Thursday, September 13, 2012

Listen up!

Kumidaiko (ensemble drumming) is an incredible experience to participate in.  The problem is, your group drumming may be keeping you from hearing what your technique actually sounds like!

Think about it.  If you're playing the same pattern with three or four other people, how can you hear what your individual notes sound like?  It may very well sound good because the amalgam sounds good, but how do YOU sound?  It’s surprising, humbling, and sometimes embarrassing to find out that your sound only sounds good with the strength of a group around it.

Listening while playing during a solo can be misleading, because there are usually still other people playing around you, even if they’re on different instruments.  The only way to truly know what you sound like is to play by yourself.  So let’s say you drill a simple straight beat on a single drum by yourself.  What do you work on and listen for?  Glad you asked…

  • Balance (volume) – Most people are right-handed, and therefore will have a louder right strike.  Often the response to this is to strike louder with the other hand, but also consider striking quieter with the dominant hand instead.  Listen for evenness at different tempos.
  • Balance (angle) – Our dominant hand also tends to strike “better”, that is, with proper technique, while the other can get flat/slappy.  The difference in sound here (even without the slap) can be tremendous.  Make sure you are striking at identical angles.
  • Orientation – Your bachi should be mirroring each other in terms of where they’re striking.  If one bachi is three inches out from center but the other is four inches out and two inches down, you’re probably going to have two different tones.  Unless of course the next point applies… 
  • Tone (head) – The surface of a taiko might seem flat, but there are density and textural variances throughout.  If you mapped out a grid in inches over the head of the average taiko, you’d probably hear differences in a strike from one section to another.  The tighter the head, the smaller that grid would be (half-inches on shime, for example).  When your notes are the same volume but sound different, you should try shifting the striking points around a little bit until you match up.  You might find that the only way to get an even tone is to have the bachi striking the exact same spot, so be careful.
  • Tone (bachi) – A pair of bachi may be weighted differently and/or have a different “rounding” on the tips.  You can easily feel when one bachi is heavier than the other and compensate somewhat, but you really can’t compensate when one bachi is half a sphere at the end while the other is barely rounded off. 
  • Technique – If you seem to have *more* than two tones going on over the course of a pattern, it probably means you’re not able to strike the same point consistently and/or unable to control the bachi from wiggling about in your hands (micro-adjustments are fine, however).  If you can’t duplicate your striking technique in both hands, it could be hand balance, or also that you need to work on better technique to understand what’s going on.
Frankly, there’s a LOT of stuff to listen for.  And like I mentioned in my post here, I’ve gotten to a point where I sometimes listen too well.  If I have the time before a song, I’ll find the best combination of bachi to use in the shime pouch.  But if I just grab a pair at random and they’re off just a little bit, it’ll bug me during the entire song.  The audience probably doesn’t hear half of what I hear, but *I* hear it!

You don't want to have false sense of skill, right?  It's hard dealing with someone who can't hear themselves playing inconsistently, but I do respect someone who knows they're off and wants help fixing things.  Listening is a skill that will make you a better musician, and there is something empowering about being able to hear yourself amidst the group and being able to adjust your technique.

No comments:

Post a Comment