It is a seven-holed transverse flute made of bamboo. It is approximately 40 cm long (16 inches). The inside of the bamboo is hollowed out and lacquered, while the outside is wrapped with strands of bark. The first three holes are assigned to the left hand’s fingers and the last four to the right hand. The embouchure is similar to a Western transverse flute. It is approximately 1.3 cm (0.5 inch) wide.




Figure 1




Ryuteki: Fingerings

Figure 2

Ryuteki: Embouchure

Figure 3



Tuning and Transposition

The ryûteki sounds one octave higher than written, and it is tuned to an A-430Hz.


Range and fingerings

Figure 4 shows that the range of the ryûteki goes from the written C#4 to F#6. The pitches shown in whole note are those playable by opening/closing the instrument’s seven holes, while those in black are produced by half-holing or breath manipulation.


Written range and finerings for the ryûteki

Figure 4


Although the low C#5 and D#5 (written C#4 and D#4) are playable, they are never used in the music since the quality of their timbre is rather poor as illustrated in Figure 5, which compares the spectra of the sound of the ryûteki playing ff a D#5 and E5 (written D#4 and E4, respectively). It shows that the spectrum of the E5 (in red) is richer, counting close to 9 partials compared with only 5 for the D#5 (in blue). Moreover, the higher peaks of the E5 indicate that its sound is stronger than the D#5. Consequently, the E5 (written E4) is considered to be the lowest pitch of the ryûteki’s register.












Spectra of the ryûteki  playing ff a D#5 (in blue) and a E5 (in red)

Figure 5


The ryûteki does not have an octave key, therefore, for any giving pitches of the second and third octaves, the performer uses its first octave’s fingering and over blows in order to transpose it an octave or two higher. Figure 6 shows how over blowing affects the sound’s quality. The top to bottom spectra of Figure 6 are those of the ryûteki playing ff an E5, E6, and E7 (written E4, E5, E6) respectively, and they are all produced using the same fingering. The black arrows from the top to the middle spectra show that when over blowing the E5 (in blue) to get the E6 (in red), a trace of the E5 remains present in the sound of the E6. 

The spectrum of the E6 (in red), which is the first pitch of the ryûteki’s prime register, shows that this register is richer in higher partials and more airy as suggested by the floating partials 2, 3, and 4.

Finally the black and red arrows in the last spectrum of Figure 6, which represents the sound of the ryûteki playing ff an E7 (in green), shows remnants of the E5 and E6 in the sound of the E7 which is the first pitch of the ryûteki’s high register. It is because of these accumulated remnants that the higher register is unstable and can only be played loud, in other words, more pressure is required for the E7 to overcome the presence of the E5 and E6.

















Spectra of the sound of the ryûteki playing ff  E5 (blue), E6 (red), and E7 (green)
(written E4, E5, and E6 respectively)

Figure 6


Traditional performance practices

Articulation: Traditionally, tonguing is not used with Japanese wind instruments. Instead phrases are shaped by control of the airflow, while selected pitches are accentuated by tapping the instrument’s holes with the fingers.


Osu: Decrescendo followed by a sudden re-attack of the same pitch on a strong beat. The attack is not tongued but produced by an increase of the airflow.


Ateru: Same effect as Osu but on weak beats.


Osu and ateru can be performed on any pitches from the lower and prime registers.






Example 1


Orute: When a melodic line involves a motion from B5 to A5 (written B4 to A4) the B5 will chromatically slides to the A5, a motion called orute, there is no prescribed material as to what precedes and follows it. Example 2 shows two separate cases.






Example 2

Kakebuki: Refers to four prescribes melodic motions:

D6 on an upbeat leading to a downbeat on an E6 (written D5 to E5)

G5 on an upbeat leading to a downbeat on a D6 (written G4 to D5)

E6 on an upbeat leading to a downbeat on a G6 (written E5 to G5)

B6 on an upbeat leading back to a downbeat on a B6 (written B5 to B5)


Kakebuki D6-E6

Kakebuki G5-D6



Example 3a



Kakebuki E6-G6

Kakebuki  B6-B6




Example 3b



Tataku: This is the coloration of a sustained tone with the lower neighbor-tone. The change of fingering between the two pitches usually involve the rapidly closing and re-opening of a single hole, tapping the hole on the closing, thereby accentuating the lower neighbor-tone. It can be performed on any pitches from the lower and prime registers.


Ugoku: Is this opposite of Tataku in the sense that the melodic motion involves the upper neighbor-tone. Once again, the fingering between the two pitches involves the rapidly opening and re-closing of a single hole, thereby accentuating the returning pitch. It can be performed on any pitches from the lower and prime registers.






Example 4


Mawasu: This melodic motion usually entails a change of fingerings involving two holes. A pitch slowly slides to its upper-neighbor tone opening one hole, and then rapidly closing two holes to move to its lower-neighbor tone, tapping the holes and thereby accentuating the last tone. It can be performed on any pitches from the lower and prime registers.






Example 5


  Example 6 shows the basic melody of Etenraku's section B and C, and its rhythmic accompaniment. Its purpose is to show in context how the ryûteki uses its various patterns to color the melodic tones. The phrase structure is of four measures of four beats, and each section is composed of two phrases. The piece is in Hyô-jô mode (E Aeolian) and the basic melody is centered on the pitches: E, B, and A, three of the four fundamental pitches of the Japanese modal system. (For more information see chapter Theory/Pitch).    

As shown in Exemple 6, the ryûteki uses its various patterns to either color a sustained-tone or connect two consecutive melodic tones, and in doing so it adds rhythmic character to the basic melody. While the doubling of the basic melodic tones is rarely disturbed, measure 13 shows the melodic tones B - C#, (doubled by the other instruments) supported by the ryûteki's part with C# and D, respectively. We speculate that the tension created by this clash might be helpful to 'move' the music from its cadence in the preceding measure to the one coming in measures 15 and 16.

The excerpt is performed by the ensemble Reigakusha.

The basic melody of Etenraku's section B and C and how it is articulated by the ryûteki

Example 6


New performance practices

Articulation: Depending on the performer abilities single- double- and triple-tonguing, and staccato can be used.

Flutter tongue: This is the common technique used by flutist where a performer flutters his/her tongue to make the characteristic "Frrrrr" sound. Performing an isolated alveolar trill while playing a pitch produces the effect. This technique is playable throughout the lower and prime register of the ryûteki.

Tremolo: The ryûteki does not traditionally use tremolo, but it can be utilized in new music. The rule of thumb is to use tremolo between two pitches that do not involve awkward fingerings and that do not cross over different registers. It is not playable in the high register.

Bisbigliando: An effect produced when slightly transforming the color of a tone, usually accomplished by using alternative fingerings for the same pitch. It can be played on any pitches from the lower and prime registers. It is produced by either the use of special fingerings or with the motion of the lips.

Harmonics: The ryûteki already over blows at the octave, but it can also over blows at the octave and a fifth bringing out a pitch’s third harmonic. Its playability is limited to the following four pitches, moreover the effect requires a lot of air, so it can only be played loud. The sound excerpt of Example 7 is limited to the E5-B7 harmonic (written E4-B6).






(harmonics E5-B7 only)

Example 7



Karu and meru: This is a glissando motion done by the lips, karu means to slide up, while meru means to slide down. They can be performed over any pitches from the lower and prime registers. The precise possible ambitus of the glissando needs to be discussed with the performer.


Ugoku: The slight opening of the first hole (index of left hand) creates a glissando a half-step higher. This is available throughout the range of the instrument with the exception of the high register. Moreover, it requires a fingering with a closed first hole of the left-hand, consequently, this effect is not available on C, C#, and D.


Karu & meru






Example 8