Monday, April 28, 2014


Earlier this week at the studio, I was observing a class.  For one drill on shime, they were lined up in a row facing away from me.  I spent about half the time watching their lower body and the other half
watching their hands in the mirror.

It's amazing how much I can tell about a person's chops from just watching their feet, knees, legs, hips, and the connection between them.  Every time I made an assumption from the lower body, it was confirmed it when I watched their hands - both the good tendencies and the bad.

Stiff legs and knees tend to also come with stiff shoulders and wrists.  Those who can "pulse" in sync with the accents tend to play those accents with less effort.  Feet planted flat often mean upper body motion takes more effort and is less natural.  I know there are a lot of different styles of playing, but I think there are a lot of things that are universal. Someone might be able to power fast patterns using muscle, but doing something doesn't necessary mean being efficient.

I know I just recently posted about lower body here, but since this just happened, I wanted to blog about it.  Just because we only see our hands when we play doesn't mean that what's going on under us doesn't play a huge role!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Video, Picture, or Audio?

I've been in a lot of pictures taken at festivals and concerts.  I wasn't fond of a lot of those pictures.  Often it's my facial expression (did I really look like that?) or awkward pose (caught mid-movement) or something I'm doing is off from the rest of the group (dammit)...

That shouldn't be where I primarily evaluate myself, though.  Especially when there are other ways to measure "product".  What about video?  When I watch myself on a video, I don't feel like I do when looking at my pictures.  I can see my technique, spot the things I'm doing correctly, and find things that look ok - if not that actually look good.

What about audio?  Like video, it's not limited to a single point in time, and I can hear my technique.  My quiet notes are pretty quiet, my accents aren't overhitting - or if they are, I can make a note and work on it.  I feel like my patterns are locked in well for the most part and funky enough when I syncopate.

So when you feel like one medium doesn't capture what you feel when you perform, try another one.  But as always, look and listen for what you can get better at and use it as a tool as well!

Monday, April 21, 2014

What's behind your motions?

I recently saw a karate demonstration and as the group went through their forms and pre-arranged self-defense routines, I found myself becoming disappointed.  They were going through the motions they were taught, but...there was nothing there.

Turn to the left, block with the right, spin 90 degrees, make a sound on this punch, etc.  In the beginning, this is where new students have to spend their time and focus, because learning the shapes and sequence is often the best place to start.  But when the only difference between the new students and the older students is that the latter know more material, something's wrong.

At first glance, it would be easy to say the missing component was confidence, but where does confidence come from?  Repetition?  The repetition was there, but the confidence wasn't.  I believe what was missing was intention - the meaning behind the movement.

An instructor that just teaches the movements and how to make those movements look better is cheating their students.  Looking at a karate kata, I can tell someone exactly where their limbs should be in a given move and maybe they can nail it perfectly each time, but it'll never as powerful or as dynamic (or as useful) than if I told them what the movement could be used for.  Especially if I attacked them in that manner and made them defend with it. 

Ever seen someone breaking boards or bricks?  The cliche that you hear is you have to think through the board.  If you try to break something without hitting through it, you'll break your hand (or head, or elbow, etc.)  In taiko, hitting the head of the drum produces a much weaker sound than hitting through the drum, just past the actual surface.  On a very basic level, that's a sort of intention.

For taiko, there are many options to reach a higher level of intention:
  • What's the mood of the song? Are you supposed to be happy?  Intense?  Channeling a feeling?
  • What role are you playing in the song?  Are you up front and the "face" of the song?  Are you on percussion and able to help people connect?
  • What's the venue?  How does having an outdoor audience shape your projection vs. an indoor one?
  • What kind of group are you in?  Are you allowed to have your own personality or is the group supposed to look unified?
  • What are you thinking about when you're playing?  Are you letting yourself enjoy the song?
There's a lot of variables, but you get the idea!  Intention is part acting, part passion, and part practice, but intention can only come from understanding.  A good instructor should impart their own understanding  while encouraging students to think for themselves.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spring Tour 2014 - part 3: almost done!

The Kentucky school show and concert went well!  I surprisingly didn't find myself tired after the concert, although during the show I definitely pushed myself.  It's too bad there are no more concerts for the rest of the tour though - no chance to improve on the little things I could have done better!

We drove to Huntsville, Alabama the next day and found ourselves staying at a hotel literally a stone's throw away from a Space Shuttle!  Turns out there's a Space Center run by NASA next to us, with rockets, planes, and yes - an actual Space Shuttle that you can see from outside our windows.  It was a lot of fun wandering around there on our day off.

We're now at the Von Braun center, where we had 2 school shows yesterday (~1000 kids each) and then we did a couple of workshops for Huntsville Drumline, a non-profit that teaches marching percussion to kids.  The kids were a lot of fun to work with, and the highlight for a lot of them (and for a lot of us) was watching each other perform!

We have one more gig tomorrow night for a private event, then fly back Friday.  It's been a good tour overall with just enough downtime, and the next tour will be in the Fall.  I'll be back to regular postings on Monday!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Spring Tour 2014 - part 2: Halfway done!

Meant to blog earlier, but better too late than never.

In Dubuque, we had a workshop open to the student body that was well-attended.  The next day we nearly sold out the 900-seat theater, ended with a standing ovation, and overall it was a fun show!

Two school shows in the morning followed by a concert at night makes for a long day, and to top it off I came down with a cold the night before.  But it wasn't bad enough that I couldn't play, and I made sure I pushed through the show hard even if it meant I'd suffer afterwards.  Got lucky that I didn't feel that much worse the next day, and now it's almost completely gone.  *phew*

After Dubuque, two of our members drove up to Minneapolis to workshop with Mu Daiko, three flew back to San Jose, and the remaining four of us drove to Madison, WI to meet up/homestay with a former performing member.

Once we were six people again, we drove to Ohio for a workshop with Oberlin Taiko, a collegiate group.  We had two really good sessions followed by another home(dorm)stay, with them taking us to breakfast the next morning.  That was a really nice touch!

Two days of leisurely driving later and three fresh members flying in and we find ourselves in Bowling Green, KT.  Today's just a load-in and tech, then we have one school show and one concert tomorrow.

I hope to get at least one more post in before the conclusion, but we shall see!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring Tour 2014: We're here!

Yesterday we flew into Iowa, to begin a 17-day tour.  It's a good length for a tour; much longer than the past couple we've done.  We've had issues getting into Iowa before, but aside from having to switch planes (after we boarded), it wasn't a big deal.

We'll be in Iowa, Minnesota (workshops), Ohio (workshops), Kentucky, and Alabama.  Two concerts, six school shows, four workshops, and a lot of driving throughout.

I'll update as I can, but not daily like I used to.  Too much pressure!  In the meantime, keep practicing!