How to play the Japanese bamboo flute

The Japanese bamboo flute, also known as shakuhachi, is a traditional instrument that has been played in Japan for centuries. It is known for its unique sound and is often used in traditional Japanese music and meditation practices. If you are interested in learning how to play the shakuhachi, here are some tips to get started:

Understanding the Shakuhachi

Before you start playing the shakuhachi, it is important to understand the instrument and its history. The shakuhachi is made from bamboo and has five holes on the front and one on the back. It is held vertically and played by blowing into the mouthpiece on one end. The shakuhachi was originally used by Buddhist monks as a meditation tool, and its haunting sound is meant to evoke a sense of peace and tranquility.

How to play the Japanese bamboo flute

Choosing Your Shakuhachi

When choosing your shakuhachi, it is important to find one that is made from high-quality bamboo. You should also consider the length of the instrument, as shorter shakuhachis are easier to play but have a higher pitch, while longer shakuhachis have a lower pitch but can be more difficult to play.

Learning the Basics

To begin playing the shakuhachi, you will need to learn the basic techniques. Start by holding the shakuhachi vertically with your left hand, placing your right hand over the top of the instrument. Blow into the mouthpiece gently, using your diaphragm to control the airflow. You should also practice covering and uncovering the holes with your fingers to create different notes.

Practicing Your Breath

Playing the shakuhachi requires a lot of breath control, so it is important to practice your breathing techniques. Start by taking deep breaths and exhaling slowly. Then, practice blowing into the shakuhachi for longer periods of time, gradually increasing the length of your breaths.

Learning the Scales

Once you have mastered the basic techniques, you can start learning the scales. The shakuhachi has a pentatonic scale, which means it has five notes per octave. The most common scale used in traditional Japanese music is the hon choshi scale, which includes the notes D, E, G, A, and B.

Playing Traditional Songs

One of the best ways to learn how to play the shakuhachi is by playing traditional Japanese songs. These songs are often simple and repetitive, making them easy to learn for beginners. Some popular songs for beginners include “Sakura, Sakura” and “Kokiriko Bushi.”

See also: How to play transverse bamboo flute

Improving Your Skills

To improve your shakuhachi skills, it is important to practice regularly. You should also consider taking lessons from an experienced shakuhachi player, as they can provide feedback and help you improve your technique. It is also helpful to listen to recordings of traditional Japanese music to get a better sense of the sound and style of the shakuhachi.


Learning how to play the shakuhachi can be a rewarding experience for anyone interested in traditional Japanese music or meditation practices. By following these tips and practicing regularly, you can improve your skills and enjoy the soothing sound of this beautiful instrument.