Thursday, November 13, 2014

Grip and friction

The other day I was trying to get two pieces of paper apart.  Exciting, I know.

The papers were aligned exactly alike and I had pinched a corner between my thumb and forefinger to try and separate them.  Instinctively, I pressed hard and tried moving my fingers in opposite directions, but nothing happened.  Then I tried easing up and going as gently as I could - which worked.

Now this doesn't call for a celebration, but it made me think about how much tension people use when they grip bachi.  When I teach workshops to people who've never played taiko before, I tell them that you don't want the feeling like someone could pull on it and never get it out of your hand.  I say that ideally it feels like it could fall out pretty easily.  That's an oversimplification, but still true.

I rarely hear people talking about surface tension or friction when it comes to grip.  Some will address the micro-adjustments that are needed to maintain hold on the bachi while playing, but there's a lot in how much surface tension plays a role in that.

There was an episode of Mythbusters where they showed that when you interlace the pages of two phone books, alternating page by page, the total amount of friction acting on all of those pages makes the books nearly inseparable.  A couple of pages doesn't add up to much, but hundreds of them do!

Regardless of where you're making contact between the hand and the bachi, you should be aware how little actual strength you need to keep the bachi from sliding out.  You'll need different amounts of grip strength while raising it up, bringing it down, and making impact.  While at first you should know what you need for each, until it becomes instinctual you run the risk of gripping harder than you need to and losing both quality of sound and ease of motion.  So how do you know how much is "just right"?

There are two ways to try to get the optimal amount of surface tension with your bachi.  You can either grip too hard (normal for some) and ease up until you find it, or start with barely enough to keep it in your hand and gradually tighten your grip.  I find that if you do the former - start tight and loosen up - you're more likely to revert because it's like you're degrees away from what's familiar.  You might also start with a hand position that's not optimal.  However, if you start with the latter, you're more likely to be aware of adding more tension than you need when you started with nearly none.

While this isn't the easiest concept to get across via text, the most important idea I can instill is that you should think about where your bachi is making contact, how much friction you need, and when that should increase or decrease as you play.

Think about it this way: if you have to separate two sheets of paper with two fingers, you can use strength to do it or try to go as lightly as possible.  With two sheets to separate (one strike), it really doesn't matter which way you choose.  But if you have to separate two pages 1000 times (1000 strikes), you're going to want to conserve your strength and be efficient! 

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