Thursday, May 15, 2014

Soloing, part 10: Hearing yourself

Musically, there are two types of taiko solos.

The first kind draws in an audience, making them active participants as they try to predict where you're going and either are rewarded by being right, or pleasantly surprised when it does something unexpected.  The audience might not even know they're making those predictions, but they're definitely following along.

The second kind has a lot of random notes and patterns without much repetition.  It's almost like the hands/limbs are twitchy and the notes come out whenever.  The audience can't "grab on" to anything and will tend to be less interested and just...observers.

What's the biggest difference between these solos?  It's the soloist's ability to listen to themselves play.  There are two types of listening:

  • Input comes from your brain.  It's what tells you what notes and patterns to play, phrasing, etc.  If you were to sing your solo in your head with kuchishoga, you'd be listening to this as input.
  • Output is hearing what your notes actually sound like when you play them.  Volume, tone, and if you're in tempo is what output tells you.
It's not always easy to listen to your solo when you've got to worry about your form (kata), if you're projecting enough energy (ki), and if people are watching (nerves, lol).  On top of that, you've often got an ensemble behind/around you that's playing while you are, so that adds a variable of noise in your ears that can be distracting.

In taiko, you can put out a lot of visuals and really sell it, but without the musicality - without melody in your solo - you're just making a...dramatic spectacle of yourself.  Use it wisely or the impact diminishes pretty quickly.  And it's not like a pattern has to be fancy to make it melodic.  I've seen people sell a straight beat like it was the most impressive thing ever!

So take away the physical, take away the emotional, even take away the rest of the group.  Can you sing your solo using kuchishoga?  How does it sound?  Does it sound musical?  Coherent?  Does it seem like a random series of notes?  Unconnected?
  1. Think of the music you listen to.  Are you enjoying patterns that have a sequence to them?  
  2. Think of the rhythms that make your head bob.  Can you predict where things are going and "feel" the intention of the musician(s)?
  3. Listen to other taiko solos.  Are the ones you like the most full of random notes and patterns?  Or do they give you something to "ride along" with?  Also, I'd bet most people would say that the best solos build to a climax.  You can't build to that point without some sort of logical sequence, even if it's really simple.
So listen to your input, listen to your output, and take steps to make your solos melodic and musical.  It makes an ok solo good and a good solo great!  Plus, it's more fun to listen to.  :)

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