Monday, September 24, 2012

Unique solos.

In the movie The Incredibles, the jealous arch-villain wants to make superpowers available to everyone so that, “when everyone is special, no one will be.”

Not everyone who plays taiko gets to solo or wants to solo.  Some of those that do solo don’t really care about standing out.  There's nothing wrong with any of that, but this post is directed at those that do solo and want to stand out.
The longer you spend with a group, the more you will start to move and sound like them.  This is almost inevitable.  After all, spending time with a group means learning more about their style and priorities, and since everyone is trying to get better within the group, all of you are learning the same things.

Within individual groups, you will often find people playing the same things in a solo.  Musically, it may come out where every other measure ends the same way.  Visually, each soloist may spin to the same side in the same way.  Examples of things that carry across multiple groups are when a lot of collegiate taiko players like to play triplets and/or kiai the same way.

Another example of something across a lot of groups is the flashy solo.  Yes, I know your awesome syncopated spinning double-bachi hitting was cool, but when the audience sees a fancy cartwheeling triplet-y solo before that and a flipped bachi behind-the-back into a double-time polyrhythm solo from the next person, well…  Several of those from different people across the course of a set makes it hard to start telling them apart.  If the priority is self-expression, then there’s really no problem – but the audience usually appreciates the moments when a soloist stands out.

Here’s where we get to the hard part.  How do you stand out?  I admittedly have an innate ability to do this because I’m 6’3” and pale, amidst a group of shorter, mostly Asian people.  But I don’t want to rely on appearance to stand out; that’s being lazy.  Also, assuming your group plays more than one song with solos in it, just saying “you should do X in your solos” doesn’t really help.  So I can’t give you specific things to try.  But I can offer ideas:

  • Do what no one else does.  Easy, right?  Yes and no.  If no one else in your group hits themselves repeatedly on the head with their bachi, does that mean you should?  Of course not!  Observe both the smaller and larger things.  Does everyone move around a lot?  Maybe you can stand out by staying in one place.  Do people play a lot of syncopation?  Then something very downbeat-heavy might be memorable.
  • Do what other people do...but differently.  So you notice that everyone spins to the right in their solo.  Maybe you can spin to the right, but twice in a row!  Or maybe a lot of people like to make a big movement in the middle of their solo.  How about doing nothing but movement for several beats?  Thinking of what's common then putting your spin on it can stand out.
  • Be original.  Trying to be cool or fancy often means you blend in with those who are trying to do the same thing.  Trying to find your style and what actually makes you different is something most people have trouble doing.  Some spend more time working on the next "cool move" rather than thinking about the bigger picture of what it all adds up to.
  • Have fun!  The more you worry about trying to pull off something "new" and "fancy", the more likely you'll be focusing/stressing out about the move during your solo.  I've seen people who threw their bachi up high in the air during their solo...and that was the only thing about the solo that was interesting.  You could tell they were just trying to set it up, then *if* they caught it, that was it.  They spent so much time getting it to work that they forgot about developing the rest of their solo.
The first thing you have to do, if you want to truly stand out without being obnoxious about it, is to be aware.  Watch the other members.  Watch people not even from your group!

Observe objectively, think critically, then create fearlessly!


  1. The solos that stand out the most to me are the ones where the player is mobile. People are usually so planted when playing Taiko, so it's a nice change to see someone who looks really comfortable and loose in front of the drum.

  2. And for me, I'm in a group where everyone is very mobile, so standing still is actually a way to stand out! Go figure. :)