Monday, December 29, 2014


To my dismay, there's still a good amount of drama about what is "authentic" taiko.  Or who is "more" of a certain taiko attribute.  It's not unique to taiko, but I feel we - you, me, the people you know in the taiko community - can do a lot to address this.

The term "poser" has several meanings, but the one I'm going with for this post is "a person that tries hard to be something they're not."

For example, some people join taiko groups looking for a connection to Japanese culture, without any blood-ties to Japan.  To some, those people aren't authentic enough.  They're not Japanese and therefore not as good as someone who is.  But who's "Japanese enough"?  Wtf does that even mean?  I have met several Caucasians that act way more Japanese than some Japanese people I know.  Sooo...what's more "authentic", ethnicity or intention?  If it's important to someone to have that connection and you think of them as a poser, does that make their connection any less important?

Then there's looking at specific styles of taiko, like Miyake, Hachijo, etc.  Would you rather watch a performance of really skilled players who take a style and modify it to make for a dazzling show?  Or people with less skill who stay true to the style but aren't as interesting to watch?  Now when I say "dazzling", I'm being subjective.  Imagine it would be dazzling to you, however the case may be.  Some of you would pick the former, some the latter.  Who's right?  Is one side a "poser" because they don't agree with the other?

Maybe it's a skill thing, seeing someone that's not very talented with taiko and instead of just thinking "they're not very good", the reaction is to think they're trying to be something they're not.  But who are you - are we - to tell someone what they should and shouldn't try?  "Sorry grandpa, you're too old to be having fun.  Sit on the couch and watch TV instead because you're a grandpa."  Would you say that?

I know appearances contribute to the "poser" commentary a lot:  Hachimaki with the red-and-white rising sun, hair in a bun with chopsticks stuck through it, people looking/acting like they're trying to be Japanese...but maybe that's all they know?  Like you never did anything embarrassing in the past, eh?  Maybe the reason they dress or look a certain way is because they haven't been exposed to the same information you and I have.  What's that proverb about holding a candle versus cursing the darkness?  Exclusion takes a lot less effort than inclusion.

Labeling someone as a poser is easy, even if that's not the actual word used and even if it's only inner dialogue.  It's a LOT harder to try to see the value and joy of someone maybe less skilled playing taiko in a way that you're not particular fond of.  It's easier to dismiss someone out of hand than think about the positives.  It's easier to act better-than-thou than it is to let it go.  And be careful you're not into the power trip that comes from negative labeling!

A caution to being a label-er is that there are probably people labeling YOU.

I still struggle sometimes with this sort of thing, it's true.  There are some people who take things to an extreme and it's hard not to have these sort of thoughts.  Even just writing this post helps put things in perspective for me.  But there are others out there - that I've met, that I've talked to - who are worried about being labeled in a bad light, and it seriously holds them back.  They worry about being "authentic enough" so that other people don't view them poorly, and it stunts their growth - it stunts our community's growth!

Don't be the person that shoots others down because you have issues.  Don't be the reason that your fellow taiko players are held back.  We don't all have to like everyone or everything, but the more support we can give each other, the better off we'll all be!  If you can't say something nice, kiai instead!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Video: What kind of drummer are you?

So I came across this video the other day.  It still makes me laugh to watch it.

Simple post today.  If you were to look at your playing through this kind of lens, what would you be?  It doesn't have to be one of the labels in this video.  It doesn't have to be self-deprecating!  What would people label you as

For me, I'm thinking a good title would be "Wtf did you just play?" haha.

What about you?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Relaxing, revisited

So in my post here I talked about looking at how relaxed you actually are.

After my first chiropractic session (nothing major, but interesting), I started thinking about how difficult it is to truly relax, to rid tension in the body.  A couple of times I wound up tensing a split-second before an adjustment, even though I wanted to stay relaxed and nothing ever hurt.

It made me think that even if you sit down - or lie down - and feel relaxed, there's no telling how much tension your body is holding onto.  I wonder if the only way to make yourself be relaxed is to be exhausted and force the body to release that tension.

If you've ever gone through Roy Drills, you know what I mean.  Roy Drills (named after Roy Hirabayashi, one of SJT's Founding Members) are meant to tire you out.  Straight beat, doro tsuku, don tsuku, other patterns over and over and over from slow to fast to slow to faster.  The long sessions can go around 40 minutes and if you're on naname or tachi-uchi (horizontal stand), you're going to hurt.  After a while, if you're not pacing yourself (and you shouldn't be), you're going to get tense.  Tight.  Sore.  Stiff.  And the only way to survive is to relax!  You'll still hurt, but you have to find a way to relax because you simply can't stay tense.

Relaxation is a skill that most of us don't practice.  It's not easy to relax when you're trying to play, but can you really relax when you're at rest?  The body is a great compensator.  It works itself into knots and mis-alignments to deal with pain and tension that you may not even be aware of.  So when you think you're relaxed, you may simply be in a "holding pattern" where the body is adjusting so you don't feel all the things that are tense.

Even if you can get a massage or an adjustment or have yourself looked at in that way, take some time to practice relaxing.  Maybe look into something like meditation or simply take a physical inventory of your body while still and taking some quiet time.  The important thing is to take care of yourself so that you - just as much of an instrument as your bachi - can continue to perform to the best of your ability!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Question Everything: Your last performance

Here's a fun question for you.

If you knew that the next time you played taiko would be your last (moving, retiring, etc.), how would you approach it differently?  What would you do?

Would you practice harder beforehand to make sure you nailed your parts?
Would you hold nothing back on stage, putting every bit of energy out there?
Would you appreciate all those little moments that happen during a performance even more?
Would you be even more supportive during the set to make sure people remembered you favorably?

If you answered "yes" to those questions and came up with some other things I didn't list, then I have another question for you...

...what's stopping you from doing all of that the next time you play?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Talking ≠ Teaching

In many cases, either extreme of a possible scenario is equally bad.  For example, being overly cautious about failure vs. being overly fearless are both dangerous.  And you wouldn't want to hit so hard that something breaks, nor hit so lightly that no one can hear you, right?

There are, however, some exceptions to both extremes being bad.  One of them is about talking when teaching.

On one extreme, I can take someone who's never played taiko or done karate before and get them going, without having to say one word.  I know I can work on general stance, how to punch, how to strike, basic patterns, etc.  I bet you can do it with taiko too!  Granted, you won't get much in the way of details or nuances because you're pretty limited, but you can still make some good progress.

Now take the other extreme, and have me teach someone by talking a ton.  And talking and talking and talking.  Explaining this, commenting on that, sidebars here and experiences there.  Some people do learn better by listening, but there's an overload point for every listener.  Also, time listening is time spent not doing.  For taiko, doing is crucial.

I've been on the other side of this before - being a talkative teacher - where I had SO much information I wanted to get across, and the only way I knew how to do it was to talk!  And people responded by blinking at me, either trying to process or wondering how to politely ask, "what?"

It took me a while as a teacher to realize that talking does not equal communicating.  Communication is about imparting or exchanging information, while talking is simply a delivery mechanism.  If no one's there to pick up your delivery, it gets left at the door.  Or something.  Many students with an overly-talkative teacher eventually stop listening.  It's not because they want to be disrespectful, it's because they no longer know what's important information and it's too tiring to treat everything as important, so they go into "gonna wait until we start doing stuff" mode.

As I said earlier, doing is really important in taiko.  It's often far, far better to have students try doing something even if they've got issues to fix rather than to expect them to "get it" on the first try because you've explained it "well enough".  Odds are, with the latter, you're going to have to repeat yourself because people forgot some of what you said.  If different people are forgetting different things, you could very well wind up repeating most of what you said - defeating the purpose of saying so much in the first place!

Some people can say little and communicate a lot.  Those are awesome teachers.  Most of us have to talk more than that because we're not at that level yet!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Drill: Double-Triplets

 I've been doing this pattern for years but never realized it would be a good drill.  I really need a better name for it, though...  Inverse triplets?  Reverse-lets?  Double-lets?  Hmm.  Anyways...

Double-triplets is a drill that works your dynamics. To do this drill you'll need to be familiar with the basic triplet pattern: accenting the first note of three so it sounds like don tsu ku (loud-soft-soft), then repeating.  The key to success is in maintaining clear and consistent dynamics.

Once you're comfortable with triplets, you can try the double-triplets: accenting the first TWO notes of three so it sounds like don don tsu (loud-loud-soft), then repeating.

In the video, I start with triplets then switch to double-triplets.  I pause, then start again at a faster tempo.  However, I highly recommend that you start slow and not switch back and forth as I do in the video.  The video is short and designed to give you the concept - simply doing the pattern over and over is the drill!

Be careful when you play so that you're not playing loud-loud-kind of soft.  Playing double-triplets fast but sloppy is useless, so go slow and work on dynamics, not speed!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Your development is your responsibility

Been thinking about this one a lot...

When you're new to a group, simply going to practice is going to make you better.  New drills, new songs, new opportunities, new people to learn from, etc.  You kind of don't have to do much except absorb it all and you'll improve as a taiko player.

To a point.

Sooner or later, there's going to be a point where simply going to practice isn't making you that much better, and a point after that where it's only helping you maintain where you are, but not so much improving your skills.

Here's how I see a person's timeline:

Phase 1: New to the group, learning and improving with every practice.
Phase 2: Been in the group for a while, not growing as fast as before.
Phase 3: Longer time in the group, growth not coming from attending practices.

When you hit that third phase, the only way you can truly continue to grow is to take your development in your own hands.  It's not that you have to look outside your group; you can probably find a lot of opportunities within your group to push yourself and continue progressing forward.

I've mentioned the concept of "Beginner's Mind" before and this might seem to go against that idea, but it doesn't.  Beginner's Mind is about staying open to improvement; wanting to learn new things.  That doesn't mean you will improve, just that you want to.

The hardest part about all of this is being aware of where you are in that timeline; we all hit phase three someday, no matter how good you are.  You won't realize you're there until after you've been there for a while, and then it's up to you to deal with that information.

To wait for the group to "make" you better means you may never get any better.  I realized one day that was exactly where I was, and had been expecting the group to "make" me better.  The group has limited resources and the priority was the newer members, not someone who'd been in the group for over a decade.  Once I realized that, I wasn't resentful, I was enlightened.  The power to improve was now in my hands and not anyone else's responsibility!

That didn't mean it would be easy, but I knew I had control over where I went - and I've been taking steps to continue to grow.  The easier path would be to just stay where I was and hope that *something* would help me improve.  I don't believe in growth fairies, so that wasn't a viable path for me...

So where are you in that timeline?  What can you do to keep improving when the group can't help you as much as it used to?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dimmer switch

Sometimes, you'll get a critique or a comment that you can treat as a light switch: on or off.    It could be something like, "don't kiai in that spot of the song," or "strike closer to the center of the drum".  They're things you can just start/stop doing, even if they don't happen without some work.

However, most comments are much more like a dimmer switch.  You need to make incremental changes rather than just "on" or "off".  Examples might be like, "use your lower body to generate power," or "don't overhit," or even "interact more with other players."

Taking any of those critiques as a off/on idea means you'll be wiggling around ungrounded, playing too quietly, or staring at people to the point of being creepy, lol.  While it's easier - in a way - to just push toward the other extreme, but it's not always best.

If you take small or moderate steps incorporating an idea, how far do you take it?  That, I can't answer.  A lot depends on your abilities, the expectation of the person that gave you the comment, the group aesthetics, etc.  You'll have to figure it out for yourself.  And in doing that, you get stronger.  Switching from one side to another can lead to improvement if the destination is what's truly valuable.  Incremental changes are much more about the journey.

It's not always easy to know when to take incremental steps, but figuring out when to do it is a part of the learning process.  The more control you have over your body, the more things you'll be able to do!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Success vs. failure

Does it ever seem like you fail way more than you succeed?  Or that the pain of failure hits you way harder than the glory of success?

Think about the things you've achieved in taiko.  Playing that really tricky section, finally pushing it through that stamina-draining song, drilling a pattern faster than before, etc.  They took time to accomplish, right?  You had a goal and you had to work at getting there, whether it took five minutes or five years.  Success comes after a period of time, gradually.

Failure, however, tends to be much more in-the-present.  You can't play that passage, you're gassed before the song ends, your solo crashes, etc.  These things tend to be short-lived even if they keep happening as you try and try again.

You can think of success as being a long-term process while failure is a short-term setback.  Individual successes tend to have less impact unless you take the time to acknowledge what you've achieved and it's best to acknowledge it more than just once!  Otherwise you're not accounting for all the time and effort spent into making those successes and they become somewhat diluted.

With this thinking, any one success is worth way more than several failures and this can help put things in perspective when it's needed the most!