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Should a shakuhachi maker be a player?
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Jon Kypros
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PostPosted: 2011-11-20, 03:08    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

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Do you think a person that makes shakuhachi should be able to play shakuhachi music and techniques and to what extent and why?
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2011-11-20, 06:40    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

Is this a loaded question? Rolling Eyes

They should be able to play well enough to make good flutes. Idea

I have seen it said many times that there is a correlation between the two things. This is true but not in the sense that people think. It's not a one to one correlation. I know good players who are bad makers and mediocre players who are good makers.

But you have to be able to play well enough to get a solid pitch or you'll be making flutes that are sharp for good players. In fact I think a lot of the flutes people make nowadays are sharp.

There are certain techniques in Japanese music that a maker wouldn't know how to test for if they don't know how to play. There's a well know maker who is not a good player whose flutes don't do kara kara. When I pointed this out to him he shrugged as if to say, "what do you need that for?" Well I need it to play certain songs. Embarassed

However, sometimes good players make flutes designed to be all things to all people and their flutes end up with no personality.
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Jim Thompson
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PostPosted: 2011-11-20, 07:03    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

I know for woodwinds the repairmen that can play are a lot more consistent. I had a guy close to my house who was knowlegable but didn't play and I frequently had to take his work back for a re-tweak. Mainly stuff that if he played he would have caught it. I don't see why shakuhachi would be any different. Short answer-yes.
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Jon Palombi
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PostPosted: 2011-11-20, 21:30    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

I agree with Brian and Jim. BTW, Happy Birthday Brian!

A shakuhachi maker needn't be a gifted virtuoso with the instrument but they MUST be able to play with some degree of competence and schooled understanding or they would not be able to check the subtle details about each particular instrument they create. I'm not just talking about having the proper embouchure or some skill with their technical performance within the scales.

For example, if they couldn't easily access the second and third registers, consistently, how would they know if their flutes were spot-on in their craftsmanship and fine tuning? And wouldn't it be ideal if the maker could recognize the special attributes which make each flute of any quality, unique, based on their own practical understanding and sensitivity playing the shakuhachi? Idea

In other words, if the flute maker lacks the feel for adequately playing the instrument and performing the music it was designed to play... how could they even gauge it's playability and authenticity? By what standard? So, yes, yes, yes... the artisan needs to have a moderately seasoned background in both, the musicianship required to make these puppies sing and a solid foundation with the structure of the traditional music of the Japanese shakuhachi. Doesn't that make the most sense?
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Kiku Day
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PostPosted: 2011-11-21, 03:41    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

Murai Eigoro, who is the kindest man on earth and also a good maker, aways said to me that he believed one has to choose between doing training to become a virtuoso player or a good maker.
His reasoning was that if you are an excellent player, you will make flutes that suits exactly your playing style (his conclusion based on his own observations) so if you want to become a good maker who can make shakuhachi for many people - then you should not be a virtuoso player.
Of course, Murai said the same as Brian. The maker has to know about the flute and know and be able to play all intricate techniques... but that is not the same as being a good or virtuosic player.

Otherwise I will place myself neutral on this one as I will stick to whether I like the flute or not each time I meet a flute Smile
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2011-11-21, 08:11    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

We don't have many recordings of the likes of Miura Kindo, Inoue Shigemi, Yamaguchi Shiro etc. to know if they were great players but it is said they were.

We know that Watazumi's flutes were not good and he himself preferred those of Okubo Kodo and he was a great player.

The jury is out........but I have to wonder why Jon has bothered to ask the question. Wink
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PostPosted: 2011-11-21, 10:02    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

Brian Tairaku Ritchie wrote:
We don't have many recordings of the likes of Miura Kindo, Inoue Shigemi, Yamaguchi Shiro etc. to know if they were great players but it is said they were.

We know that Watazumi's flutes were not good and he himself preferred those of Okubo Kodo and he was a great player.

The jury is out........but I have to wonder why Jon has bothered to ask the question. Wink


I think it's «Nisshin» (japanese) Smile






Nisshin is "The continuous progress and development" Smile as philosophyc term
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x moran
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PostPosted: 2011-11-21, 15:09    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

Brian Tairaku Ritchie wrote:

There are certain techniques in Japanese music that a maker wouldn't know how to test for if they don't know how to play. There's a well know maker who is not a good player whose flutes don't do kara kara. When I pointed this out to him he shrugged as if to say, "what do you need that for?" Well I need it to play certain songs. Embarassed

However, sometimes good players make flutes designed to be all things to all people and their flutes end up with no personality.


To these points as well: For instance, the Taizan Ha Myoan technique for kara-kara is the same as the Taizan Ha version of koro-koro (horo-horo), it involves both middle and ring fingers of the lower hand. The Kinko version of kara-kara is "just" a rapid drumming of the ring finger of the ring finger on the tsu hole. Some Kinko and Tozan flutes do not play the Taizan Ha version as well as instruments made for/by Taizan Ha Myoan players.

Another is almost a ghost note called I-meri (written as a hashmark, or number sign #, #-meri). I (#) is the Taizan Ha name for San-no-U. This almost-ghost note, #-meri, is played after the San-no-U on a particular piece of music. It is produced by opening the re finger while still playing a San-no-U (#-meri). The pitch is somewhat lower than San-no-U but certainly not as low as a regular Chi. It's nice to have a flute that can play this note but finding one is hit and miss depending if the maker knows enough to consider that note.

The point is, the _awareness_ of the maker is important to the flute, not that the maker has to be an exemplary player. The maker needs to know how to produce the sounds the player wants and then make the flute accordingly.

Then, there is always tradition to consider. Most shakuhachi are developed for certain schools of playing or lineages. Some basic design rules develop in accordance with that school's need, the Kinko smaller chi hole and then the slight splaying (widening of the distance between the Chi and Ri holes, to use Kinko terminology.) Some old Tozan shakuhachi tend to have front hole spacing and size more like it's mother-school Myoan shakuhachi: Evenly spaced, same diameter.

Modern Tozan and Kinko shakuhachi now tend to have similar hole spacing and sizing.

If you noticeably change the relationships and sizes of the holes much beyond the old Myoan, Kinko and Tozan schemes, then you are creating flutes which fall outside of the traditions of shakuhachi. You may be creating your own tradition, but you are also creating your own playing style to accommodate the advantages or disadvantages of the flute. You maybe in the process of creating your own school. The question is do you have the grapes to follow though with the knowledge, demands, responsibilities of becoming the leader, the iemoto of your own school?

Or are you just making maverick flutes that other traditional teachers and players will reject as serious instruments?
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Jon Kypros
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PostPosted: 2011-11-21, 17:13    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

Brian Tairaku Ritchie wrote:
But you have to be able to play well enough to get a solid pitch or you'll be making flutes that are sharp for good players. In fact I think a lot of the flutes people make nowadays are sharp.


I agree and have seen a few sharp flutes too. I want to elaborate briefly for the benefit of others on what you said about playing well enough to get a solid pitch. A shakuhachi maker needs to be able to play each flute at its fullest power in order to tune properly because everything about the embouchure effects the pitch. Since Jinashi are all different, it is an idiosyncratic process that requires the maker to be the quality control. The maker has to "endorse" each work because Jinashi are all different. If a flute is tuned with a weak embouchure or with an incorrect head position than it will not play in tune when played with a more dynamic powerful embouchure in the correct head position. Likewise, a flute tuned with a dynamic or powerful embouchure will usually play flat for a beginner and in this way it provides a guide or goal for the beginner to work towards as the correct head position and solid tone will also equal a more and more accurate pitch.

I play all of the shakuhachi I make to their fullest when tuning and demonstrating my instruments for sale online, however, some feel that playing a shakuhachi demo with a dynamic or powerful embouchure is misrepresenting a flute and that a maker should play like a beginner since that is how the customer will most likely sound. I suspect it is these kinds of ideas that could also lead to incorrectly tuning shakuhachi sharp as well as "spot-tuning" or adjusting the bore too much.

The largest group of people out there buying flutes are either beginners or those that have not developed a dynamic embouchure yet and my theory is that some shakuhachi makers may either intentionally or unintentionally make shakuhachi that appeal to this large group of players or this large market. It is hard to say whether this is good or bad but it is certain that it does not contribute any new quality shakuhachi instruments to the world. I lean toward it being more detrimental than good as I can see such flutes hindering progress or preventing it all together.

If a shakuhachi maker has a weaker embouchure they may adjust or "spot-tune" a note too much which will make the shakuhachi play easier for a beginner but in actuality the flute will have a small envelope or window of sound. A shakuhachi like this in the hands of a dynamic powerful player will squeal or jump prematurely into Kan or Dai-Kan. With Jinashi specifically if someone has a weaker embouchure they may "spot tune" a note that does not need it resulting in them destroying a wonderful unique tone.

Kiku Day wrote:
Murai Eigoro, who is the kindest man on earth and also a good maker, aways said to me that he believed one has to choose between doing training to become a virtuoso player or a good maker.
His reasoning was that if you are an excellent player, you will make flutes that suits exactly your playing style (his conclusion based on his own observations) so if you want to become a good maker who can make shakuhachi for many people - then you should not be a virtuoso player.
Of course, Murai said the same as Brian. The maker has to know about the flute and know and be able to play all intricate techniques... but that is not the same as being a good or virtuosic player.


It seems that virtuoso players usually have a very rigid idea of what a shakuhachi has to be or a very eccentric view! It seems they can either adjust the tone so much that the natural tone begins to fade or is extinguished all-together or leave the flute so difficult and eccentric to play that very few could appreciate it.

Kiku Day wrote:
I will stick to whether I like the flute or not each time I meet a flute Smile


That is how I feel as well. Once you know what you need/want and can navigate on your own through all of the choices out there I think this is a great attitude to have. When someone says they like maker A's Jinashi flutes more than maker B's Jinashi flutes I typically think that is kind of silly since Jinashi are all so very different and one person's re-sell is another person's dream flute.

Brian Tairaku Ritchie wrote:
We don't have many recordings of the likes of Miura Kindo, Inoue Shigemi, Yamaguchi Shiro etc. to know if they were great players but it is said they were.

We know that Watazumi's flutes were not good and he himself preferred those of Okubo Kodo and he was a great player.

The jury is out........but I have to wonder why Jon has bothered to ask the question. Wink


I asked this question to gain some insight both from beginners and experienced people and I also asked this out of concern because I see that some people are making "beginner" directed flutes and some are even calling their flutes shakuhachi when they have no knowledge or ability to play shakuhachi or even play embouchure controlled flutes with sufficient skill.

I hoped to hear from some makers as well but I understand this is a tricky topic for a flute maker.

On a personal note I state all over the place that "I am the only shakuhachi maker in The US that has reached the level of teacher within one style", however, I also realize that others have reached this same spot whom play with a beginner embouchure or weaker breathy tone. It is easy on the internet for anyone to say they have done this and done that but it is often meaningless and sometimes flat out misrepresenting or lying. The proof is in the work and only time will truly tell. Kiku Day's open approach to critiquing shakuhachi for herself on a personal level from a point of skill and understanding is about as much as any experienced player can honestly do. Unless a maker is truly constantly making poor instruments and or misrepresenting themselves to the community.

Ba wrote:
Nisshin is "The continuous progress and development" Smile as philosophyc term


Hi Ba,

Thanks for bringing this idea up. That is what keeps shakuhachi so interesting and alive for so many.
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Jon Kypros
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PostPosted: 2011-11-21, 18:40    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

Sorry for the double post I was posting my reply while Chris was posting his and I would like to reply to his post!

x moran wrote:
Another is almost a ghost note called I-meri (written as a hashmark, or number sign #, #-meri). I (#) is the Taizan Ha name for San-no-U. This almost-ghost note, #-meri, is played after the San-no-U on a particular piece of music. It is produced by opening the re finger while still playing a San-no-U (#-meri). The pitch is somewhat lower than San-no-U but certainly not as low as a regular Chi. It's nice to have a flute that can play this note but finding one is hit and miss depending if the maker knows enough to consider that note.

The point is, the _awareness_ of the maker is important to the flute, not that the maker has to be an exemplary player. The maker needs to know how to produce the sounds the player wants and then make the flute accordingly.

Then, there is always tradition to consider. Most shakuhachi are developed for certain schools of playing or lineages. Some basic design rules develop in accordance with that school's need, the Kinko smaller chi hole and then the slight splaying (widening of the distance between the Chi and Ri holes, to use Kinko terminology.)

If you noticeably change the relationships and sizes of the holes much beyond the old Myoan, Kinko and Tozan schemes, then you are creating flutes which fall outside of the traditions of shakuhachi. You may be creating your own tradition, but you are also creating your own playing style to accommodate the advantages or disadvantages of the flute. You maybe in the process of creating your own school. The question is do you have the grapes to follow though with the knowledge, demands, responsibilities of becoming the leader, the iemoto of your own school?

Or are you just making maverick flutes that other traditional teachers and players will reject as serious instruments?


Thank you for posting. I have been looking into how finger hole size, which is largely determined by placement, effects techniques. I have been particularly concerned with Atari or striking techniques that produce a "pop" or "clank" such as striking/popping Tsu(1) when playing Chi(3)-Kan (Kyushu - Koku Reibo). The following is what I have found.

Small holes usually facilitated or accentuated these sort of Atari techniques while big holes usually weaken or make these techniques impossible, however, some flutes with big holes played these techniques wonderfully while other flutes with smaller holes performed the same techniques poorly or not at all. I wondered why this was, why were small and large finger holes not acting consistently across many different flutes.

Before I get to my conclusion I want to mention how I know for a fact that smaller holes, or just the right sized holes, facilitate these techniques. I took a flute that would not make a desirable sound when striking Tsu(1) while playing Chi(3)-Kan, my main teaching 1.8 Jinashi which has slightly bigger holes. I partially filled the holes with non-drying clay which makes them smaller. The result was that the technique became not only audible but sounded good. Without the clay in the finger holes my 1.8 Jinashi flute requires that I simultaneously strike Tsu(1) and Re(2) to get a desirable "pop" or "clank". So it is not a big deal for me as there is an alternative approach.

The question still remained, why were small holes not consistently making these techniques work across the board on all flutes? I am certain it is the size of the hole, which is largely determined by the placement of the hole, in relation to the bore and length or aspect ratio of each individual flute that ultimately determines how the flute will respond to these sort of techniques, if it responds at all. Since it is the relationship of the hole size to the bore there would be a theoretical hole size that would make these techniques work or work best across the board with only a few exceptions. Of course, small holes can be a negative in that they generally make for a lower volume and or a more muffled tone but I have to stress that this is also largely determined by the aspect ratio.

I have no idea how or if one can predict or calculate the correct hole size for each unique flute aspect ratio in order for it to play these techniques. So once again it falls on the maker to be knowledgeable of these techniques or like you said Chris be aware so that they can answer question of prospective buyers to aid in the purchasing process.
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2011-11-21, 20:16    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

Jon Kypros wrote:


On a personal note I state all over the place that "I am the only shakuhachi maker in The US that has reached the level of teacher within one style", however, I also realize that others have reached this same spot whom play with a beginner embouchure or weaker breathy tone.


I don't think that's true. David Duncavage has a license and there might be others I can't think of at the moment. Perry teaches although I suppose that's why you say "within one style". Teaching beginners it doesn't matter what style you are. That only matters after they learn the basics.

Then there are the other American makers who live outside the States like John Neptune, Peter Ross, Tom Deaver (RIP) etc. who are trained. I don't know if it matters, there are so few good American makers.

I would say it's more important to be trained in shakuhachi making than playing to make shakuhachi although both are important. Even so some makers who are not trained in making still make good shakuhachi by divine intervention. Cool

I am digging Colyn Peterson's wooden 1.8's although I think he's only been playing a few years.
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PostPosted: 2011-11-21, 22:19    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

There is a big problem in making "proprietary" or ultra-custom shakuhachi.

If a player is a master player, she/he probably has learned to play on traditional shakuhachi and probably has half-way decent access to shakuhachi so that they can find one that fits them. They don't need specialized or ultra-customized shakuhachi.

If the player is a beginner or intermediate and has limited or no access to a good (i.e. qualified) instructor, the problem of having an ultra-customized shakuhachi made is that they will very likely have an instrument made to accentuate weaknesses or mistakes in their technique.
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PostPosted: 2011-11-21, 22:44    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

Glenn Shouyuu Swann and I are both qualified to teach and have made/make shakuhachi. I am definitely more a player than a maker however, though I had been thinking recently about making more flutes.

I think that it is of great benefit if one is a good player, and steeped in a specific school, to make shakuhachi that are good - particularly for that school. Being a Dokyoku player I would think that I have a good amount of insight into the parameters of a shakuahchi good for playing in that style... and conversely, less about what makes a good Tozan flute, for example.

Being a good player, certified to teach or whatever, could not hurt in getting into the ball park of making a good flute.

Qualification: Being certified to teach (assume shihan, jun-shian, etc) does not a good shakuhachi player make - as had been discussed on the old forum quite a bit. Thus, further complicating the issue of whether or not a certified player would make a good maker in my eyes.
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PostPosted: 2011-11-22, 03:02    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

Jon Kypros wrote:



The question still remained, why were small holes not consistently making these techniques work across the board on all flutes? I am certain it is the size of the hole, which is largely determined by the placement of the hole, in relation to the bore and length or aspect ratio of each individual flute that ultimately determines how the flute will respond to these sort of techniques, if it responds at all. Since it is the relationship of the hole size to the bore there would be a theoretical hole size that would make these techniques work or work best across the board with only a few exceptions. Of course, small holes can be a negative in that they generally make for a lower volume and or a more muffled tone but I have to stress that this is also largely determined by the aspect ratio.



I think I've observed the depth of the hole seems to make a big difference too.
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PostPosted: 2011-11-22, 06:46    Post subject: Should a shakuhachi maker be a player? Reply with quote

CharlesKoeppen wrote:


I think I've observed the depth of the hole seems to make a big difference too.


Yes sometimes people can dig themselves into deep holes and have difficulty climbing out of them. Razz Evil or Very Mad Arrow Neutral
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