A Japanese Zen Meditation Flute.
The shakuhachi is an end blown flute. That is you cover one of the open
ends with your chin and blow across one edge that has been "notched".
There are four holes on the front and a thumb hole on the back. An
astonishing variety of tones and music can be achieved with this simple
instrument. The basic scale is pentatonic but with practice it is possible to
produce a full chromatic scale.
Our shakuhachis are made from bamboo that is cut from the stalk close to the ground where it is thicker than the bamboo that we use to make transverse (side blown) flutes.
student model shakuhachi in MP3 format (711 KB)
This mp3 file provides 23 seconds of high quality sound.
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In Japan the flute has had a long association with Zen Buddhism. The idea
is to use the flute in meditation to achieve total spontaneity, a release from
normal conscious thought. When played in a natural setting it sounds very
much like it belongs there. This is not true with most instruments. Imagine
playing, say, a trumpet by a quietly babbling brook!
The image below shows the Japanese system of lengths
associated with the shakuhachi flute. The system of measurment was
borrowed from the ancient Chinese. A shaku is only slightly longer than
the English foot (12 1/8 inches or 308 millmeters). The shaku is broken
down into 10 ru. The Japanese word for eight is hachi. The shakuhachi
is one shaku and hachi ru long, hense the name. The symbols that are
circled are what we burn into the various lengths of flutes that we
make. Strictly speaking only one can truely be called shakuhachi but
even the Japanese overlook this technicality.
Below is the fingering chart for the basic pentatonic scale
in two octaves. Like all flutes, the lowest note is played with all the
holes closed. The pitch gets higher as fingers are lifted one at a time
from the bottom end and the second octave is acheived by overblowing
Below is the fingering chart for the complete pentatonic
scale in a single octave. This chart introduces the concept of meri,
chu-meri and kari. These are techniques involving changing the angle at
which the flute is played and slightly uncovering holes to achieve
different tones. As you can see this is rather complicated and a full
explaination is beyond the scope of this web page. However more
literature about playing shakuhachi in the traditional Japanese manner
are available for sale from shakuhachi.com
For more information on the Shakuhachi,
Visit these interesting links:
John Singer's Page
Monty Levinston's excellent Site
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