Playing Short Phrases as Practice

I’ve been slowly progressing in my shakuhachi learning, and, since I’m only learning to play honkyoku – rather than starting by playing folk songs – the music itself is a bit difficult. As I go through some of the pieces I’m learning, I’ve been isolating certain phrases that seem to work as self-contained exercises. A recent blog post by Hélène Seiyu, with seven tips for playing shakuhachi, includes the following:


Tip 6: Isolate and repeat each little motif (pattern)
Although you mainly play long phrases, the music for shakuhachi is based on small elements and patterns put together and asking attention and precision. Some of them are recurrent (tsuuu-tsu-re…). Take the time to recognise and isolate them, and practice them properly. If you do so, you have more chance it goes fine each time you come across them! And you can concentrate more on what is new. Otherwise, you keep on repeating the same mistakes or approximations in different contexts over and over again… Every detail matters!

This is exactly what I’ve been doing. And since there are phrases that are found in a lot of pieces, it’s a great way to build up a toolkit that will make it easier to learn new works.

For example, on the left is a bit from Shingetsu. I’m not yet learning the piece, but I asked my teacher for a score so I could follow a recording of the piece. These scales appear from time to time, and you could simply play the scale, but there is a bit of ornamentation here with head shakes. (I’m not sure of the Japanese term for the head shakes; I know there are different types.)

I’ve got a small set of these riffs that I use as practice, and it would be great if there was a collection of short bits that people could use as études in the early stages of their learning. I’ll be keeping a library of the ones I find as I progress.

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