When practicing ro-buki (repeatedly blowing ro, the lowest note on the shakuhachi), there are five basic ways you can shape the dynamics (the loudness and softness) of your sound:
- Kyosui, or empty blowing, means simply breathing out naturally, not attempting any shaping of the dynamics of the sound. In practicing kyosui, make sure that you are not using any diphragm or head vibrato -- the breath is an even unaffected stream. This is the most common way of practicing ro-buki.
- Sasa-buki, or “bamboo leaf blowing”. In this way of shaping the breath, your volume follows the contours of a bamboo leaf. The sound starts out as quietly as possible, then gets louder and louder, and finally trails slowly off into silence. This somewhat refined style of blowing is central to the very popular Kinko-ryu (Kinko school) of shakuhachi playing, so many people associate it with shakuhachi music in general. Practicing ro-buki in this style is a good way to develop more conscious control of the breath. (Note: in some schools sasa-buki or sasa no buki has a different meaning, indicating a quality of sound rather than a breath shape.)
- Kusabi-buki, or “wedge-shaped blowing.” Start with a fairly loud sound and let it fade out gradually over the course of the entire breath. This is a very basic technique, common in the oldest shakuhachi music. It is a very meditative way of playing and gives you a sense, I think, of the cyclic rhythms of nature. There is a variation of this type of blowing in which you start with a very full noisy blast of sound, called a muraiki, and then proceed with the usual wedge shape.
- Sankaku-buki, or “triangle blowing.” This is the inverse of kusabi-buki: start in silence, gradually getting louder until you are at the loudest point at the end of your breath. This is difficult at first, but a great way to “grow your lungs.” To make it even more challenging, end with a muraiki (a final loud blast).
- Tsuzumi-buki. A tsuzumi is the drum used in Noh theater, shaped like two triangles joined at their apex. In tsuzumi-buki, as you might guess, you start loud, trail out to silence, then build up again to a loud conclusion. In other words, you’re putting kusabi-buki and sankaku-buki together, all in one long breath. This very dramatic ro-buki technique can greatly strengthen your practice.