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. The listed pitches are for a 1.8 “D” shakuhachi. 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.
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.
(Esoteric footnote: Ha is usually represented by the katakana character Ri (り) which is from the Kinko Ryu, however, Ha is used in the Seien Ryu of Fudai-ji (西園流 譜代寺) which is first school of honkyoku that I teach. Interestingly FUdaiji was a subtemple of Ichigetsu, the temple from which the Kinko Ryu comes but they did not adopt the use of Ri instead of Ha. It may be of interest for some readers to also know that 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). It’s likely that Tozan adopted the Seien Ryu’s use of Ha instead of Ri to differentiate his school from the Kinko Ryu.)
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 around 25 cents flatter than perfect pitch (-25 AKA 75 cent interval). Note that some meri notes are not played 25 cents flatter but rather at perfect pitch like Ro dai meri and U dai meri. It takes considerable time to play these notes at the right pitches. I offer key guidance on how to achieve them, especially in the upper octave kan.
(Esoteric footnote: There’s some understandable confusion surrounding proper use of the terms meri and dai meri. Dai simply means “big” or “great”. It’s called this because one has to go very deep or close to the blowing-edge to achieve the proper pitch. A dai meri note is one that is flattened two semitones from the natural note.
For example, Tsu dai meri is two semitones flatter than Tsu, or, from F down past E to Eb-25. However, the confusion comes in because in speech and in writing dai meri notes are often abbreviated to just meri. This is why in the chart dai is in parenthesis. People often mistakenly refer to a Tsu meri at Ro/”D” pitch as “Tsu dai meri”, however, there’s actually no traditional term for a Tsu meri at the pitch of Ro/”D”. Some have called this note Tsu O’meri in modern times. I’ve used this in the “master” note chart below.
Lastly, a true Meri note like Chi meri is only flattened one semitone as well as Ro meri. This chart does not have Ro meri (C#/Db) because it’s not a very common meri note, however, it’s in the master note chart below. The note U is always meri and therefor does not need the added designation of meri, either in speech or writing. However, U dai meri uses the symbol for dai.)
Holes 1 to 5 (5 being the thumb). From right to left, ichi, ni, san, shi, and go (“eech”, “knee”, “sahn”, “shee”, “goh”)
Master Note Chart