Q5: I am interested in playing Western music on the shakuhachi. Is it essential that I order a seven-hole instrument?

A: No. All twelve tones of the chromatic scale can be played on a five-hole shakuhachi as one develops and refines technique on the instrument. Learning to half- and quarter-hole certain notes as well as altering the angle at which the shakuhachi is blown (meri-kari, in Japanese), enables the player to produce all of the tones on the western musical scale. The seven-hole flute is a short-cut providing commonly played notes used in western music and may be an asset if one desires to play this music exclusively on the shakuhachi.

In this regard, more may actually be less, as the two additional finger holes change forever the unique musical character of the traditional instrument. Subtlety of intonation, shading and bending of notes, which characterizes the traditional music of the shakuhachi, are sacrificed in the process. Of course, one can always tape over the two extra holes to revert back to the traditional hole arrangement. Bear in mind, however, that those holes may are part of the bore and may have an adverse effect on sound production.

Another approach to playing Western music on a shakuhachi is to consider the Shakulute, a shakuhachi headjoint for the silver flute. This hybrid instrument allows the player to employ blowing styles and techniques distinctive to the traditional Japanese shakuhachi while using fingerings common to the western classical Boehm flute. The resulting sound is a unique blend of East and West that can be achieved on no other instrument. It is perfect for the western flautist interested in producing music with a Japanese touch as well as the traditional shakuhachi player who wants to experiment with Western scales and intonation.

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