Thanks again for the awesome lesson today! I think you struck the perfect balance between explanation and playing/practice, and I love your teaching style. You’re a very good teacher, and I look forward to our next lesson!
Want to take a free lesson? I invite you to try a live, one-on-one lesson with me – email@example.com
About shakuhachi lessons
- My teaching style is of clarity, simplicity, and openness
- I focus exclusively on the Zen art of honkyoku from across Japan
- Lessons are one-on-one and an hour long
- They can be taken whenever someone likes and they never expire
- All notation is free and mp3’s of me playing the pieces are often available
When the breath is focused through the bamboo it takes on a new life as sound, which we hear without effort. But much effort is needed to learn the shakuhachi! It’s truly as tough as the bamboo from which it’s made but the joy of playing even just one note is worth it. Over the years, I’ve been privileged to help people from all over the world enjoy playing the shakuhachi.
This instrument is also a bit unique in that it attracts people who’re interested in meditation. I make it my purpose as a teacher to help each person with their unique goals. Whether someone wants to make their first sound, improve their sound, learn different or new Zen honkyoku, or incorporate the shakuhachi into a meditative practice.
The honkyoku Zen pieces I pass on to my students represent an unbroken chain of transmission dating back hundreds of years. These special pieces came from temples and schools across Japan. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn a great number of them. For example, I teach honkyoku from Japan’s far south island of Kyushu all the way up to the far North in Aomori.
I start most students on a honkyoku piece that’s widely revered as one of the most calming, meditative, and easier to learn. Although, it’s of course difficult to perfect! It’s Kyorei from Fudaiji (temple) as arranged by Jin Nyodo. Below you’ll find the score as well as small excerpt of me playing the first 5 phrases on a large bass shakuhachi nearly 3 feet long. Honkyoku are read right to left, top to bottom. You’ll notice that I’ve numbered the lines or columns for convenience. Each phrase is separated by a circle which is where one takes a breath. These breaths create a pause in the sound which is unique to Honkyoku. It makes relative silence a part of the pieces. These pauses are often called Ma which means “space”.
Kyo means “empty” or “void” while Rei means “bell”. In this case, the bell is that of a Buddhist monk, Fuke Zenji. He would use the bell as a tool for teaching or “pointing”. So the bell can be symbolic of teaching or guidance. What is the bell “pointing” to? An experience of the inherent emptiness of all things, impermanence, or Kyo.
After Kyorei, we progress through a few more carefully selected pieces from across Japan. This gives a broad introduction to the differences between regions and styles. Then the student can make a more informed decision of where they might like to focus their attention. For example, whether it be with the relatively simple and austere pieces from Fudai temple or expressive styles such as Watazumi’s way of playing. In this way, the journey is truly dynamic for me and each student. My role is very much like a friendly guide. I make sure that people don’t miss important sights along the way and I keep them from getting lost!
My students doing some teaching of their own
The Honkyoku that I teach
The Seien Ryu (Fudaiji) – Shizuoka and Aichi Prefectures
The Kinpu Ryu (Nezasa-ha) – Aomori Prefecture
Oshu and Echigo (Fudaiken, Kinjoji, and Echigo Myoanji) – Northern Japan
I can also teach specific pieces instead of whole traditional repertoires in order. I do this by progressing a honkyoku from simple to difficult. Such pieces as Tamuke and Ajikan are often requested.
Words of thanks
Thanks a million, Jon! That hour yesterday saved me years of learning and gaining confirmation (confidence). Knowing that I’m on the right track, rough around the edges tho I might be, enables me to concentrate on enjoying playing. I played both of your flutes today and they remind me each time I do just how lucky I am to have them.
Your help is amazing, and my dominant ‘left-brain’ translated your very last line, of your last message, to a very enjoyable an productive session this morning. The ‘physics’ aspects of Shakuhachi are so important to me as I begin this journey, and I feel I have a very clear vision of body posture, head position, diaphragm, to ensure optimum airflow to my lips. Embouchure is a process and I feel there is progress understanding and feeling what the goal is.
Thank you for the class! I know the road is long and the journey ahead of me with the Shakuhachi is going to be very difficult. I am learning many things through the process, however, The Shakuhachi is an amazing instrument. It is almost as if an extension of our being with all its moods, turbulence, longing for solitude and peace. One day things play so nice and the others as if back to ground zero.
The goal is not to seek perfection or to entertain as much as it is to overcome the self, the ego, the inner voice that keeps on telling us all what we can not do instead of all what we can accomplish. Thank you for being my teacher. Thank you for being kind and patient with my slow learning. You are a very kind soul Jon. You do not make me feel bad when clearly my ability to play is so jarring.Peace!
I’m making progress daily with the exercises in your book. I realized that if I start with the otsu exercise then it makes the kan exercise much easier for some reason. I’m getting pretty consistent sounds in kan, and I’m getting better with the octave jumping exercise too. My kan notes are more windy than my otsu notes, and not nearly as nice, but each day I can play them a little quieter and a little less windy. I totally see how important just having a very small opening between your lips is, and how the pressure in your mouth is the key.
Thanks for an enlightening session! The devil is in the details as they say… As a visual artist it makes me think [about how] I could spend a lifetime learning just how to draw a perfect circle, or even a truly straight line. Each song, Life, moment etc., even the simplest, is so grand it contains a universe. Tremendously appreciative of this moment. Deep deep deep Bow
At least three times now you have honed in on problems I was having with the sound of my flute and suggested corrections that were immediately effective, with lasting result. Nothing I could have read in a book, or gained from listening to a Master player would have solved these difficulties, and I doubt I could have solved them on my own. I certainly had tried. It takes a good teacher.
I have been trying to play for a little more than a year (with a teacher) and yours is the first decent explanation I have gotten on achieving Kan. I experimented with the tighter lips and higher pressure and saw an immediate result. THANKS!
You are a great teacher. You actually helped me with my embouchure for bansuri (indian side-blown flute). The large bore and larger mouth hole makes it difficult. Your instruction is helping me think about lip shape and pressure in order to make improvements.
Yay! I made a note. Now I gotta go do it again and again. Thank you so much for the lesson… I love it so far even if I can’t make it work constantly =-) *progress!!!
You are responsible for helping me make my first sound on my new Shakuhachi. Thank you sir!
You are a very good teacher. And thanks for the tips. Bless ya! :)!