Shinobue

Overview: Shinobue is the traditional side-blown flute in Japan. It is often played in Japanese festivals. Also, played as the background music in the kabuki drama and played with vocal and shamisen in the nagauta music. In the taiko music, it makes the performance more attractive with the colorful sounds produced by the wide range of the key and the unique, natural, simple and emotional sounds. Unlike expensive Japanese flute like ryuteki that played by noble people, simple shinobue has been played by common people. Especially, the sounds of shinobue reminds us of the sounds of festival music.

Meaning: The word, shinobue is consist of "shino" and "bue". Shino is named after the bamboo called shinodake, which is the material of the shinobue. Bue is just a suffix of fue, which means flute in Japanese. So, you can just call it shino or fue.   

Type Ohayashi: Ohayashi (or hayashi) is the noun form of the verb, hayasu, which means like to warm up and create the atmosphere by decorating the object with the music and chant. Although the role is close to the background music of the performance like dance and acrobatics, it has the meaning of sending off the holy sprits and decorating the object representative of the divine spirits when it comes to the Japanese festivals. Although the term of the hayashi is used in various ways, Japanese festival music is also called ohayashi and matsuri bayashi. Shinobue has been played in such Japanese festivals. Ohayashi type is the original shinobue and often played in Japanese festivals and with lion dances. It is specially crafted for those purpose and the the interval of the fingering holes and the tuning are set up with the traditional theories. 

Type Uta: Uta type is the modern shinobue that invented by Hyakunosuke Fukuhara between the beginning and the middle of the 20th century. Uta type is tuned and easier to play with the shamisen and the chants. To be tuned more accurate pitch, it is even played with the western music. This type is used in the modern taiko music, too. 

Key: Choshi is the key of the shinobue. In the festival music, the pieces and sounds are passed down from generation to generation. So, the people play the Japanese flute with the same key to the festival music. In addition, shinobue is often played with other instruments like shamisen and needs to adjust to the key of those instruments. That's why, there are many shinobue tuned in the various key from 1 hon choshi to 12 hon choshi. 

1 hon choshi (tuned in F) 
2 hon choshi (tuned in G flat) 
3 hon choshi (tuned in G) 
4 hon choshi (tuned in A flat) 
5 hon choshi (tuned in A) 
6 hon choshi (tuned in B flat) 
7 hon choshi (tuned in B) 
8 hon choshi (tuned in C) 
9 hon choshi (tuned in D flat) 
10 hon choshi (tuned in D) 
11 hon choshi (tuned in E flat) 
12 hon choshi (tuned in E)

Closing the all fingering holes, the sounds called tsutsune sounds, and it is seldom played. Opening a fingering hole that is far from the player, it's the start of the scale. For 8 hon choshi that is tuned in C, opening a fingering hole one by one, the pitch goes up from C to D, E, F, G, A, B .... (the order of do, re, mi, fa, so, ra, shi)

Ryo-on, Kan-on, Daikan-on: Shinobue produces 2-3 octaves sounds. The lowest octave is called ryo-on and the second octave is called kan-on. It's difficult to play but the highest octave is daikan-on. The system is same as other wind instruments. The players play the different pitch sounds to change the volume and the power of the blow. Fingering of the daikan-on is different from the ryo-on's and kan-on's. The sharp and high-pitch sounds of daikan-on is as powerful as the thunderous sounds of taiko. Here is a shinobue fingering chart. 

shinobue fingering chart ryo-on & kan-onshinobue fingering chart daikan-on

As noted above, modern shinobue scores are written in numbered musical notation like 1 and 一 (a Japanese character for 1). The thing is that these numbers represent not the key (like A, B, and C) but the fingering. So, even if the player uses shinobue tuned in different key, the fingering should be same. That is, the sound (key) depends on the key of the shinobue. It changes the impression of the piece. 

How to keep shinobue in safe: Because shinobue is made of bamboo, it is broken by the physical damage and the environmental change. Never leave it under the direct sunshine and the dry environment, or it will be cracked. Also, recommend to put it on the soft cloth not on the hard desk directly. The good way to keep it in safe is playing it with care everyday. 






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