Monday, January 21, 2013

Question Everything: Striking hard

In general, taiko are loud instruments.  Big surface, big drumsticks, big motions...all leading to some big sounds!

Yes, there are dynamics in many songs where there are quieter notes on purpose, but when it's ok to play loud, do you ever think about how loud you're playing?

I see too many players default to striking as hard as they can, just short of brutalizing the drum.  I can't tell if it's out of frustration/anger, lack of awareness, or what.  It makes me wince.  This mostly happens during solos, but also sometimes during the course of a song.  It's like having someone screaming at me.

Over-hitting the drum is more than just bad technique or bad for the drum.  It actually distorts the sound.  There's no "body" to the strike, no warmth, no "oomph".  It's just THWACK.  And while THWACK can have a place in music - like the sforzando in Western music does - it's brutal to the ears after once or twice in taiko.  A solo made up of strikes like that is downright offensive to the ears.

Hitting as hard as you can also prevents you from developing control: doro tsuku becomes doro doro at faster tempos, and/or your arms don't know how not to get tense during tricky rhythms.  While this happens to all of us, it happens more sooner and more often to those who default to thwacking because they're not developing fine motor control over their movements.

Finally, if you can't hear yourself thwacking, then you're not listening to yourself and the relationship to those around you.  It's just like getting off-tempo during a song and not noticing.  You might be thinking "I'm giving it my all!" but what's coming out is "I'm totally unaware of my output!"  If someone came up to you and started telling you about their day by screaming, how long do you think you'd enjoy that for?

So what's the solution?  I recommend finding a way to get some time to play by yourself and experimenting with how hard you really need to hit to get a good sound.  Listen for when you cross from "loud" to "harsh".  Force yourself to practice with this concept in mind, for as long as it takes.  If you really want this to sink in, have people listen to you and tell you when you're hitting too hard.  You'll find that being that accountable will make you shape up very quickly.

If you're playing really loud because you want to be heard, you definitely will be - much like shouting through a megaphone into someone's face will get you heard.  Make the taiko sing for you, not scream!

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