Monday, September 2, 2013

Improvisation and Composition

Improvisation and composition are both wonderful things that have a bit of overlap.   One is real-time and one is more at your leisure, but both are things that you are creating from your head.

I've found that a lot of people want tips and tricks about how to get better at one or both, whether it's formally in a workshop or just in casual conversation.  While I recommend a more formal workshop (like the ones Roy Hirabayashi teaches), I had a thought on the subject I wanted to share.

I think of improvisation as a muscle.  The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.  Like with lifting weights, you can do different things like increase the amount of weight or amount of repetitions, depending on your interests.  This would equate to focusing on the style/songs you play, taiko in general, or other kinds of world percussion.

Improvisation in taiko is a combination of mental acuity and reflexes.  This makes it seem difficult for some people, because you need both to be effective.  It just takes time to first be able to recognize what you want to play in the moment, then have the ability to make it happen.

I think of composition as a skill.  It simply takes work to get better but isn't something that people need to have to be good at taiko.  Composing can be as difficult or as simple as you want it to be and the group you're in may impose certain conditions or rules on new works that shape what the outcome may be.

Composition relies a lot on inspiration and/or necessity.  Because it takes both time and thought, it's easy to over-think an idea and agonize over decisions.  Setting goals and parameters is often a good way to start generating ideas, as well as starting small.  If this is a skill, you wouldn't want to tackle a larger project at first without knowing how you managed that skill.

Improvisation is over before you know it while a composition can span years.  There's excitement in both, depending on if you like immediacy and the joy of being in the "zone" or if you prefer planning and a payoff after a lot of work.  Both of them take practice and effort to make better but are never bad to spend time developing.  If you want, you can compose a song that has a lot of improvisation for the best of both worlds!

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