Thursday, January 13, 2011

Struggles II

So here I am sixteen months into my Shakuhachi journey as Erin has so appropriately named her blog. My next big hurdle, which will probably be a life long struggle, is pitch. A good friend of mine who is a professional musician/teacher said to me today that this is his nemesis as he constantly struggles with it daily and will continue to do so to try to achieve perfection. As you may know, perfection as seen through the eyes of the Japanese, can never truly be reached. But it doesn't mean that we should give up on its' pursuit, just the contrary. It is the path or way to perfection that is the most important thing.

Also, my friend pointed out that many instruments have multiple variables that can affect the pitch. Of course let's take the Shakuhachi as an example as this is all or part of where our interest lies. Now I must put a disclaimer on this as I know very little about music in general and the theory of music. The fundamentals of music theory (pitch, rhythm, scales, melody, harmony, timbre, etc.) is a study in itself but I would like to talk about my struggles with pitch. Many times it has been pointed out to me by my teacher that my notes are too flat, for instance "ri". So I try to raise the pitch by lifting my head up and changing the angle of my embouchure in relation to the utaguchi. Here's two variables that I've discovered throughout my practice which has affected my pitch: head angle to the utaguchi and embouchure. To help with my efforts to play in pitch I purchased a chromatic tuner. Many times when I do robuki or scales I use the tuner to check if I am playing in pitch and not too flat or sharp. I will tell you that I use the tuner as an occasional tool not every time that I play. The importance of just 'being in the moment' of robuki or long tones is just as important as playing the right pitch. Many times I find that if I get too technical it takes away from the true path that I am on, however, playing the right pitch is very important. I did notice that how hard you blow has no affect on the pitch so if you are too flat or too sharp you will remain that way even when you blow harder.

Anyway, I would like to hear your thoughts on this topic as I am interested to see what you all have experienced in your playing whether you disagree or not. My eyes, ears, and ego remain open to your thoughts and experiences as always.

Here's a pic of my tuner.


  1. Hi Tom!
    My advice would be to concern yourself with tone quality more than pitch. When you can produce the full round solid tone of any given flute the pitch comes, that is, if it was tuned by a good player. It takes time so struggling with pitch may even delay progress. Once the tone/embouchure variable is lessened pitch just becomes a matter of position the head correctly which is just gross motor skills.
    Play on,

  2. Thanks Jon! I really appreciate the advice. Tone quality is a big struggle for me right now in my playing, It seems to come and go, some days it sounds great others lousy. As you say, play on.

  3. I think Jon does have a good point about working on full tone more than pitch. However I do like to sprinkle a bit of pitch practice in now and then just to keep in touch with the correct sound I am aiming for and in doing this I also train my ear to start hearing when I am in fact playing in correct pitch.

    I have found that playing too softly often resulted in incorrect pitch for me and for many months I forced myself to play more loudly in order to achieve the correct pitch. Maybe in the end it wasn't really the loudness, per se that assisted in improving the pitch, but rather the change in the airstream.

  4. Thanks Erin: That's exactly one of my problems. when I play softly many time my pitch is off. And the airstream is something that I find helps a bit. Many a Shakuhachi teacher has said to play loud to build your wind which may improve the pitch because of the airstream. I find that I play flat alot of the time and need to keep my head up a bit to raise the pitch. I also have experimented with embouchure to change pitch but I think that that goes back to airstream.

  5. Tom, I am early on in this path (and keeping a blog like yourself). I am playing low, as is common for new players, and I am finding that adjusting my head angle is only getting me so far. My teacher (Michael Gould) has not addressed this me yet, but I am sure it is coming.

    Although it will require specific effort, I am making a point of being patient with this aspect especially.