Helping someone to get their first sound on the shakuhachi and seeing their joy is an experience I treasure. I guide people every step of the way in all aspects of the shakuhachi. My goal is to enable my students to progress with confidence on their journey so they can enjoy all that the shakuhachi has to offer.
It’s my privilege to teach shakuhachi to people from around the world using video chat. I invite everyone to try a complimentary shakuhachi lesson (Contact me and I will be happy to meet with you). All notation is free and made available in the students section along with helpful tips and mp3’s.
I teach the unique solo shakuhachi pieces known as honkyoku. This genre was created by the Komuso monks during the Edo period. It’s a joy for me to help keep this music alive by passing it down to my students.
My book Your Shakuhachi Journey has also helped a number of people with learning how to play this instrument. I have many free instructional materials here as well. I’ve included some on this page and more can be found in the guides section.
My latest YouTube video can also be viewed below.
A. The utaguchi (歌口) edge on the front and the chin-rest portion on the back
B. Finger-holes 1 through 5 (the 5th thumb-hole is on the back)
C. The bottom root-end which voices the fundamental
Note: Some shakuhachi have a joint between finger-holes 3 and 4
Shakuhachi (尺八) are end-blown flutes played with embouchure which is a specific shaping of the lips and mouth in order to control air-flow and pressure. Unlike Native American flutes and recorders, shakuhachi do not have a fipple mouth-piece to direct the air-stream. While the embouchure is far more difficult, the reward is that the player can have much more control over the sound. The shakuhachi has six tone-holes, five of which are finger-holes, and it can play a little over two octaves. The natural scale is the minor pentatonic; however, players can access many more notes by adjusting the pitch in various ways.
For example, by lowering the head the player can bring their lips closer to the edge which flattens the pitch. The finger-holes can also be covered to various degrees to flatten the pitch which is called finger-shading. These two techniques are often combined which is called meri (メり). Additionally, the head and the lips can be moved in a number of ways to create vibrato and other sound effects. In short, it is the ability to manipulate the sound of the shakuhachi which makes it such a unique and expressive instrument.
Honkyoku shakuhachi music
The shakuhachi music of the Komuso monks
Honkyoku (本曲) literally means “original music” and can refer to a single piece or to the genre as a whole. Honkyoku are the most venerated pieces of shakuhachi music because they are considered to be spiritual or meditative, most having been composed by the Komuso monks during the Edo period. Many distinct regional styles of honkyoku developed across Japan though few have survived to this day.
Honkyoku are unique in that they are mostly solo pieces with pauses of silence, which effectively makes empty-space, or relative silence, a part of the music. Honkyoku are highly nuanced making it virtually impossible to transcribe them to staff notation and even the Japanese systems of notation for the shakuhachi cannot convey many of the subtleties. For example, it would be like trying to infer or convey the accent of a regional dialect with only written text. For this reason the teaching of honkyoku has been, and remains, largely an oral tradition.
It is estimated that there were more than one-hundred Komuso shakuhachi temples across Edo period Japan, however, the Meiji Restoration abolished Buddhism which resulted in the closing, or often destruction of the Komuso temples. The Meiji government soon decided to try and ban secular shakuhachi playing as well, however, the Kinko Ryu Grandmasters Araki Kodo II (Chikuo) and Yoshida Itcho successfully petitioned the government into allowing secular shakuhachi activities to continue.
As a result, secular shakuhachi music became popular and the shakuhachi went mainstream. Eventually the ban on Buddhism was lifted and the practice of honkyoku could once again continue out in the open. However, subsequent generations saw a decline in interest for honkyoku resulting in the continuous extinction of styles up to the present day. After the Meiji restoration the Edo period honkyoku styles gradually became ryu or “schools”, typically after a few generations of teachers had passed.
Non-Japanese who seek to learn the shakuhachi have been primarily interested in the honkyoku. Outside of Japan we mostly see the propagation of post Edo period honkyoku schools which were created by such master as Jin Nyodo, Watazumi, Nishimura Koku, and Higuchi Taizan (Myoan). One exception to this is the Kinko Ryu which has spread outside of Japan with much success. The Kinko Ryu originates from the former head temple of the Fuke Shu, Ichigetsu-ji.
The styles of honkyoku that I teach
- Seien Ryu Fudai-ji (西園流 譜代寺) – founded by Kanetomo Seien I (1819-1895) in Hamamatsu city (currently located in Nagoya city), Chibu region
- Kyu Myoan (Kichiku and Shinpo Ryu) – original Kyu Myoan-ji or “Old Myoan Temple”, the first Myoan temple before Higuchi Taizan’s Myoan-ji – Kyoto city, Kansai region
- Kinpu Ryu (Kimpu Ryu or Nezasa ha) – founded by Nyui Getsuei (1833 – 1898) – Tsugaru city, Tohoku region
- Oshu-kei and Echigo Myoan-ji den (Fudai-ken aka Futai-ken, Kinjo-ji, Myoan-ji) – honkyoku from the former Oshu and Echigo areas in the North, Tohoku and Joetsu regions
- Kyushu-kei (Itcho-ken) – honkyoku from the southern island of Kyushu. Unfortunately it is very hard to tell how this style was played before Taizan’s school took over the region
- Taizan ha/Ryu “Myoan” – Higuchi Taizan (1856-1914), Kyoto
- Jin Nyodo kei – Jin Nyodo (1891 – 1966), Tokyo
- Dokyoku/Chikushinkai – Watazumi (1911-1992) and Yokoyama Katsuya (1934-2010), Tokyo
My mini bio
I started making bamboo flutes in my teenage years and they’re the first musical instruments that I studied. At age nineteen I was fortunate enough to be able to move to New York City to study the shakuhachi full-time under Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin and Kurahashi Yodo II. After years of intense study in the Jin Nyodo style I decided to learn the older honkyoku styles from the Edo period. I was able to begin studying these with Justin Senryu Williams and I now teach them to my students worldwide over video chat. You can read my full bio here.