Shakuhachi

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 Shakuhachi's
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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 the flute.

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

Search for More Shakuhachi Sites

Some search term suggestions are; shakuhachi, bamboo, music, written, japanese, zen, meditation.


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