Mujitsu and Tairaku's Shakuhachi BBQ

World Shakuhachi Discussion / Go to Live Shakuhachi Chat

You are not logged in.

Tube of delight!

  • Index
  •  » Technique
  •  » Considerations for begginer going to a large flute

#1 2008-03-14 09:20:49

Registered: 2008-02-05
Posts: 6

Considerations for begginer going to a large flute

I would like to share some my struggles to get started, as a shakuhachi begginer, on larger flutes.

I started on a 1.7 for a few weeks and had a pleasant tone quality on it and then went on a 1.8 for 10 days and the transition was real easy. The first was a wood flute and the second a Tai He Tiger wood 1.8. I struggled only a little to get go to the 1.8, the wood flute was a little smaller in diameter than the Tai He.

Going to the 2.4 with a rather larger bore, 26mm was a different story. I was under the false assumption that one needed more air and if that "may" be right to some extent, I now use only a slight more but nothing in comparison with my first attempts. This may be because when I struggled to get a good tone, I could get one with very little playing power, so blowing harder was rarely effective, buzzing sound and otherwise a lot air sound was generated.

So I wondered why this thing had to be so much harder than the 1.8. Looking at both flutes profiles from the side, I realized that the larger bore meant that the flute was resting lower on my chin, on the higher part of the chin bump. This means that I had to shape my lips in a forward position to get them close enough to utaguchi, but this isn't enough, they needed to be more downard facing. Highying the angle of the flute brings the utaguchi closer to the lips but then too much air goes into the flute and then the lips shape has to correct that.

In both cases, it is a rather unnatural and awkward lips shape that is diffucult to retain, specially when blowing lower sounds with warm air that requires slight adjustements to the lips, coming back to the former position was very difficult. The same is true for Kan which I couldn't get. So I needed to figure out what to do, things should not be so difficult. My teacher's ramblings that I should stick with the 1.8 surface in my mind, I thought that he may well be right after all...

I love the tone of my 2.4 Kyotaku, nice and meelow, sounding like my teacher's 2.55 chokan, only mellower, so I had to persevere. The simple solution was to file some part of the chin rest as to bring it back in roughly the same position than on the 1.8. This was easy to do, the 1.8 was pretty well positioned so I projected a drawing of both profiles and determine how much I had to take off. I took off only half of that amount to test. Things got easy immediately. I had spent 2 weeks struggling and suddently everything went well.

I believe that those 2 weeks struggling were mandatoty otherwise I may have filed the flute without actually being sure that it was the right thing to do, specially for a begginer who's lips aren't yet accustomed to playing at all. Anyway, net result is that my tone is more stable, more powerful and convincing, I use less air and I suddenly was able to get some Kan RO sounds out of it.

So part of the difficulty in playing on larger flutes seems to come from internal and external bore diameters with respect to chin positioning and lips positioning. My teacher in Geneva told me that this is a rather common practice to file flutes chin rests in japan. He double checked my change and himself found that my flute was easier to play since last time we met.

Do you have any additional comments on what I have done to my poor flute or suggestion as why playing larger flutes is more difficult ?

Last edited by Kian (2008-03-14 09:25:00)

Life is like a mirror that reflects our often wrong beliefs



#2 2008-03-14 10:16:53

Jeff Cairns
teacher, performer,promoter of shakuhachi
From: Kumamoto, Japan
Registered: 2005-10-10
Posts: 517

Re: Considerations for begginer going to a large flute

Here's a general rule of thumb for the relationship of the back of the utaguchi to the blowing edge.  Lie a pencil across the top of the utaguchi so that it touches the blowing edge and the back edge (opposite the blowing edge) of the top opening.  Holding the shakuhachi so that the shaft just below the utaguchi is relatively perpendicular to the ground , the pencil should be close to parallel to the ground.  Of course there will be variations that one can grow comfortable with, but this should put you in the ball park for this crucial relationship.
If you are fortunate to own several shakuhachi of varying sizes, try this test and compare the results with reference to your feelings of comfort or ease of playing.

shakuhachi flute
I step out into the wind
with holes in my bones



#3 2008-03-14 16:49:27

From: Kingston NY
Registered: 2006-12-29
Posts: 1030

Re: Considerations for begginer going to a large flute

Kian wrote:

Going to the 2.4 with a rather larger bore, 26mm was a different story. I was under the false assumption that one needed more air and if that "may" be right to some extent, I now use only a slight more but nothing in comparison with my first attempts. This may be because when I struggled to get a good tone, I could get one with very little playing power, so blowing harder was rarely effective, buzzing sound and otherwise a lot air sound was generated.

While it's true to say that you don't have to blow harder to play larger flutes, the air used is less efficient on larger flutes. So if you can hold a tone for, say, 30 seconds on a 1.8, you'll probably only be able to get to 20 seconds or less on a 2.4/2.5 unless you fill your lungs more or squeeze more out or, if needing to take a breath before your lungs are empty is an issue, make sure your blood is oxygenated enough before blowing. I know this sounds paradoxical, and that if the air is less efficient you're using more and blowing harder, but it's really a better way to think about it because the difference in how hard you're blowing is so subtle.

Larger bore flutes can also handle more air better, meaning that you can blow noticeably harder if you want to for different tonal effects. You can do this with narrower bore flutes too, but there is less difference in blowing before the tone becomes unusable.   

As far as filing your flute, I wouldn't encourage anyone, particularly a beginner, to do it themselves unless it's a flute that you feel is worth the risk. Otherwise I'd only trust it to a good repair person, and even then I'd hesitate and give it more thought.

"Now birds record new harmonie, And trees do whistle melodies;
Now everything that nature breeds, Doth clad itself in pleasant weeds."
~ Thomas Watson - England's Helicon ca 1580



#4 2008-03-14 18:23:57

From: Salt Lake City
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 2185

Re: Considerations for begginer going to a large flute

In general, the LONGER a flute, and/or the larger in DIAMETER the flute, the greater the angle of the backcut required for a good fit.

Larger diameter mouthpieces will position the blowing edge FARTHER from the embouchure if the flute is held at the proper playing angle.

The chin anatomy of the player should also be taken into account, of course: some players have more prominent bones in the jaw just
below the front teeth, or the slope of the chin there may make the chinrest sit higher up on the jaw, thus moving the blowing edge away from
the embouchure.

Finally, the size of the radius of the rounded off area at the 'back' of the chinrest must be taken into account. Some judicious reshaping/more
rounding of this area is a good idea before changing the angle of the backcut.

Here are three side views of shakuhachi blowing ends (not precisely to scale: the 2.8 is larger in diameter than the other two, which are
very similar). Notice that the longer 2.8 has a greater angle to the backcut AND is more rounded off (arrow). Very small differences in the
backcut angle can make a noticeable difference in the fit of the flute, since we're dealing with long and longer objects.


Last edited by edosan (2009-02-11 09:03:35)

Zen is not easy.
It takes effort to attain nothingness.
And then what do you have?



#5 2008-03-15 03:41:05

Kiku Day
Shakuhachi player, teacher and ethnomusicologist
From: London, UK & Nørre Snede, DK
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 922

Re: Considerations for begginer going to a large flute

Thank you, Kian for sharing your trouble with the forum.

The problem you describe is, in fact, a very typical problem when moving from a shorter flute to a longer flute. When playing longer flutes, the bore typical is larger and therefore the diameter of the shakuhachi is larger too.
As you observed, if you place the larger bore shakuhachi on your chin as you have been used to on the 1.7 and 1.8, you get in trouble because the utaguchi will be placed too high in relation to your lips. And when you try to adjust that the lips are too far from the utagichi.
What you have to think about when placing a shakuhachi to rest on your chin before playing, is not where on the chin the back of your shakuhachi is placed, but where the utaguchi is placed in relation to your lips. It seems like you have got this far very well.
After nearly 10 years of teaching to many students, who come with all kind of sizes and length of jinashi shakuhachi, what I tell them to do when this problem occurs is:

• You have to pull the shakuhachi down your chin a little to get the utaguchi to be somewhat around the middle of your lower lip.
• If you just pull the flute straight down on your chin, there will now be a gap between the flute and your lips (and this is where you seemed to have been).
• Close that gap by taking the root-end of flute more upward.
• You will now have a good contact with your flute with your lips and it is plaed right on your chin, but it will be in meri position.
• Correct your head to kari position not changing the position of the flute on your chin. The last bit here often come as a surprise to many students as they often feel they are stuck in this meri position. But it is always possible to get in kari position by changing your head position even if your flute is placed a little more horizontally than you have been used to until now.

In this way it may have been possible to have got the positioning of the shakuhachi right without filing off the back side of the shakuhachi. I have the feeling you were only trying to adjust to the new positioning by changing your lip shape.

Some jinashi shakuhachi makers, incl kyotaku makers can be quite orthodox when it comes to how much should be filed off the back. And good makers will always have a good reason to stop where they stopped filing.
I am a pragmatic person, so I always try a flute for a while putting the shakuhachi in the position the way I have described above, and rather try to adjust to the flute myself than adjusting the flute to me. However, some people can have a very pronounced chin or some other chin shapes, which makes filing down necessary and desirable. I also file down adjusting more to my chin if I believe it affects the playability of the shakuhachi. It can at times help daikan if the back has been filed down.

Changing from 1.7 after a few weeks to a 1.8, then to 2.4 after 10 days is moving forward very fast. So, it is a lot of changes in very short time just in the beginning. Luckily, you have a teacher and are guided, so you should be fine.

A lot of my wonderful longer shakuhachi, made by different makers, do not have more filed off the back than my 1.6. Not even my 3.15. But you can experiment a lot, which you did. And if you did get a better result from your experiments, you probably did the right thing! Congratulations!

Good luck on your path of the shakuhachi!

I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ's breath moves through
listen to this music



#6 2008-03-18 06:09:29

Registered: 2008-02-05
Posts: 6

Re: Considerations for begginer going to a large flute

Hello and thank you all for your kind observations. I had refrained for a few weeks before filing the flute but I am very glad that I have done it. Not much was required. I do think as you said that an experienced player could have adapted more easily to the flute but now I have an easy transition from the 1.8 to 2.4 and back. Yes, I'm keeping the 1.8 nonetheless, I hesitated a lot to put the 1.8 on sale and I paid a very good price for, so selling it is more like loosing something much more valuable than the money I can get for it. However, I'm concentrating on the 2.4 and the 1.8 is kept for later time, just in case I would like to play some more "lively" tones.

Life is like a mirror that reflects our often wrong beliefs


  • Index
  •  » Technique
  •  » Considerations for begginer going to a large flute

Board footer

Powered by PunBB
© Copyright 2002–2005 Rickard Andersson