Monday, August 14, 2017

(post) NATC 2017

So it's the day after conference, but I'm writing this far in advance because I *know* I'll be in no shape to write anything.  I probably had a lot of fun and embarrassed myself a couple of times doing wacky things.  Probably!

I'll see y'all on Thursday!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

(pre) NATC 2017

Woo!  Heading out this morning to San Diego for the long-awaited North American Taiko Conference.

I'm feeling calm about it, but looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones, challenging assumptions and learning different approaches.  I'm planning on not getting enough sleep and walking many many miles back and forth across campus, because that's the norm, haha.

If my blog has helped any of you, made you think twice about something you never thought much about before, or just been entertaining over the years, I'd love hearing it if you find me this weekend!  I'm guessing I've got about a month left for this thing before I put it to rest.

So enjoy yourself if you're going this weekend, and if not, I hope you can make the next one!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Wrapping Up: Fear vs. Failure

These two things are topics I came back to again and again in the course of my posts.

Which is worse?  Is the fear that prevents you from trying something worse than actually failing at it?  Is failing at something you've been practicing for a while worse than messing up because you're so worried about it?

To me, fear is far more crippling than failure is.  You can and will fail as you progress, screw up on the road to getting better.  But you can learn from failure!  It might very well suck at the time, but a year later the sting is gone and you've probably taken steps to make sure that failure never happens again.  But fear?

Fear will keep you from trying.  And not trying means not doing, which means you can't get better at something.  Fear will spiral around in your head and wind up convincing you that something with a small risk could end up with the worst humiliation ever.  Fear can actually affect your technique and make you more likely to fail!

You might make a failure a bigger deal than it is, but ultimately it's something that actually happened.  Fear is a product of the mind that can be expanded to ridiculous levels with no basis in reality.  You know why kids learn so quickly?  One reason is that they have no fear, no baggage about "what if..." and "but I might..."  They just do.  And if they mess up, they mess up.  It doesn't have the impact we as adults give it.  We can learn from that.

Would you rather be someone who only plays a limited amount of things because they're worried about looking like a failure in front of others?  Or someone who's open to trying new things, often messing up, but getting better with every attempt?  Which of the two types is going to wind up better off in the long run, with more experience to draw from, more practiced skills?

That's not to say that failure is minor.  While I recommend brushing off mistakes and errors during the performance, I strongly recommend taking them seriously after the show.  If you don't address the things that went wrong that were within your control, you're not going to get better and you're limiting the potential of the ensemble.  But failure is rarely literally failure in these situations.  Your bachi aren't going to explode into 50 pieces and blind someone.  You're not going to hit the drum so hard that it rolls into the audience and crushes someone.  You can't screw up a song so badly that the composer catches on fire!  Mostly likely, you get off tempo or play the wrong section.  That sucks, but is it really "failure"?

Failure can and will happen, but once it does, the song continues.  You move on.  Fear can and may happen, but it won't go away until you make it go away - either by forcing it out or doing the thing you were so worried about.  I would rather fail almost any day rather than fear the failing.

So what about you?  What do you fear in your art and how can you overcome it?  Where did you fail and how did you learn from it?  And has fear of something caused you to fail?

I'll end this post with a quote attributed to Bruce Lee.  "Don't fear failure. — Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.”

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Wrapping Up: Improvisation

Not sure exactly when I'm ending the blog, maybe end of September?  As I get close to the last post, I decided I wanted to talk a bit about the things I think about a lot in a series called "Wrapping Up".

What a better topic to start with than improvisation?

Improv is quite the art.  I've written about it at length, as you'll find if you've read my posts.  To be good at improv, you have to first be good at the thing you're improvising in.  For taiko, this means musicality and technique, but also often movement and energy/expression, as well.  Some people are better at it than others; most of us will need to practice it to get good with it, let alone comfortable with it.

Want to be good at improv?  Work on risk management just as much as your musical ability.  Improv means not playing what you've always played and sometimes not playing what's the most comfortable for you.  This means you might not play something great.  Which means you might not play something good.  Which means you might fail.  But that's a risk you have to take, in order to improve the skills that can make your improv better.  Eventually, your skills grow, your comfort increases, and the risk diminishes.  What's more, even when you do encounter a "fail" moment, you're better able to handle it and move on, IF you've been practicing!

Another thing that you'll need to be a good improviser is being able to adapt to the situation.  Maybe you don't want to overshadow/out-do someone, maybe you need to match a mood, maybe you need to kick the energy up three notches, whatever.  Or maybe you're not the only person improvising, so you need to balance what you're doing with other people.  Sometimes these observations are easy to take in, happening over an entire song or set, but other times you need to react within a few measures before reacting yet again.

And the last component is having a large repertoire to pull from, in terms of patterns and movements.  If you're totally comfortable improvising but only have five patterns you can play, that's pretty limiting.  If you can only improvise to a slow dongo, you're pretty limited to what songs that'll be useful in.  If you can only improvise using large movements, what about songs that don't call for them or when in smaller venues?  The more things you can pull from your "kit", the more pieces and situations you'll be able to fit into when you improvise.  Where do you get more patterns?  Listen to more music.  I can't (and won't) stress this enough!

Good improv takes mental acuity and active practice.  While a set/scriped solo delivered spot-on can be super-rewarding, for me it's never matched the feeling of being "in the zone" and having things come out of my hands and really really nailing it.  I hope it's something you already practice, but if not, it's never too late!

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Monday, July 31, 2017

Random truths

Over the years, I've written a lot, learned a lot, un-learned a lot, too.  Along the way I came across things that turned out to be truths, and some things that turned out to be "truths".  The former are rules that apply to all of us, any time.  The latter are things that are selective, only work in certain situations, etc.

Just wanted to share a few truths that helped me out over the years:

- Only you can make you better.  All the workshops, seminars, teachers, and playing time amounts to nothing if you aren't willing to be somewhat vulnerable, open-minded, and have a critical eye of yourself.

- Teaching is just as much an art as the art itself being taught.  The best players don't automatically make for the best teachers.  And some people can teach you a lot without being anywhere near as good as you are, if you're open to learning.

- Just because someone is good, doesn't mean they're right.  Don't let celebrity status determine who you follow.  Have your own thoughts, test out things for yourself before embracing them blindly.

- The person who struggled may be a better teacher than someone naturally gifted.  Someone really good at a skill without trying may not have felt the need to step back and break down the nuances of mechanics, while the person who struggled and tried really hard to improve might be aware of a wealth of details they had to learn to get better.

- More notes does not mean a better solo.  More notes means faster hands, but it doesn't mean musical hands, in-tempo hands, fitting-the-song hands, or varied hands.  Often, the best players are the ones who can say the most with the least amount of notes.

- If it's ensemble drumming, benefit the ensemble.  It doesn't help the song if you stand out drastically, even if you feel like you're having a blast.  Sometimes it helps to step up, sometimes it helps to cut back.

- Be authentic.  You can take movements from others, you can play songs to be like other groups, you can make decisions that make you like other organizations, but in the end, you need to know who you are and why you're doing what you're doing.

- Training in Japan is a solution, not the solution.  There are great opportunities and teachers in Japan, but don't neglect the vast resources you have access to without having to travel abroad, especially if you live in North America.

- The question "what is taiko?" is only as important as you want it to be.  This is a question that will never be fully answered.  While what matters is what taiko means to you, realize it might not mean the same thing to the next person.  Who's right?  No one.  Everyone.

- The more popular you want taiko to be, the more people will use it in ways you don't like.  Can't have it both ways.

- Playing harder doesn't mean playing better.  There's a point where you're just punishing the poor the drum as well as your own body.  Ask an expert of any physical art - you gotta relax to reach your full potential.

- Listen to your body.  If you're playing in a way/style that hurts, stop doing that.  Whether it's as easy as trying a different foot position or as difficult as leaving a group, it's your body.  You only get one and pain can last forever.

- Taiko is awesome.  Regardless of why you play, who you play with, or what you play on, realize you are creating art, not just consuming it.  We need that in our society.  You can inspire, motivate, surprise, and move people with a single hit on the drum.  Keep it up!

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

NATC is just around the corner...(again!)

I think I used that same title last NATC, ha.

In a few weeks a bunch of us taiko nuts will be down in ever-sunny San Diego, playing and sharing and watching and talking and overdosing on taiko.  Woo!

I always enjoy NATC, whether teaching or not, whether helping out behind the scenes or not (but at this point, it's never "not"!)

It's interesting that historically, 50% of the attendees are new to NATC.  This is their first conference and they tend to be the most excited, most starry-eyed, and most tired afterwards!

For the first time in a while, I'm going as a participant instead of a teacher or observer, and I'm looking forward to learning new things - or at least learning new ways to learn old things!  It's hard for me to have that experience, simply because of all the things I've done and all the time I've spent doing them.  It's one thing to learn a new style of playing, a new song, even a new instrument, but to put my ego aside and be open to re-learning how to strike, how to listen, how to think, that's something I hope I can be a good example of.

If you're going to conference, I hope you come - and leave - with these two things:

- Realize, what you have is what someone else wishes they could have, whether it be equipment, talent, opportunities, or even a personal attribute.  Appreciate.

- Also realize that the conference couldn't happen without so many people doing so many things behind the scenes, both before and during the weekend.  We have people willing to volunteer, to teach, to coordinate, to help where it's needed.  Gratitude.

I hope to see many of you there, and it's always a sincere pleasure to hear from those of you who have enjoyed my blog and benefited from it.  Play on!

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Oof. Tired.

I thought I would have time to post something between concerts, but I need to be nice to my brain and rest some more.  7 hours to Mendocino on Thursday, played a concert Friday night with minimal time to tech in, 7 hours back on Sat, and another concert with little time to tech in last night.  So...goodnight!  I'll be back on Thursday.  :)