Playing a Medium Length Shakuhachi with Large Hands

I guess the title of this article is a bit strange, so let me explain. I have quite large hands; if I stretch out my fingers, the length from the tip of my thumb to the tip of my little finger is about 26 cm. Playing a standard 1.8 shakuhachi is no problem; my fingers are quite relaxed on the holes of the flute.

But with a medium-length flute, such as a 2.2 that I own (I’m not sure that anyone really calls this “medium length,” but it’s certainly not a “long” shakuhachi), this is very different. Since the upper left hand is roughly perpendicular with the floor, there are no problems there, but my right hand has to contort to be able to cover the holes. Here’s a photo of me holding the 2.2 in such a way as to cover the holes with the tips of my fingers.


As you can see, my right index finger is in a very odd position, but my right ring finger looks fine. When I showed this position to my teacher, she told me that it looked very strange, and that it was definitely the fact that my hands were very large which made it difficult. A 2.2 shakuhachi is not that long compared to some of the flutes she and others play.

I think many people with normal sized hands would be able to play with their fingertips on a flute of this length, but it doesn’t work for me. So I have to learn to use “piper’s grip,” which looks like this:


Here, I’m covering the second hole with the second pad of my right index finger; you can see it perhaps a bit better with the hole uncovered.


I’d certainly seen people play long flutes like this, but hadn’t expected that I’d need to do this for a flute that is not very long. It’s a very different technique, and will require learning some new skills for shading the second hole, when necessary.

To be honest, the 2.2 is probably not a good length for me. It’s long enough that I need to use piper’s grip, but it’s a bit short to really play that way. I would probably be more comfortable on a 2.5 or so, and, since I do love the sound of longer, deeper shakuhachis, I may look into getting one of them down the line. (Not yet; I’m not in any way proficient enough to make that leap.)

But I also understand now why having offset holes on longer flutes can be helpful. In fact, if I were to want a custom-made 2.2 or so in the future, I’d get the holes offset for easier playing.

I’m curious how other people play a 2.2 flute. Do you have big hands and resort to piper’s grip, or, if you have smaller hands, is it comfortable to play with the tips of your fingers?

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