Monday, October 15, 2012

Looking good

In a recent karate seminar, the instructor had said, “karate is about looking good.”  As with most sayings like that, it doesn’t sound quite right.  There has to be more to it.

He explained it more by saying that if your techniques look good it probably means you’re doing them correctly.  Ah, now that makes more sense, yeah?  If you have good body mechanics, understand timing, have good balance, etc., you’ll probably have strong, fast, technically more correct technique than someone who lacks those.

Now in taiko, this is usually the case…but not always the case.  In taiko, we not only have a visual element, we also have an audial one.

When the group is playing together, it’s sometimes easy to see who may not look “as good”.  On further inspection, you might find that someone’s extension isn’t crisp or their butt sticks out or their movements are disjointed.  Still, in terms of ensemble drumming, that person/those people that aren’t looking “as good” may not lessen the quality of the sound of the piece.

…or do they?

Looking at solos, it’s relatively easy to look “good” to the audience. In general, if you’re really energetic and making big motions during your solo, most audiences won’t notice your striking technique, unless it’s really bad.  So the test here is how well can you play a part in a song by yourself and make it sound good?  By “sound good” I mean use proper striking technique that generates a warm sound, not a weak nor harsh one.  And then once you have that metric of sound quality, what happens to it when you solo?  Are you sacrificing the audial for the visual?

The only real way to hear yourself and do this test is to practice by yourself, without accompaniment.  It’s not always easy to do, depending on the song, but don’t worry about tempo, worry about a good sound.  And be honest with yourself!  If you’re playing and you realize your strikes are weak, don’t pretend they’re not.  If you run through a solo and you hear inconsistent, sloppy strikes, don’t convince yourself that you’ll “make up for it with energy and movement”.  It’s like saying “oh, the table tends to fall over when you put stuff on it, but isn’t it pretty?”

I find it interesting that looking good without sounding good only works in a group environment.  Don’t hide a weak aspect behind a strong one, and especially don’t hide it in the midst of your group!

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