Misc. Shakuhachi Practice Tips

(excerpts from the articles at the excellent Japan Shakuhachi Web site )

Long Tones
Long tones demand that you use all of your breath expulsion through the bore of the flute and keep blowing even if the tone drops out from time to time or disappears completely. Simply blowing long, sustained breath thorough the flute with proper embouchure is good practice, even if the tone is only half there or only occasionally there.

Eventually, it will be there If you focus primarily on making sure you wring the very last drop of air from your lungs on the out-breath, then your tone will eventually be able to follow your breath and manifest in sweet, soft and long diminuendos. As you make the long expulsions, you are intuiting changes to your embouchure and mouth cavity, to craft the nature and core of the tone.

It’s a good idea to deconstruct your embouchure on the intake, that is, let it go completely relaxed during the intake, before shaping the lips once again to blow the next note. This has several advantages . Making and re-making your embouchure gives the muscles around the mouth a chance to relax, and you also get the chance to remake your embouchure as a higher functioning device, several times in one phrase.

One way of deliberately breaking the muscle tension of your embouchure between phrases, is to make a ‘fish-mouth’ shape with your lips. Open the mouth, relax everything in the lip, jaws, throat and then re-make your embouchure just before intoning the next note. This is probably best used just for practice, not performance!

Back pressure in the flute and the mouth cavity
The lungs are pressurized by an in-breath, then the mouth/throat cavity is allowed to fill and pressurize against the narrow embouchure opening between the lips. As we release air into the flute, the flute becomes pressurized and exerts a back pressure against the embouchure opening and thus the lungs and mouth cavity. So really, there are two pressurized cavities joined in the middle by a narrow opening: the lips. As you become more efficient with pressurizing the flute, you become aware of the quality of the back pressure from the flute and the quality of the opposing pressure in the mouth/throat cavity. Beginner players generally have a ‘loose’ embouchure with which it is difficult to create either the mouth cavity pressure or the pressure in the flute. By fine-tuning the embouchure opening and feeling the pressure changes in the two chambers, a player can gauge and craft the efficiency of their tone making.

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