what is the sound you are meant to play?
what is the song you are meant to play?
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced player, become open to a new way of making your sound. The drum is now new to you whether you’ve never played it or you’ve been playing it for many years.
“Welcome to the Zen Guitar Dojo. Please leave the door open.” -Phil Sudo
Phil Sudo wrote the book “Zen Guitar.” The following five lessons are inspired by his writing and teaching. I try to blend my own experience in teaching and performing with a personal interpretation of the Zen Guitar philosophy. These are only suggestions. You may find your own interpretation suits your playing better. I’ve included more information on the book after the lessons.
Beginner Materials :
A flute in good repair
A method book with photographs of posture and mouth placement
Possibly a teacher or more experienced player ready to help you
Adjust Your Mindset
If you prefer a schedule, I would suggest at least 15 minutes a day for about a week before you go to the next lesson in the series. Never rush though a lesson; take the time. If it takes a week to do just a small part of a lesson; that’s fine.
Be open during each session to know just one thing.
Now, hold an empty cup (refer to Zen Guitar page 26).
Each session begins the same way:
Wear the white belt
Pick up your flute (or head joint)
Table of Contents
Lesson One: Make a Sound
Be aware of the instrument in front of you.
Does this instrument draw you to make a sound?
Hold an empty cup.
Hold the head joint with two hands and place your lower lip on the edge of the lip plate as per the picture in your book. Your lower lip should be flush with the closest edge of the hole. Make a sound. Breathe from the diaphragm, blow an airstream across the lip plate trying to hit the opposite edge of the hole and aiming across the room.
Stand in front of a mirror to play. When your sound comes out clearly, observe what your mouth looks like. Lower the head joint, bring it back up and try to replicate the sound you just did. It doesn’t matter if the sound is high or low. Let the sound come out naturally, if you’re having trouble, a teacher can guide you. Pour your heart and soul into the sound. Don’t worry about the next steps, just live in the moment.
Bird call: Once you’re creating a smooth, clear sound, hold the head joint with the left hand and place the palm of your right hand over the head joint opening (the tube not the mouthpiece hole). Make a sound through the mouthpiece while covering and uncovering the head joint opening. Try it fast or slow; make it sound like a bird.
Slide whistle: place your right index finger into the headjoint and slowly pull out while making a sound. This exercise helps increase stamina.
Lesson Two: Expand the Sound
Hold an empty cup
Review previous lesson
Hold the head joint with two hands, try to create a low sound; the lips are more relaxed, the air hole bigger. See image.
Try to create a high sound; the lips are closer together, firm but not tight, the air hole is flatter, narrower. The air spins out faster. Play high and low long tones, separately and also blended together slurring up and down. Make sure to take time to breathe between each effort.
Focus on the moment. Try playing various rhythms on the low and high notes, try long tones and short tones
Focus on your sound, hear when it’s the sound you want or when it’s not. Now put the whole flute together using the diagram in your book or by the direction of your teacher.
Lift the flute as if you’ve never seen one before. Lift with your fingertips cradling the flute from underneath. Do NOT put your fingers to the keys in the proper way just yet.
Bring the flute mouthpiece to your mouth and blow a sound that fills the whole flute, it can be high or low.
Lesson Three: Three Notes
Hold an empty cup
Briefly review previous lessons.
Check the diagram that shows the placement of your fingers. Place your fingers, cradle the flute, but do not press down on any keys yet. Play a sound, making sure no fingers are pressing down on any keys. The weight of the flute should be on the left hand index finger bottom knuckle and the right hand thumb.
Press down the right pinky key (Eflat key) if you need help balancing the flute. Check your posture, shoulders down, arms poised but relaxed, head level
Experiment with different rhythms and sounds In your book find the fingering for B, play the note, if it doesn’t sound correct, look at the keys and check your fingering. Make sure that an errant finger isn’t accidentally pressing down. Play B low or high.
Do the same with notes A and G. Focus on the clarity of the sound. Read through the music on the pages of your book that introduce these notes or try playing a simple song like “Hot Cross Buns” or “Merrily We Roll Along.”
One thing at a time. If it sounds good, it is good.
Lesson Four: Scale
Hold an empty cup.
Review the previous lessons. It’s always good to start a practice or lesson with just the head joint at this beginning stage, but eventually (especially with more advanced players) you may want to do your warmup playing scales and studies with the whole flute instead. Use your tongue to make a “ta” or “tu” sound in front of each note. This is called “tonguing”. Play a simple song using tonguing.
Learn the fingering and play the following notes; low G, A, B, C, D, E, F sharp, middle G. This is the G major scale. Practice the scale in various ways for example:
1. Moderate speed notes (quarter notes) tonguing (that’s using ta) or slurring (blending the sounds) up and down the scale. Breathe after every four notes or eight notes.
2. Slow notes (half or whole notes) up and down using tonguing or slurring. Breathe after every two notes.
3. Fast notes (eighth notes) up and down using tonguing or slurring. Breathe after every eight or sixteen notes. You may also want to try some other scales. Some suggestions: F major, C major, A minor, D minor. Gravitate towards the ones that fit you naturally.
Lesson Five: Rhythms
Look over the beginning of your book. Usually the first note is the quarter note. It make one sound. The symbol that looks like a fancy E is the quarter rest. This symbol means one no sound. The placing of the silence is just as important as the sound. They are equal partners.
Most beginning pages have ‘measures’ with 4 beats to each measure. Thus, when you start an exercise, say out loud, “One, Two, Ready, Go.” Or you can replace those words with your own words.
Count out loud and feel the sound of your voice “One, two, three, four” or “One-and two-and three-and four-and.” Start on the exercises if the rhythm confuses you, just play one note. Keep it slow and steady.
For example, say this rhythm out loud: 2 eighths, 1 quarter, 2 eighths, 1 quarter– would be counted like: one-and twooo three-and fouuur. Or it could be counted: short short looong, short short, looong. Tap your foot to the steady beat if you can.
Say and clap; Put the flute down and pay and clap the rhythm simultaneously.
Now go back and play the rhythm with your flute.
Lesson Six: Songs
Hold an empty cup.
Warmup on previous lessons or scales Continue with the songs in your book or try to create songs by ear using the notes you know.
Record yourself with a handheld tape recorder, a computer, or write down your songs. You don’t have to use music notation, you can just write the note letters and make your own code to show their timing.
You and your teacher can evaluate your instrument. If your flute has leaks or if you don’t feel at one with your instrument, you may need to find out about repairing or even replacing it.
Eventually as you feel more connected to your instrument, you will want to make sure each of your notes is “in tune”. Borrow or buy a tuner and follow the directions on how to understand the readings it gives for each of your notes. If you’re out of tune, sometimes the flute itself needs to be readjusted, sometimes the angle you’re playing needs adjustment. Remember: Rolling in the mouthpiece makes the note flatter, rolling out makes it sharper. The word embouchure means the position of your lips on the mouthpiece. If a flute is in good repair and in tune, you shouldn’t have to make any extreme adjustments on your embouchure by rolling.
On uplifting of spirit: If you find expression in a song or piece, your spirit will guide you to practice the technique you need to play the piece well. Each moment of the song is its own moment.
Practice purposefully. If a long phrase remains difficult, then break it up into sections. Strive to perfect the small sections and then combine them later.
Each song has its right tempo and some even say its right key. Find the joy in the song you make with your flute.
“One sound, one song.” – Phil Sudo
Tokyo Mon Amour 1992
Kim Milai drums, Phil Sudo guitar, Patrick Derivaz bass
-photo by Bob Johnson with Kim Milai’s camera
I met Phil while living in New York City and together with Patrick Derivaz we created a punk trio. After we disbanded we kept in contact and and then we still kept in contact after he moved with his family to Maui to write “Zen Guitar.”
In these first lessons you are training (or retraining) your muscles to do the physical actions of playing music. Doing this with regularity will let your spirit naturally speak through your playing. Do not strive, just do in the moment. Listen to yourself. Observe what is good in your playing and also on how you want to improve. If you find yourself struggling and are too self conscious, step back to what you were previously playing well and live in that sound. Then experiment with the new thing you want to do.
I use a lot of imagery in my teaching i.e.: “Hand the phrase over to someone on a silver platter,” “Hit the back of the auditorium with your airstream,” “Think of each phrase as a sentence in a story,” “Strike the drum like your stick is your finger and the drum like a hot potato.” Imagery can be a valuable tool in your practice.
If you find yourself getting too self conscious while performing, think of a runner running through the finish line (Zen Guitar, page 64). If you concentrate too much on the final moments of the piece, you may make mistakes along the way. Using follow through lets you finish the piece without putting too much undue importance and weight on its final moments.
Thank you for your time in looking through these lessons. I welcome any thoughts you have about them and welcome your sharing of your teaching and playing experiences.
Zen Flute Anecdotes: Know One Thing
My grandfather used to play tenor banjo in a band in the 1920’s called “The Sunshine Serenaders”. They played primarily songs with “sunshine” lyrics. I have a reel to reel from the 50’s with him singing and playing “The World is Waiting for a Sunrise.” He only knew a few songs on the banjo but in that recording he played the most beautiful and heartfelt version of the song. It may not have been the most technically perfect rendition but it was full of spirit and feeling. I believe he was playing the song he was meant to play.
This book has literally struck a chord- not only with musicians, but with anybody seeking to find their center of creativity. Read the reviews and decide if this is the direction you need to go.