The natural scale – Minor pentatonic
(click to enlarge)
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 Fudai-ji 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. It is likely that Tozan adopted the Seien ryu’s use of Ha instead of Ri to differentiate his school from the many more schools that used Ri like the Kinko ryu.
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.
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.
Meri and Dai Meri note chart
(click to enlarge)
All meri notes, not including dai meri notes, are played around -25 cents flatter than perfect pitch. Dai meri notes share a pitch with a regular note (Ro dai meri and ha, Tsu dai meri and Ro, and U dai meri and Re). This is more for your education at the moment because you will most likely not be able to achieve most or any of these pitches yet, however, it’s good to know what to strive toward.
Most important points for meri
- When in meri you will be looking down the flute
- With dai meri you will be looking through the flute
- Keep the bottom hand still when lowering the head so as to close up more of the top and bring the lips closer to the blowing edge
- Remember to use much less power/pressure/squeezing from the abs for meri notes so as not to over-power them
1 through 5 as they relate to holes 1 to 5 (5 being the thumb). From right to left is ichi, ni, san, shi, and go.