I went there to play. One note would echo off of the walls forever and would make one sound much better than he really is.

I checked the website, especially the prices for repair and it is quite expensive. Even if I had kept the instrument I don't know if it would have worth the effort.

Living here in the summertime mountain heat is like livng at the entrance to hell - but that is my karma. Living among the ancestor awelos is well worth it as they have something to teach about living on the planet earth.

Even though I miss the redwood groves, and especially Tassahara, my zen days in the woods is over and I have graduated one step closer to the lions at the gate, with or without my beloved shakuhachi.
Namaste
 

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kymarto said:
The wooden ones are pretty much immune to that, but of course they don't have the fine feel or response of the good handmade bamboo flutes. Still, they are in tune and play pretty damn well. That might be the best option for Texas.

Toby
What? Are you saying that "material matters"? :shock: ;)

Great thread and wonderful reading. Many thanks to all for sharing.
 

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Dr G said:
What? Are you saying that "material matters"? :shock: ;)
Ha...I knew someone was going to say that...

The keyword is "handmade". If someone took the trouble to do the bore of a wooden shak "to spec" I'm sure it would sound the same.

But in shaks material does matter. The feel and look of the bamboo is a major part of the experience for me and apparently for others as well. The appearance of the bamboo culm is a major determinant of price. A few years ago I was at a show in which there were about 100 flutes made by Shinzan--probably the #1 maker of shaks working today. The cheapest was about $3000, and it did not play much differently than the most expensive, at $50,000. The only real difference was the look of the bamboo. There is an ideal: the proportion of length of the sections between the nodes, and the way the holes lie between them. The root end--the shape and spacing of the last three nodes, symmetry, appearance and spacing of the individual root ends on the node ring: for instance, ideally there should be 32 roots on the last ring, round and evenly spaced, and you get extra points if there are vestigal roots on the third ring up (which is usually sanded smooth). Another major aesthetic is the surface appearance and texture: heavy dark mottling at the root end is a big plus, as is pleasant mottling higher up the instrument. There is a disease which causes a rash of small, dark raised spots on the bamboo surface, and if there are present at the bottom of the instrument it is highly desirable. This was, in fact, the major difference between the two instruments described above. That $50000 axe was gorgeous, but if you closed your eyes you couldn't really tell the difference.

People wonder about the price without considering that each flute is totally unique. The bamboo has to be harvested, cured and dried for a minimum of 5 years (30 is better). The bamboo is a major bitch to dig up (think digging out a small tree in a grove of trees sometimes just inches apart, keeping the root ball intact), and after all the work, probably only one in ten is really proportioned to make a flute (and the really good ones are much, much rarer).

When the work begins all the cuts are made with fine saws, and the finishing work done with files and sandpaper. The blowing edge has to be cut very carefully and then inlaid with plastic, ivory, bone or horn--one misstep here and you can just throw the whole thing away. Most modern shaks are jointed, and there is no cork between the tenon and the socket--it is precision cut and fitted by hand.

By far the most maddening part is making the bore. The natural cavity inside the bamboo is too large, so successive layers of a putty called "ji"--made of stone powder and natural lacquer--are laid down inside. You normally need about ten layers, and each layer has to cure (one to two weeks) before the next layer is applied.

Once that had been done the bore is shaped by hand using small circular rasps on a long stick (called a "garibo"), and then sandpaper attached to various long things to get down inside and smooth things out. You have to continually measure the inside using discs of different diameters. It's a lot of work, and once you are close the real work begins--fine tuning. Since variations on the order of 1/100" can be critical there is a lot of redoing of the bore--more ji, more waiting, more sanding. Redoing the bore 20 or 30 times is not unusual. It can be totally maddening. The flute can play beautifully except for one note. Fix that and you screw up something else. Fix that and suddenly the sound is not as nice somewhere else, or in the third octave one note disappears.

If and when you finally get the piece done without throwing it through a window the inside has to be lacquered--several more coats, each of which has to dry (a week or two) and be sanded smooth before the next coat is applied.

Add to this the fact that lacquer is one of the nastiest substances known to man--it is essentially the concentrated sap of the lac tree, which is in the same family as poison ivy and poison oak. Imagine, if you will, distilling all the nasty essence of those babies into a thick, syrupy liquid...

It is all that hand work that makes the flute, not the material. Actually, as with makers everywhere, there is the perception that the composition of the "ji" makes a difference. Modern guys are using more friendly stuff, such as epoxy and car-body putties, which cure faster, are easier to work and much less user-unfriendly to the skin. Of course the purists claim that you can never get the same purity of sound with that....

>snort<

Toby
 

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"Add to this the fact that lacquer is one of the nastiest substances known to man--it is essentially the concentrated sap of the lac tree, which is in the same family as poison ivy and poison oak. Imagine, if you will, distilling all the nasty essence of those babies into a thick, syrupy liquid..."

If you try a new instrument and your lip and chin break out in an itchy, red rash, it means that you're allergic to the urishi lacquer. It happens to many of us. Beware new instruments that haven't properly cured. One of the many pitfalls of shakuhachi playing.

Beginners might be interested in the "Yu" shakuhachi, which is plastic, but cheap and fairly pleasing in its appearance and sound.

Mark
 

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Whew... Thanks, Toby. Just great stuff. Wonderful!

I could have guessed about the nature of finding an aesthetic piece of bamboo that magically happens to lend itself to the correct geometry but you expressed that Very Well. The issue of the lining is entirely new to me and I enjoy learning about such things very much.

Thanks for baiting the "material matters" hook so eloquently and then sharing all this. Truly the most interesting thread I've read on SotW in a long while.
 

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I bought a plastic shakuhachi from here http://www.shakuhachiyuu.com/ for $110, and impressed with the sound, and I'm not exactly a shakuhachi player, but it's a good starting point if you can't afford a good bamboo one.

Much better than the plastic pipe ones as it has a conical bore (like a piccolo) and it looks like a root end shakuhachi rather than a piece of plastic pipe - if you're really picky you can always paint it to make it look like a real one.
 

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I had one of these and they are decent instruments. In Japan there are many wooden instruments in the same price range (100-150 USD), however, that are better. I wonder if they are not available in the West, as they are very common here and available in all sizes.

Toby
 
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