Thursday, January 19, 2012


In my experience, one of the biggest non-technical skills people ask for in taiko is confidence:
  • "How do I get more confidence performing?"
  • "I feel like I suck when I play taiko."
  • "I get so nervous when I'm playing in front of people!"

This is one area that I really wish I could help people with more directly. I can tell you how I came by my confidence, but that won't necessarily translate to your style, situation, or personality.

I definitely credit martial arts for being my start in performance. I learned how to focus and how to concentrate, ignoring the inner voice of self-doubt. I was judged often by black belts scrutinizing the tiniest details and expecting immediate adjustments. Taiko seemed like the easier of the two!

So how *do* you learn confidence? In previous posts I've talked about this, but it's a subject good to return to, to re-examine. For some, continual positive reinforcement works. For others, it doesn't have much of an effect. I don't feel qualified to write a post on "how to believe in yourself", but instead I want to talk about four different types of confidence:

Confidence of skill.

It's easy to feel you're not "good enough" or compare yourself to other people, either in your group or otherwise. But why do that to yourself? Better to look at the progress you've made, or the goals you're getting closer to than to dwell on the negative. If you're asking, "how do I get more confident?" while simultaneously telling yourself "I suck," then you negate any progress. Don't fall into that trap!

Confidence of performance.

Stage fright, anyone? Personally, I miss the days when I used to get nervous before a concert. I think I digested those butterflies. This nervous feeling goes away with time, but just when that is will differ for each of us. Just remember that unless you want to try the old "think of your audience in their underwear", it's just going to take actual performances for this type of confidence to build up. Keep at it!

Confidence of song(s).

This one is probably the easiest one to deal with. When you're learning something new, it's not often that you're going to be comfortable doing it until you've done it several times. There's not secret here; put time into what you're learning and you'll have it down soon enough.

Confidence of (personal) style.

This is a subtle, yet powerful area. When are you able to define your own personality and playing style within the framework of your group? Very few taiko players are able to be individual artists or play however they want to. Most of us learn from one (or more) groups that have a style/feel to conform to, and when starting out it's often useful to model yourself after someone in your group. After a point, however, it's really useful to break away from who you've been "following" and figure out what works for you.

There's only so much you can be someone else, no matter how much you might admire them. Do you really want to be a copy of someone? You can honor someone you really admire by following their teachings even when you start developing your own "voice". It may not come easily, and it won't necessarily happen when you want it to, but there are few things as satisfying as being comfortable in your own "skin".


So when does that confidence come? When will you no longer feel those doubts, fears, inadequacies? Worrying about when just puts more pressure on you. Instead, think of goals and steps to get to those goals.

You have to have confidence in yourself to have it mean anything. While others can believe in you, confidence from the outside is nothing compared to from within. You might have to fight for it, you may stumble back a few times, but you'll never regret getting there!


  1. After my first performance I found out that nothing bad happened when I made a mistake. After that I also learned that nothing bad happened when someone else made a mistake. Perfection is not necessary for a good or enjoyable expereince. I think that seeing the audience enjoying the performance is a great way to build confidence.

    As a public speaker and a taiko performer, I still get nervous - no barfing backstage nervous, but excitement for sure. I think it is good to feel nervous or excited before a performance. I think it results in a stronger performance. I think looking to not be nervous as a measure of confidence is foolish.

    My suggestion is to take your cue from the audiences enjoyement and not to expect perfection.

    Interesting discussion.

  2. I kind of categorize mistakes like this:

    1. The kind audience members don't notice. In fact, other performers with you on stage might not even notice them. No sweat... though sometimes you are disappointed that your audience isn't more sophisticated and/or wasn't paying close enough attention. ;)

    2. The kind that just make you look like a human trying to do something difficult and almost pulling it off. This can gain you some empathy from the audience, depending on the performance and the situation, if it doesn't happen too much.

    3. Catastrophe. You just threw a bachi into the audience or collided with another performer or fell off the side of the stage or something, and unless there is emergency medical treatment involved, you just steam ahead and finish the show. (And to hear some stories, even then.)

    4. The ugly. People just didn't stay together, or someone loses all sense of time while soloing, doesn't actually come out on stage when they're supposed to, or something. The thing is, nobody dies.... and if you can stay cool and recover it may fall right into category #1 no matter how much all the performers are cringing and wincing on the inside.

    At least at my level of playing, #1 happens in nearly every song one way or another, #2 happens in almost every show, and #3 and #4 kind of strike without warning. Stage presence defeats mistakes.