The Importance of Ro Buki (blowing otsu Ro) practice

(edited from Edosan's and Ryuzen's posts to the ESS forum)

It's an old, old saw; has even become a cliché, but the way you're going to get there (good Kan register technique) is by taking the time, daily, to blow Ro, and here I mean Ro-otsu. This is where the foundation is built for developing your embouchure, your breathing, your consciousness of what you are doing, as well as strength in the upper registers.

There are really no little special tricks and techniques to use to get the facility with the Kan register. The tricky thing about shakuhachi, is that, compared to flutes that have a fipple, you are challenged with developing many different elements at the same time, and it's not easy to juggle them all simultaneously. Your mouth IS the fipple, and those embouchure muscles need stamina and tone. You only get that by daily work with Ro-buki, for at least part of your training session. Five minutes is good, ten minutes is better. I've mentioned this elsewhere: If you get the opportunity to touch the embouchure muscles of a developed player, say Riley Lee, it is remarkable how impressive those muscles are—like little ropes.

It's quite analogous to weight-lifting: You won't get there if you don't lift daily, at least a few light 'sets'; other days, some heavy lifting.

If you develop the discipline to do this, it's amazing how well things move along, including power and subtlety in the Kan register.

It's likely that this is what their senseis most often told them…

It's a pressure/embouchure/experience thing. I doubt the flute is the culprit (hampering Kan register technique).

What happens when you perform daily Ro-buki (and this is certainly not all that happens)? When you hold a sustained note, and keep the pitch constant, as well as the volume, and pay attention to what's happening, you:

  • Strengthen the diaphragm and intercostal muscles (essential for proper breathing)
  • You can learn to breath from the bottom of the trunk rather than from lifting the upper rib cage
  • You create muscle memory for what it takes to sustain a smooth even note (no vibrato, no variation in pitch)—this is no small thing…
  • You can attend to proper pitch
  • You can attend to proper posture and relaxation of the upper body
  • You can pay attention to the effects of varying the inner volume of the mouth
  • You develop increased stamina
  • You fatigue the many muscles of the embouchure

Now, there are many other ways to sustain the note: with variation in pitch/vibrato, variation in volume (what Perry calls Sasa-Buki); with Muraiki or with movement to the second octave. But I think the greatest foundation comes from no vibrato, no pitch variation, no variation in volume, as this is the most challenging practice to get right.

This is full plate of things which need to become second-nature.

At least 10 minutes of RO buki in OTSU is great practice for the beginner or any level of player. The longer the better for sure. It's important that you play as loud as you can, in particular for the jiari flute. (For hocchiku it's not as important to blow big and loud. Quiet and controlled is more fitting.) Developing a strong, expansive OTSU RO will increase your dynamic range considerably. Needless to say it takes quite a long time to develop this sound and requires one to blow in a "kari" sharp fashion where the air is focused more upward and outward rather than downward and into the flute.

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