The natural scale – Minor pentatonic
Like most shakuhachi notation this chart is read from right-to-left and top-to-bottom. 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 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 get will most likely be in otsu because kan requires more air-pressure. Later on I will go into detail on how you can get kan.
Notice that Ha and Ii 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 going 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.
Note: Ha is usually represented by the katakana character Ri (り); however, Ha is used in the first style of honkyoku that I teach—the Seien ryu of Fudaiji temple (西園流 譜代寺). By using Ha in this book it will make it easier for you to learn honkyoku from me in live lessons, should you wish to do so. It may be of interest for some readers to also know that the use of the character Ha in the Seien ryu pre-dated Nakao Tozan’s use of it in his Tozan ryu (都山流) notation.
Useful notes to practice
Every note on the shakuhachi has a different range of power and volume and some notes are also more difficult than others. For practicing and exploring otsu, Re, Chi, and Ha tend to be expansive offering room to explore while Ro and Ii tend to be difficult and Tsu is usually not very expansive.