Each school of shakuhachi honkyoku had slightly or very different notation systems. These charts use an old Seien Ryu system which has a vertical line on the left of a note to indicate Kan (as seen below).
Esoteric note: My charts are based on Seien Ryu from Fudaiji (西園流 譜代寺) so they use Ha (ハ) instead of Kinko Ryu’s Ri (り). The use of the character Ha in the Seien Ryu pre-dates Nakao Tozan’s use of it in his Tozan Ryu (都山流). Taizan’s Myoan was derived from the Seien Ryu so they also use Ha.
The natural scale – Minor Pentatonic (read right to left)
Like most shakuhachi notation this chart is read from right-to-left and top-to-bottom. Underneath the Katakana characters you’ll find the name of the note written phonetically in what’s called Romaji or “Romanized Kanji”. The listed pitches are for a 1.8 “D” shakuhachi and are underneath the Romaji. A black dot represents a closed finger-hole, a ring is an open finger-hole, and the horizontal line separates the front four finger-holes from the rear thumb-hole. The atari /osu > symbol shows which hole the standard “repeat” is performed on. The Japanese number for each of the five finger holes is shown to the far right starting with 1 or ichi then ni, san, shi, and go (“eetch”, “knee”, “sahn”, “shee”, “goh”).
The shakuhachi has two full octaves and some third octave notes. In Japanese, the first octave is called otsu (乙) while the second octave is called kan (甲). The first sound you’ll get will most likely be in otsu because kan requires more air-pressure. The bottom row shows the same six notes but in Kan which is indicated by a vertical line to the left of a note.
Notice that Ha and I (ee) are played with the bottom two finger-holes closed. This is done because it helps produce a more solid tone on these two notes by raising the pressure. When descending from Ha to Chi, notice that the bottom two fingers must lift-off in sync with the top-hand index finger coming down on the 4th finger-hole. This transition is one of the more tricky ones in the beginning but with practice it will become second nature. Strive for a smooth, clean transition between these two notes.
(Esoteric footnote: Esoteric note: My charts are based on Seien Ryu from Fudaiji (西園流 譜代寺) so they use Ha (ハ) instead of Kinko Ryu’s Ri (り). The use of the character Ha in the Seien Ryu pre-dates Nakao Tozan’s use of it in his Tozan Ryu (都山流). Taizan’s Myoan was derived from the Seien Ryu so they also use Ha.)
Common Meri Notes
This chart has the most common meri notes. Meri means to flatten or “lower” the pitch. The listed pitches are for a 1.8 “D” shakuhachi. Most meri notes are ideally played flatter than perfect pitch. It takes considerable time to play these notes at the right pitches. I offer key guidance on how to achieve them in one-on-one lessons, especially in the upper octave kan.