Apr 9, 2019

Shakuhachi – the Japanese flute


The Shakuhachi is a common Japanese music instrument. All Shakuhachi are made from authentic yellow green bamboo stalks. The traditional authentic Shakuhachi is made from a bamboo species known as the madake. The Shakuhachi has a delicate manufacturing process that is easy to many master craftsmen. Why is this musical instrument so hard to make? The bamboo stalks are unique in density, bore and dimensions. Getting the Shakuhachi to play perfectly requires a though out process.

Despite the creating process, it looks like a simple, traditional and unique instrument. The Shakuhachi has no pads or keys like the typical flute. There are no strings or reeds like the guitar or clarinet. It has no mechanisms that alter the sound. It has only 5 finger holes, which is uncommon among most wind instruments. Despite all lacking all these, it produces a wide range of sounds, it is almost unbelievable.

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Brief history

It was first introduced to Jaoan from china around the eight century. Since the 15th century it was introduced into the spiritual context. Playing the Shakuhachi was a meditative practice done by the Zen Buddhist monks. For them, it was more of a spiritual tool rather than a musical instrument. Playing this instrument relaxed their body and mind, and was a great addition to their contemplation and meditation. Their wisdom was transmitted across several centuries and today the instrument is played in sacred places.

How to play the Shakuhachi Japanese flute

Learning how to play the Shakuhachi is not as difficult as you would imagine. You can use the traditional bamboo Shakuhachi or the modern plastic Shakuhachi to learn. If you can blow into a flute, bottle or any kind of instruments, you have already experienced the technique needed. Mastering this musical instrument is considered a lifetime achievement by most people and will need a little patience.

The first step to learning is to know how you should hold the Shakuhachi. It is as simple as holding a basic flute. The round end of the flute goes on your lower jaw and the lip inside the end of the flute. While blowing into the flute, your lip should never stick out. Practice blowing into the flute until you can produce a beautiful sound. Once you get that, you can cover the holes one by one to get a feel at the notes. Experiment with different notes until you get the hand of it.

There are several techniques you can use to give you different notes. It will take you some time and a lot of practice to learn the Shakuhachi. As soon as you get the right technique and breath control, learning this instrument will be a breeze.

How to care for your Shakuhachi

The bamboo Shakuhachi is very sensitive to extreme temperature changes and humidity. To ensure its longevity, you should practice to stabilise these conditions when you are storing the instrument. Storing it in a cloth bag with vapour barrier lining will work well in keeping the flute safe.

Do the leave the Shakuhachi in direct sunlight or near extreme heat and air conditioning. When left even for short period of time, they will crack and you will no longer have a musical instrument. Letting it become too dry is also a problem. You can prevent this by applying Tung oil or walnut four times a year. A few drops of this oil rubbed onto the bamboo will help stabilise its moisture levels.

Take care of small cracks before they penetrate to the interior of the Shakuhachi and render it useless. Filling a large crack with glue will make it difficult to repair. Clean the inner bore of the flute with a swab clothe. You can do this by tying the cloth to a piece of string longer than your Shakuhachi and polling it through the interior of the instrument delicately. A solution of distilled vinegar and water will kill the germs, mould and remove any odour form your Shakuhachi.

Final word

If you are in the quest for a natural, meditative and traditional instrument then you do not need to look any further. Buy the Shakuhachi and everything else like learning how to play this instrument will fall in place.