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New article: analysis of honkyoku

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PostPosted: 2017-08-28, 19:33    Post subject: New article: analysis of honkyoku Reply with quote

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Hi everyone,

Please find below the overview of an article I recently published on-line about a possible way to analyze honkyoku pieces and melodies. This might interest some of you.

Bruno Chikushin Deschênes, Montréal


A preliminary approach to the analysis of honkyoku, the solo repertoire of the Japanese shakuhachi
By Bruno Deschênes

Available on-line at the following web site and link:

Few authors have proposed an analysis of the melodic structure of the honkyoku repertoire. The main ones among non-Japanese are Elliott Weisgarber (1968) and Andreas B. Gutzwiller (1974). In Winter of 2017 Amy Simon published an article in the on-line journal AAWM Journal ( I refer in this article to Weisgarber’s and Gutzwiller’s analyses, as well as four Japanese musicologists: Koizumi Fumio, Uehara Rokushirō, Tamba Akira and Tokumaru Yoshihiko. Although these Japanese authors did not analyze honkyoku music, their works provide important cues for a better understanding on the melodic structure of these pieces. This analysis is made from the point of view of a musician who tries to understand the melodic structure of honkyoku pieces so to better perform them. I do not propose a typical musicological and methodological analysis. I rather talk about three aspects of the performance of honkyoku pieces that, as far as I know, have never been discussed. 1) Following Uehara’s and Koizumi’s theories of tetrachord, the phrases of honkyoku pieces appear to be based on kakuon, nuclear notes. I suggest instead that they are based on kakuontei, nuclear intervals. What allows us to distinguish two tones is not their distinctiveness in hearing them, but their auditory and musical relationship. The intervals are quite possibly more important than the kakuon, since they are what give movements and forms to the “trajectory” of any melody, phrase or motive. 2) When playing a honkyoku piece, a player does not simply play each phrase one after the other sequentially. He or she must group them meaningfully and aesthetically, each grouping creating larger melodic sentences. This grouping of phrases can only occur during the performance of a piece; it is not a theoretical construct. 3) Some Japanese shakuhachi masters state that honkyoku pieces are not based on pitches, notes or tones, but on tone-colors. Most analyses of Japanese music are made from a Western point of view, based on pitches. I suggest in my conclusion that analyzing them from the perspective of tone-colors provide a better grasp of these melodies. I hope this very personal take on honkyoku melodic structures will help, even if only partially, shakuhachi players to have a better understanding of the melodic structures the honkyoku repertoires, though what I am proposing here does not apply integrally to all repertoires.

For those who can read French, I published in 2017 the first book in French entirely dedicated to the shakuhachi: ‘Le shakuhachi japonais, Une tradition réinventée’ (Paris, L’Harmattan, 2017 -
Bruno Chikushin Deschênes
Montréal, Québec
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