I’m uploading a series of informal videos (with some tips) that may help one play honkyoku by heart. For me, playing by heart has brought me deeper into the sound than I ever achieved over my decades of playing by the notation. I can’t say how true that may be for others. Try these out and see. Please see John Singer’s Youtube playlist KINKO RYU HONKYOKU SERIES for a more masterful performance of these honkyoku.
I intend to do all I can to help others play honkyoku by heart. Of course, I don’t really know what I’m going to do, or in fact what I’m doing. This playing by heart has been a recent revelation for me. I just hope I can pass along this secret to others now. Of course, this is all a work in progress so we’ll see how far that goes. 🙂
First, here is the PDF of these two honkyoku: HiFuMi & Akebono
*** Play them by heart ***
I wrote this post as a duet to attempt. That is rather difficult to accomplish given the need for 2 very different length shakuhachi. A much more useful way to use these two honkyoku lies in how learning either one of them by heart can make learning the other one by heart almost automatic, i.e., they share the same structure, the same melody, so to speak.
*** Or play them as a duet ***
Note that both pieces, HiFuMi & Akebono, are arranged side by side. HiFuMi is right and Akebono is left, with a line dividing each set of pairs.
Akebono’s tonal relationships are almost identical with Hifumi’s, at least what there is of them. Akebono is somewhat shorter as it lacks a comparable section toward the end of Hifumi.
What I did was add a section to Akabono so that it contains the same number of tones as Hifumi. I also added the relevant squiggly pitch raising or lowering marks to match Hifumi. (Note: You can of course play the standard Akebono along with a truncated Hifumi. Just leave out section of Hifumi that matches the part I added to Akebono.)
I also had to stretched out Hifumi’s notation to get it to match up with Akebono’s. I found this surprisingly helpful in its own right. It puts more ‘space’ in Hifumi’s notation. The utility of this lies in how it affords seeing it from another angle, so to speak. Now, that’s not as ‘good’ as playing by ear, but it does loosen things a bit. Adding space to the notation may even help notice it more, which should help play it by ear a bit more.
Any size shakuhachi will work here. All you need to is make sure the one playing the Akebono part is 5 half tones (i.e., 5 sun) ‘above’ Hifumi. For example, playing Hifumi with a 1.8 ( a shaku hachi, or literally a 1 shaku 8 sun long flute) means you need to play Akebono with a 1.3, which is 5 sun above Hifumi. A good 1.3 is hard to find and probably hard to play. Here are other options:
Hifumi 1.8 Akebono 1.3
Hifumi 2.0 Akebono 1.5
Hifumi 2.1 Akebono 1.6 (probably most optimal)
Hifumi 2.3 Akebono 1.8
Hifumi 2.6 Akebono 2.0
Soon, I’ll video this, either in parts or whole.
For now, print HiFuMi & Akebono and try it out. If you have any questions about this, please ask.
Note: This is the rest of this piece. I’m not sure how helpful this approach is, so I thought I’d try something else next time. Perhaps it would work just as well to record the whole honkyoku piece. Then one can just play as much or as little of it as needed. On the other hand, I can see the utility of breaking a piece down into manageable parts. The experiment continues…
Every now and then I’ll post a small section of honkyoku (1). My guess is that breaking honkyoku down into bite size parts may help some at the beginning of this journey… or not. This is an experiment, after all! After I’ve finished all the segments, I’ll record the whole piece. Naturally, I eagerly welcome all constructive criticism, as long as it doesn’t suggest I play ‘better’. ?
Play it by ear?
Maybe presenting honkyoku this way will facilitate a play-by-ear approach. Playing by ear is truly the way to go, at least with ‘normal’ music I’ve found. Alas, I’m not musically talented enough to accomplish that with honkyoku, but I expect plenty of you are. Considering the nature of honkyoku, I’m not sure how important that is either… I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Kyle meets Takeo & Yamaguchi Goro’s Shakuhachi! I met Takeo at Yamaguchi san’s house. Yamaguchi’s practice was to schedule students in such a way as to have a few lined up and observing him and the current student receiving the lesson. That way, a student could actually have two or more lessons in one, so to speak. … Continue reading…
I began my latest book, Blowing Zen Honkyoku with the secret I found to playing honkyoku… playing it by heart. In Chinese, 心 xīn: the heart; heart; mind; feeling; intention; centre; core. Playing by heart permits you to close your eyes and devote total awareness to the sound until you touch the essence of sound… until you become the sound. Playing by heart also invites greater awareness on the breath.… Continue reading…