Shakuhachi and flute

This is a guide for flautists who are interested in the shakuhachi. It takes a question and answer format and represents the questions I asked before I started shakuhachi.

Q I play the flute. Is it easy to play shakuhachi?

A The journey from flute to shakuhachi is unique for each individual. I struggled for years to get a good tone on the shakuhachi but have had students who have adapted much quicker. The fingering is different but not a major obstacle. The notation in Japanese can be learned very quickly.

Q Do I need a teacher?

A Definitely. Even if you can play flute well, there are many aspects to the tradition and technique that can only be transmitted from a teacher.

Q Is the embouchure different?

A The main difficulty is getting used to the lack of support in the centre of the embouchure. There is a tendency to sink in which has a similar effect to rolling in the head-joint: i.e the tone goes flat and dull.

Q Will playing the shakuhachi make me a better or worse flautist?

A I would say better. There is generally a greater range of breath control in shakuhachi which will improve flute tone. Playing the shakuhachi will also give one a greater awareness of intonation and timbre. It will certainly help form unique interpretations of contemporary flute music, some of which have been influenced by the shakuhachi. I have found that when I only practice shakuhachi for several months, it is easy to regain my tone on flute but fingering dexterity and tonguing take a long time to re-establish.

Q Where do I get a shakuhachi? How much do they cost?

A Check available shakuhachi on my Shakuhachi for Sale page. Many people start off with a cheap plastic or wooden model and then move onto the more expensive bamboo. Most people start with a 1.8 size shakuhachi which is pitched in D as this is the standard size.

Q What recordings and players are worth listening to?

A You can make a quick start by listening or downloading from my selection. There are also samples on various sites on my links page. Some of the most famous players include Yokoyama Katsuya, Yamamoto Hozan, Yamaguchi Goro and John Kaizan Neptune. I would also recommend players such as Nakamura Akikazu and Okuda Atsuya who create a unique 'zen' sound.

Shakuhachi and flute reading list

Also find out basic information about shakuhachi.