Thursday, November 5, 2009

Question Everything: Kuchishoga

What is kuchishoga, exactly? It's the vocalizations taiko players use to represent taiko patterns. For example, "don don kara don" could be 4 quarter notes: loud hit, loud hit, two rim hits, loud hit. It can be "kuchishoka" or "kuchi shoga", but it's all the same thing.

Most of us learn songs via kuchishoga. It's very convenient and proven to work! Western notation, while really valuable in the long run, is a skill most taiko players don't have and most groups don't have time to spend learning. Also, taiko is a very visual art form, and the music is only a part of it. "Don don kara don" doesn't tell you which hands to hit with, how fast to play, what the drum setup is, how you stand at/with the drum, or how you move in relation to it.

I don't discount kuchishoga, but I want people to think outside the proverbial box here. With basic kuchishoga, there are four sounds. The loud hit (don), soft hit (tsu or su), rim hit (ka), and space/rest (su or tsu). Those four sounds empower us when we start, but I think limit us soon after. Let me explain (and you know I will!)

What if I want to play a "medium" hit? What if I want to "buzz" the drumstick against the head of the drum? What if I want to strike with the flat of the drumstick across the head of the drum? What about a hit near the edge of the drum, away from the center? All of these produce new tones and textures that go far beyond the basic verbalizations.

I don't think people are unable to make new sounds because there isn't a kuchishoga for them, but at the same time I do think people are less likely to explore new sounds as long as they keep thinking within the limits of what they were taught.

If you're curious as to a model to look to, I suggest scat. Scat is vocal improvisation that uses random sounds to create music. It's improvised and limited only by the performer's imagination. As for me personally, I tend to sing-solo in my spare time using a modified kuchishoga, but I invent new sounds as I see fit. If I stuck with "traditional" kuchishoga, I don't think I would feel as free with my solos when I actually got on the drums. Food for thought?

So here's an exercise for my taiko-playing readers: try "singing" a solo without using the four basic kuchishoga you learned. Maybe start easy; "don" into "dan", etc. Late on, modify them up and see what new soundscapes you can create!

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