Thursday, April 4, 2013


Taiko is loud.  Therefore, you should play loud.

…is it?  Should you?

Taiko CAN be loud, given the size of the drum(s), the intention of the player, the amount of people playing it, the way a piece is written, and even the characteristics of the venue,  But it doesn’t HAVE to be loud.  Sometimes the “loudest” parts of taiko are when things are the quietest.  What do I mean by that?

Imagine two different kind of speakers.  Both stand behind a podium, are of the same gender, and have the same content.  Assume you are interested in hearing that content.  The first speaker is loud, and anyone walking by outside the room could clearly hear them.  You can hear them over someone coughing loudly next to you.  The second speaker talks quietly, and that coughing would completely drown them out.

With the loud speaker, you can sit back, be passive, and still hear them.  In fact, you can probably text your friend or doodle something and still get the gist of what they’re saying. In contrast, the quiet speaker forces you to focus.  You have actively listen to their monologue or you’ll miss out.  Which one commands your attention more?  Which one will you remember more?

There is definitely time for good, loud, booming taiko.  There will always be that.  However, it should be a choice and not the default.  “Loud” is a dynamic just like “fast” or “happy”.  If you’re a composer, you should feel free to write your song to be loud, but what if things were brought down a notch?  Could you hear more?  As a soloist, you have many visual tools, but volume choice should be a tool you use as well.

Almost all tonal music has overtones, notes that resonate as a side-effect of the primary note.  Think of a piano; when you play one note, the vibrations from that note cause other notes to vibrate as well.  On top of that, how hard you strike will affect the sound.  When you strike a drum, there are a countless number of vibrations and ripples that happen, much like throwing a rock into a small tub of still water.  Striking dead-center will produce a different sound than striking a couple of inches to the side. 

Strike too light and there is no oomph.  The sound won’t travel very far and won’t carry the impact that taiko should have.  Strike too hard and while you have volume, it is a harsh, flat sound – because you’ve killed all those sympathetic vibrations that come from a more lenient strike.

While many newer players don’t strike hard enough, it’s more common that people will over-hit and produce those harsh tones.  Most of us are in the middle somewhere, but again, it’s about awareness.  I’m more likely to over-hit than under-hit, but if I can’t feel or hear the difference, I have no idea how much my “product” is affected.

You may find that playing at 90% of your normal power creates a better sound.  The trick then is to figure out how to play at 90% power but with 100% of the energy you would normally put out!  As long as you are constantly listening and developing awareness, you will be able to keep getting better.

If you keep listening, you keep growing!

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