Monday, January 6, 2014


It all comes down to your grip.  No matter how strong, energetic, athletic, creative, or flexible you are, without a good grip on your bachi, you’re hampered.

Imagine trying to cook dinner while wearing oven mitts the whole time. Sure, you could do it, but it would take a lot longer and probably not be as good of a meal overall.  I find that a lot of people who play taiko don’t even realize they’re wearing those mitts, as it were.

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on grip, but it’s something I spend a lot of time studying.  I went from years of having several noticeable calluses on my hands (which started as blisters) to having only one that's noticeable and a few that are pretty mild.

So how do you improve your grip?  To be honest, that’s something you could spend an entire workshop on.  In fact, that’s something I spend a lot of time on in my striking workshops! 

The one thing that I can talk about most effectively here is options.  What are your options when gripping bachi?

There’s a top, middle, and bottom grip.  My other fingers are extended to show the important parts of each one:
So what are the benefits of these grips and why would you need more than one?

The easy answer?  Blisters.  Imagine new bachi on a hot summer day, some sweaty playing and ouch!  Now what?  How do you keep playing when one of your fingers is crying out for mercy?  If you’re used to different grips, you can shift the fingers and keep playing, even if it’s not as comfortable.  Without the ability to switch, the pain is only going to get worse or you have to let your playing suffer…or both!

The more complex answer?  Efficiency.  Some grips can be more suited to certain things, especially the top and bottom grips.  The top grip is sometimes called the “shime grip” because it lends itself to quicker movements.  The bottom grip is often more comfortable for less rapid striking.

The reason your top two fingers can play much more rapidly isn’t just because they’re the strongest two of each hand, it’s also because you can use all your fingers to squeeze quickly when striking.  The closer you get to the bottom two fingers, the more you lose that space between the end of the bachi and  your palm.  When I’m playing very fast, that snap-squeeze action helps me both strike quicker than any other part of my body can and helps keep my bachi where I want it.

If you’re playing a repetitive pattern like dongo, there’s no need to tax your top two fingers when you might “need” them later in the song or set.  Using the bottom grip saves you some resources.  With enough practice, you’ll find that some patterns you used to need your top fingers for can be played with the bottom (or middle) two.  In general, the more patterns that you can shift down your fingers, the more skilled your hands are.
A lot of what works for you needs to come from trying things out.  You may work really well with a bottom grip as a default if your hand strength isn’t enough for what you’re trying to play.  You may find that a middle grip feels weird at first but becomes the most comfortable.  The core idea here is to be aware of what you’re doing – in all things – so that you can make informed decisions and get better!

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