Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blowing inward and blowing outward

We often talk about uchibuki (内吹き) and sotobuki (外吹き). Uchibuki (blowing inward) means more air goes into a pipe. Sotobuki (blowing outward) refers to the opposite blowing style, that is, less air goes into a pipe.

The nature of advice and tips for shakuhachi playing varies, depending on which style you are familiar with. Some of the descriptions below may be useful if you already know your blowing style.

But how do you know your blowing style.

A visual example of blowing inward here.
A visual example of blowing outward here (in Okamoto’s research)

The player in the first example is Sogawa Kinya, a very good player and maker. Okamoto plays in the second example. In these video clips, you need to pay attention to where the air goes around the utaguchi.

Two ways to know if you are blowing in or out:

1. Use a kleenex like this

2. Put a candle (or lighter) under the bottom of your shakuhachi and blow Ro. If the fire disappears, you are likely to be a blowing inward person. Alternatively, you can put a candle near the utaguchi. If the fire disappears, you are probably a sotobuki player.

Those who blow downward tend to be uchibuki players whereas those blow straight or upward tend to be sotobuki players.

If you are an uchibuki player, you better use an instrument that is catered for uchibuki players (according to Sugawara). You play with an image that the air goes into the flute (downward).

If you are a sotobuki player, one tip for better playing is to make the lower line of your air jet (like air beam or blade) hit the top side of the utaguchi edge. It is like "shaving" the utaguchi.

Ishikawa introduces a way to switch from a blowing inward style to a blowing outward style based on his personal experience. (I summarized his point here. Take a look at his website for more info). Usually, when playing kan notes (high register), you tend to blow outward. Ishikawa therefore practiced this way. By maintaining the Re in kan position, he lowered the pitch to otsu Re, while paying attention to the blowing angle (not allowing the air to go into the flute). After getting used to this Re position, he practiced Ro in otsu in the blowing out position.

Generally, sotobuki generates a softer, louder, shimmering tone quality. Uchibuki is good for hard, dark, condensed tones.

Personally, I prefer the uchibuki tone quality when it comes to meri notes. I cannot get as big meri sound in the sotobuki style as I can in the uchibuki blowing. (It's a bit like trading in the brightness of kari tones for the richness of meri notes). Note that one cannot easily switch the blowing style while playing. It's more like changing a habit, which takes time.

Examples of sotobuki players: Yokoyama Katsuya, Kakizakai Kaoru, and many.
Examples of uchibuki players: Aoki Reibo, Tanabe Ryozan, Onishi Jofu (based on others' observations. I have not confirmed with each player)

This player is also probably an uchibuki player.

Sugawara Kuniyoshi tested more than 40 professional players and identified more sotobuki players than uchibuki players -- about 2 to 1 (Hogaku Journal, 2008, no. 260). He states hat the often repeated instruction in textbooks -- dividing the air into half the inside and outside of the flute -- is incorrect. In reality, the larger the deviation is, the larger the volume is. So is the tone quality (with less noise). This is confirmed in research on the pipe organ (by Yoshikawa Shigeru). So the first thing you need to know in order to improve your playing is your blowing style.

He also found that out-blowers were able to play other players' flutes that they had never played before, but in-blowers were NOT or even if they could, the sound was not as vibrant. Thus, he recommends that in-blower students had better acquire their instruments from in-blower makers.

My encounters with shaku players in the West seem to recommend the sotobuki style only (this could be an influence of Kenshukan teachers such as Kakizakai). Players of the western flute show a bit different attitude: More seem to appreciate uchibuki over sotobuki (the French style, etc.). But this is not certain yet.

The bottom line is (1) understand your blowing style and (2) seek advice from a teacher who is aware of the different blowing styles. Preferably, your teacher’s style is the same as yours.

I’ve come across many teachers (and makers) who simply say to their students (and customers), “your playing is not good enough,” when the student’s blowing style is not the same as theirs.

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