Thursday, November 21, 2013


At SJT we have a song called Spirit of Adventure.  It has a lot of components: naname drums in front, shime in the back, a pair of chappa, odaiko at the rear, and a pod in the back center consisting of a chudaiko with a shime on either side.  Nearly half of what the pod plays is improvisation, but for the first third of the song, it’s all about don doko.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, don doko  is also referred to as “horsebeat”, usually played right-right-left as a four-count pattern that goes 1 – 3 4  and repeats.  The graphic above illustrates this.

Played quickly, this pattern can be difficult.  Making the right hand play consistent notes while the left strikes on every other space requires some skill, and the longer the duration, the more it tests your endurance.  It’s one of the fundamental patterns any taiko player should be familiar with early on and have a lot of practice with.  The close cousin of don doko, don tsuku, is not quite as hard since two notes are quieter.  While it means you need to have two dynamics instead of one, it’s still a lot less work overall.

Now back to the song.  From the beginning of the song, the chudaiko plays don doko at various volumes, crescendo-ing and decrescendo-ing to match what’s going on in the front.  After waves of build-up, you're playing it very loud and rather fast, and by this point your right arm is burning.  Then it goes to improv, phew.  To make matters worse, you’re not using shime bachi, you’re to use something thick enough to strike the chudaiko but not too heavy since you also play the shime.  Adding that weight and thickness to your bachi that has a huge impact on technique.

No matter how strong someone can strike, how well they can improv, or how well they can project ki into the audience, that don doko pattern will kick their ass if their fundamentals aren’t there.  Some people might be able to play don doko nice and loud for a short while but if they don't have good form, they'll be playing unevenly and painfully before they’re halfway though.

When I started practicing this part, my right arm was on fire by the time I was at the crest, and my volume suffered greatly.  It would ache for the rest of the song!  Not fun.  But I practiced my fundamentals at home, at the studio, and out on the road when we had time.  Practicing that one fundamental pattern in particular not only translated directly to the song, but for dozens and dozens of other songs.

So while it’s not always “fun” to sit and just practice a fundamental over and over - especially when it's more "fun" to do other things - honing those skills will never stop providing opportunities for you.  You can practice fancy moves and fancy solos but how ready are you for something that tests your fundamentals?

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