Update on teaching shakuhachi – “Crafting the Bell Shakuhachi has left me with no time to teach shakuhachi students. If you’re in need of a teacher, and my time zone (EST) works well for you, I recommend Araki Kodo VI AKA Hanz. You can read about him at ArakiKodo.com
If an Australian time zone might be better, I can happily recommend Riley Lee whom you can read about at RileyLee.net
Thank you and I look forward to returning to teaching in the future… RO on friends, Jon~”
Free Beginner’s Shakuhachi Course
Below you will find in-depth videos on the fundamentals of playing the shakuhachi (this replaces the “free introductory shakuhachi lesson” offer). All the essentials are covered, from how to hold shakuhachi of various lengths to getting your first sounds. After the videos I’ve included a more in-depth look at how to safely hold shakuhachi, particularly for those with small hands. (Jon’s bio/credentials)
My student Susan’s small hands
My student Susan exhibits excellent technique holding a standard 1.8 shakuhachi despite her small hands. Notice that her fingers are mostly very natural and straight, not arched or contorted. Her wrists are neutral, arms slightly flared out to also make neutral wrists possible. She’s covered some holes not with the tips but further down the finger for improved ergonomics. Also note that her pinky/little fingers are not curled under the shakuhachi which inhibits good meri technique and movement in general. People often place their pinky/little fingers under the shakuhachi to try and help steady or support the shakuhachi, however, with proper posture and form such unnatural and cumbersome use of these fingers is not needed.
An email (pictures at the end) about how to hold a shakuhachi with smaller hands
Thank you for the photos. Your hands looked to be about the same size as a friend of mine so I took some pictures of her holding a Bell shakuhachi and I instructed her a bit on how to best hold it, though there would be some more minor adjustments over time.
So what you want to do, and what I told her to do, was to first grab a bottle or drinking glass and show me how she grabbed it. It was, and often is, exactly how we want to hold the shakuhachi. To insure a straight or “neutral” wrist alignment I also tell people to make a fist, with nothing in their hand, engaging the muscles on both sides of the forearm. Sometimes I have people gently unfurl their fingers from a fist and “float” the flute
into their hand.
Make sure the flute rests on the chin. It should be balanced on and supported with just the two thumbs, both middle fingers, and resting on the chin. So all the finger-holes will be open for this. If you need to noticeably grip with either hand in this position then the shakuhachi is most likely being held at too steep of an angle and/or the head is titled forward which will both prevent it from resting on the chin.
What do you think of these attached images (included below in a gallery)? Notice that you can cover the holes anywhere along the finger between the tip and the second knuckle. For my friend, I would suspect that after some more time playing that she wouldn’t cover the 2nd hole so close to the second knuckle of the index as shown in the photo, just FYI. Or maybe she would, though my student Susan, who I’m almost sure has smaller hands, doesn’t cover this close to the knuckle.
Lastly, it’s good in general to rotate the forearm at the elbow so that the fingers appear to slant downward across the front of the shakuhachi,
as seen in the photos of my friend. Rotating/pronating the hand via rotating at the elbow is the only way I’ve found to keep a neutral wrist. Also avoid flaring the arms too far out from the body which would create wrist extension. Likewise, having the arms pinned to the body will often cause
wrist flexion. We want the arms to form a gentle triangle which is easily achieved by making sure there’s a bit of space at the armpit, as if there’s
a small golf ball there. Or observe the triangle like shape in the mirror. The mirror is an excellent aid for all aspects of shakuhachi palying.”