The Tao of Music

The Tao of Music is the creation of Joseph Terrana, a reader who shared with me his beautiful poetry.  I felt that it needed a place to call home so I have placed his work here, in its entirety, with the hope that it will inspire others like it has me.

Tao of Music


1.  What is the wind through the valley

Hard and unyielding the pine tree splinters

Soft and supple the bamboo endures

All this from the wind

All this from the Tao

2.  What is the wind through the flute

Hard and unyielding no sound is made

Soft and supple the air through the lips

All this from the wind

All this from the Tao

3.  The empty cup the empty vessel the hollow flute

Usefulness lies in emptiness

The string alone is quiet

But the hollow of the sanxian hears its voice


Use the fingers the lungs the lips

One plays the flute

Listen to the Tao

Hear the soul

The flute plays itself

5.  Yin and yang

Loud and soft

Sound and silence

This is the way of music

6.  Thieves cannot steal from the man who has nothing

The guqin can be taken

Skill in playing it cannot

There is no cheating practicing

7.  The student who strives for decades

To play as well as the naturally gifted prodigy

Which one is better

8.  All cultures all people all beliefs

Music is one of the binding forces

No people are without

It is the way of nature

The Tao that speaks to all

9.  The mocking bird sings

The tree frogs call

Even the forest plays a song

This is the way

10.  When the people mourn

They play laments for the dead

When the people are happy

They make a joyful noise

But when the people are ruled by unyielding leaders

Only the silence of heartbreak and anger remains

This is not the way

11.  Nature provides

The bamboo for my flute

The snake for my sanxian

The silk for my strings

The wood for my guqin

I do not make instruments

The Tao does

12.  The distant flute ringing out in the mountains

Stops the weary traveler

Why does the wanderer stop

For whom does player play

This is where the Tao resides

13.  Stiff and unyielding breaks easily

Flexible and supple endure

To play with dexterity relax and do not be stiff

Do not be unyielding

You cannot run on stiff legs

You cannot fly with rigid fingers

14.  The one thousand tastes dull the tongue

The one thousand sights blind

The one thousand sounds deafen

Play one note with your soul

Not one thousand for the admiration of others

15.  Angry music from troubled people

Peaceful music in times of harmony

The Tao speaks

The leaders should listen

16.  Any fool can wear the master’s robes

I would hear the frail erhu of an old man

Unstudied in the formal arts

And turn from the perfection of an acclaimed academic

Perfect notes don’t have to be tuned

A good song does not have to be virtuosic

17.  A thousand year old melody

Lives in the now

And brand new when played again

The Tao has no beginning and no end

18.  An ensemble plays

Yet more than notes are performed

Listen for the way

The Tao that permeates

And the performers become

One note

One chord

Breathing life into sound

19.  The simple melody written from the heart

Seeks the path

Beginners find it too easy to play

Teachers find it too difficult

20.  Play what you mean


Playing one thousand notes to boast

I am best

This is not the way

Touch the heart of one listener in one thousand

Using one note

This is the way

21.  The giant oak begins life as an acorn

The white crane was once an egg

So to the virtuoso a beginner

The oak reaches for the sky over long years

The crane learns to fly

The student practices for many years

And then

Is still a student

But with the Tao as a guide

22.  Do not call me teacher sifu professor

I am a learner like you

I can only show how to play the instrument

You must teach yourself

You must touch your own heart

You must listen to the way

23.  My instrument is what I hear

What I play with ease

You may have tried my instrument

Only to find it impossible

Did you give up before trying your instrument

What do you want to play

Then play it

Do not be cajoled into one

When in your mind you already know the other

If everyone played only the flute

How boring

24.  Water just is

But endless are the variations

Snow seas falls clouds rivers icicles steam

Sound just is

But limitless are the variations

Wind string reed drum horn

The way of nature

25.  How do I play my zheng

Like this

My heart tells me which string to pluck

The Tao guides the melody

It is impossible to fail

You do not think of moving your voice

You just speak

This is “no mindedness” or Wu Wei

26.  One man’s beautiful instrument

Another woman’s din

Respect the variations of water

Respect the variations of sound

The dizi of China

The bansuri of India

The whistle of Ireland

Are they not three sisters

27.  I

Like everything

Am nothing

I know nothing

It is up to you to listen

The way is quiet

The fool loudly spouts empty parables

The sage is silent listens and hears

If you listen

You will hear

If you are quiet

The song presents itself


28.  Be content with the skills you have

But practice

The tree does not stop growing

Yet it is always a tree

Do not throw down your instrument because

Someone else is better

Have you nothing to say

29.  The obvious path is hardest to follow

It is easy to wander down smaller trails leading nowhere

You know in your heart what to do

Listen to it

The bamboo does not “think” to grow tall

The bird flies being born to do so

You know what you must do

30.  I am upset not that my instrument was stolen

But that the thief cannot play

“Had you asked to learn

I would have given you one to practice on”

31.  It has been said I can play any instrument

Not true

I play one and see

All others are similar

We should see the same in each other

32.  Music played from the spirit the heart the Tao

Speaks without words

No language barrier exists

Each and every one of us knows

Yet we enjoy different music

Variations on a theme

Variations in our music

Variations of our people

Yet music none the less

33.  The academic tells the layman

What is good music

What is bad music

This rule and that rule

This note and that note

All twelve notes are used before using the first again

Use all the one thousand sounds

Music reduced to a math game with an artificial soul

And we end up with unsingable chaos

A song so difficult to perform

Yet maddeningly unlistenable

Then this would mean the didgeridoo is not music

Listen to your heart

What does it say

34.  The primitive music of those people

Our refined music

Labels of music

Names of countries

At what point does a music no longer remain primitive

Most likely when we find the real map

Lines on the earthen divide between countries

Only exist on the map

35.  Look for sadness despair and suffering

You will find it

Look for happiness joy and serenity

You will find it

Listen for noise rhythm and sound

You will hear it

Listen for silence quiet and nothing

You won’t

36.  How is it that we all have music

Even our lost relatives created music

How is it we all have libations

Even our lost relatives enjoyed

How is it we all know dance

Even our lost relatives jumped

And so we are different because of what

37.  The canvas exists to embrace the paint

The marble exists to reveal the statue

The space exists to spread the music

38.  Arguing over which food is best

Bickering over the best martial art

Pontificating over what is real music

These are examples of

Which flea owns the cat

39.  Always pass on what you have learned

To go back to the soil and keep to the worms

What you have seen and learned

Is to rob a child of happiness

You have a voice

Use it

40.  I hear music

As the mathematician understands math

I may never know math

The mathematician may never know music

But we both understand

41.  One day you will find

Your memory will think back many years

To a singular event

And what was once a bad memory of anger

Will blossom into a lesson in life and respect

As a child I was chastised by a senior

“Do not hold a lizard by its neck”

“Let it go”

I was angry and wished revenge

Now I understand

Respect life

“Do not hold a lizard by its neck.”

42.  My old teacher

I think of you many times

I was taught to play

To walk with books on my head

To bow to the audience

I respect and honor you Mrs. Rice

I truly hope you still hear the music

Though the piano is silent

Your notes linger

43.  I have traveled to China

Journeyed thousands of miles and countless hours

Through freezing wind and unending rain

I found the sonorous dizi

Its wood unparalleled and its sound unmatchable

When I returned to my home I found

The dizi split


Death comes for us all

Be unparalleled sound while you are here

44.  Be serious

Be light hearted

Be balanced

A sitar and a sunset are serious sights

A burp and a fart are laughable sounds

Yet none of these has caused true suffering

When that happens

Tao has fled

45.  Musician Magician Mathematician

Science Sorcery Soothsaying

Between the thin lines of accepted and occult

Bounces our brains and our souls

46.  Nature gives me the bamboo for my flutes

But each one sounds unique and different

How is that so

Since many Bansuris come from one tall stalk

Do not many children come from two parents

And each one is similar but unique

47.  What seems easy in minutes

Has hours behind

For even one minute of music

Takes many days to prepare

And many years of practice

Yet is still a gift

Do not take that for granted

48.  Some rivers flow fast

Some rivers flow slow

Each one of us observes time flow differently

Fence or box for one minute and you will see

Sleep for hours and you will see

49.  If a song moves your heart

It is so

Ignore those who say it does not

Who is to tell you how you feel

How you hear

What you like

The bumble bee does not know

It should not fly

Yet it does


50.  Dust gathers on the erhu

Slack are the strings on the sanxian

The wooden dizi has long been split

Have I forgotten how to play

Are the songs vacant from my head

Is the music long gone from the forest


For the old iron pot still accepts the fire

The tarnished black silver still holds its hidden shine

The tired musician still remembers

The Tao reminds us all

51.  In the middle of winter the trees look dead

Yet I know better

The barren branches hold nothing but snow

And brown grass wilts in mud

Yet I know better

When spring awakens and breathes warmth to the hills

Blossoms appear and silk worms spin

Yet I know better

To know happiness is to know sadness

They cannot exist alone

The Tao tells me with the sun and the moon

52.  Act without conscious thought

Teach without words

Be of no-mind


There will come a day when you will

Play and not think “this note, then that note”

It will just happen

As has happened to me

Thus it will happen to you

But you must concentrate for years

To undo concentrating

You must practice years

To not practice

But play

53.  It has been said

Music is the perfect combination

Of sound and silence

The drum has space between beats

The flute has ebbs and flows

Like the lapping of waves upon the sand

Loud and soft

Sound and silence

Use dynamics and clear articulation

Trills and glisses

And even vary the tempo if the soul desires

Music is fluid

Only the paper is flat

The Tao is there ready to sing

54.  To play fast you must first go slow              (ly)

Get it right three times in a row

If you insist on going fast

And continue playing wrong notes

You have now taught your brain and soul

To play it wrong every time

To undo new technique is very hard

Learn it right

Learn it slow

The Tao does not rush

Then take a break

Give your head time to soak it up

Like dry grass in cracked soil

When you return and play again

You will have it

55.  Countries draw lines

And governments arrange maps

These lines move and change many many times

Throughout time

What was once the border of that old kingdom

Is now this new republic

We find their ruins

As they one day will find ours

Yet here is the earth with no border

Here is music with no walls

Find Irish music in the hills of Tennessee

Just as you will find German music in South America

Music does not have meridians

The Tao has no limit

56.  Gardens are what we seek for peace

Forests are what we wander through for serenity

Open plains and wide open space ignite our spirit

The sand and sea warm our skin and soul

Mountains help us know our place

The stars and planets keep us humble

Nature provides what we cannot construct

57.  Music moves me

Yet may do nothing for you

Find what moves you

Your life will be full

58.  If you focus on the negative too long

You will become it

The grey clouds will follow you

People will see the rain coming

And seek shelter from the storm

And in time you will wonder

Why you are sad empty and angry

When you see the content sage laughing with the squirrels

The contagious energy will eventually make you smile

Unless of course you are the stubborn grey cloud

59.  In time this book will crumble and flake

That cannot be avoided

In time what we build will be gone

That cannot be avoided

In time you and I will be dirt

That cannot be avoided

Music will always sing to us

And that cannot be destroyed


Erhu – (China) The erhu is a small 2 stringed violin that is played like a miniature cello.  In the past the strings were made of silk.  The bow is drawn between the two strings and is played by either pushing or pulling the right hand against the top or bottom string.  The resonating chamber is a small cylinder or hexagon covered on one end by a membrane, usually snake skin.  The sound is very similar to a high human voice.  Er means the number 2 and Hu refers to the tribe or area the instrument originates from.

Sanxian – (China) The sanxian is a 3 stringed fretless banjo originating in China and is approximately 1 yard long.  The resonating chamber is traditionally covered with snake skin.  The progress of this instrument can clearly be seen into Okinawa and then to mainland Japan in the form of the square bottomed Shamisen.  San refers to the number three which is the string count and Xian means string.

Didgeridoo – (Australia) What can be argued as the oldest instrument besides the human voice, the didgeridoo has its roots in aboriginal Australia dating to approximately 50,000 years ago.  This amazing instrument plays only one low note but relies entirely on overtones and breath control to play.  Traditionally they are made of 4 to 6 feet of Eucalyptus wood hollowed out by white ants or what we call termites.  The mouth piece is covered with bees wax and accompanies traditional dances.

Guzheng – (China) The guzheng or zheng is a horizontal harp with 21 to 24 strings with small triangles holding the strings away from the wood.  The zheng rest on a stand or table and is played with picks on the right hand while the left presses on the opposite side of the triangular bridge to change the pitch of the string.  Its Japanese cousin is the Koto.

Bansuri – (India) The bansuri has its roots in India and is a mainstay of classical Indian music.  It is a fairly large bamboo flute with 6 to 7 holes played transversely in the same manner as the western orchestral flute.  The main feature of this flute is the ability to slide effortlessly between notes giving this beautiful flute a haunting, slippery sound.

Dizi – (China) The dizi is a transverse flute played in the same manner as a western orchestral flute and generally has 6 holes.  The main feature of this flute is a small, rice paper membrane located between the mouth piece hole and the first finger hole.  This gives the dizi a sharp edge and many times accompanies Chinese opera performances.

Irish Pennywhistle – (Ireland) Sometimes called the tinwhistle, this familiar flute has been featured prominently in many movies such as the Hobbits theme in Lord of the Rings.  It’s a small, 6 holed metal whistle with a mouthpiece similar to a recorder.  It’s played vertically and is used for reels, jigs, slip-jigs, and hornpipes.

Guqin – (China)  Also referred to as a qin, this instrument was played in the royal halls and courts of ancient China.  This 6 stringed instrument is played like the slide guitar or lap guitar and uses long sliding notes and frequent use of harmonics and about 3 feet long.

Sitar – (India)  Thanks to the Beatles, Yoga, and Ravi Shankar the  sitar is one of the most recognizable Indian instruments.  The sitar has a large gourd bottom with a long 3 to 4 foot neck sometimes capped with another gourd.  There are 7 main strings with 20-24 smaller strings running underneath.  The smaller strings are tuned to notes in the chosen scale to sympathetically resonate with the main note being played.  This gives the sitar its unique drawn out resonance.

Piano – That thing my parents wanted me to learn in grade school while I was too busy playing Atari.


Joseph Terrana began the study of music in elementary school with his strict but fair piano teacher Mrs. Rice.  While pursuing his music degree at the University of North Florida he was introduced quite literally to a whole world of music.  After graduating he was awarded cultural arts grants to study erhu, sanxian, sitar, and dizi. After traveling to China he began this project and now lives in Florida with his wife, dog, and cantankerous nineteen year old lovebird.