Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016: Looking ahead


So what's coming up next year?  Hmm.

There's a collaboration with the Bangerz in SoCal but I'm collaborated-out for a while.  I'll focus instead on my new piece, debuting in the April concert.  Before that though - in March - we have a 10-day tour East-ish.  Looking forward to that!

Might sign up for one of the TCA Committees, if it works with my schedule.  Always rewarding to help taiko prosper!

Finally, the blog might go through a major change sometime in 2016, but no idea if or when.  We'll see what happens.  Until then, post post post!  As usual, if you have something you'd like me to talk about or give my perspective on, email me on FB or comment on here (you can be anonymous).

Have a great 2016, question everything, and keep on growing!

Thanks, everyone!

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015: Looking back


Another year, another hundred thousand beats?  Something like that.

Looking back this year, it was a pretty busy one, taiko-wise:

Collaboration concerts with the Bangerz, a month-long tour with a week of teaching workshops in the middle, another busy festival season, and then into writing two new song ideas, one of which I'll be developing into a full piece for the Spring concert.

There was also NATC, and since I didn't teach a workshop this time, I wound up just observing the workshops and helping out here and there as needed.  Driving a ton of drums and equipment to Vegas and back in a huge truck was kind of fun, too!

There were a lot of good posts this year (if I do say so myself, ha):

My favorite drill
Bachi, bachi everywhere
Question Everything: Power
Baka waza
Big fish
Question Everything: How good are you, really?
Madonna and taiko
Ripples, pt. 2
Precious
Failure vs. mistakes

I hope these and other posts of mine have entertained, challenged, and amused you throughout 2015! One more post to end out the year...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Soloing, part 14: Two cardinal rules


I've been thinking about what makes a good solo lately.  Some of the things are subjective, some are things I prefer, but I feel that a few things have to be in a solo regardless of any other factors to make it a good one.

First and foremost, timing.

When someone rushes ahead of the beat or significantly lags behind, it totally nullifies how awesome the patterns are, how impressive the movements are, how well they project, etc.

Every soloist is bound to get off here and there, and it's up until that point where they thought they knew exactly where the downbeat was.  Oops!  So it's not a horrible thing, just means it's not a very good solo when it happens.

If you get told more than a few times that you get off-tempo in your solos, this could be a potential red flag.  There's a couple of things you can do, such as play less notes or play quieter, but it's all about being able to hear the ji.  If you can't hear it, how do you know you're on?  We all think we're doing fine until we come up for air and realize we aren't...

Second, technique.

Maybe someone can play a really fast sequence, but you can see the tension in their grip and shoulders from a mile away.  Or maybe they have some super nifty patterns, but they're hitting really unevenly between their dominant and weaker hands.  Maybe someone is super fluid in their movements but they slouch when they play.  Or maybe they're really mobile but they don't extend at all.  Maybe they have really loud kiai but it comes from the throat instead of the diaphragm.  Or maybe they're really energetic but their expression is the same no matter what the song.

While some of these seem subjective to you, my point is it's really about HOW a person plays rather than WHAT they play.  You can impress with the "what", but you can inspire with the "how"...and also impress!

Personally, I find timing is more important to nail than technique, because you can be taught technique, but you can't be taught to listen.  You have to learn that on your own!

None of us are perfect.  We're going to get off: we're going to hit poorly, express ourselves less ably than we normally can.  But overall, I feel like these two rules set the foundation for everything else you can do in a solo, regardless of your experience or ability.  After this, the world is your oyster!  Or, if you're allergic to shellfish, the world is your...jello mold?  :D

Monday, December 21, 2015

Failure vs. mistakes


I talk a lot about failure in my blog.  From fear of it to dealing with it to avoiding it, failure is something I think is worth bringing up often, at least to lessen its impact on us as performers.

But in all my posts, I've realized that I've approached failure in binary terms, in black-and-white.  Failure is the worst-case scenario, the far end of the spectrum.  At the other end would be something like making an error so small that only you notice.

Actual failure is something most of us experience.  This could be something like starting the wrong song to having a drum break on you.  But all the other stuff?  I'm going to define these less-than-failure moments as "mistakes".

Mistakes happen all the time.  I'm betting you've made plenty but you don't dwell on them much.  An interesting question to ask yourself is, where does the difference happen between "caring" and "moving on" for you?  What mistakes cause you worry and what failures make you laugh?

I realize that simply telling yourself that "I will not fear failure" is a lofty goal.  But you can set your sights a little lower to start, and look at the mistakes that don't bother you.  Why don't they bother you?  How do you deal with them?  Can you apply that to bigger mistakes?

Some of you will recall that I've fallen OFF a stage before, early on.  That's definitely a failure.  I recovered really really well, (arguably enough to surpass the fail) but it was something that made all the failures later on over the years seem pretty minor in comparison.  Taking into account your previous failures or even other people's failures can make a new "failure" seem like just a mistake, instead.  Once you start doing this as a process, you might find that fear of future failures is lessened, because the failures are becoming less and less impactful.

No one wants to fail, but we all have coping mechanisms for the smaller mistakes.  Figuring out how to treat future failures is a big part of growing as an artist - taiko player or otherwise!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Different types of ki


One of the things I've struggled with in my taiko "career" is ki.

While my physical and musical abilities have made great strides, I still have to actively work on my ki within SJT.  Just when I think I'm projecting enough, I see a video and wish I was exaggerating more so it would translate better to a viewer.  I know I'm feeling it, but it's not being seen as I feel it.  That's no one's fault but mine!  It comes now and then in the times when I'm supporting or playing percussion that I slip from where I should be at.

While ki is a word that can encompass so many things, I'm using it here to define the energy one generates.  Recently, I stepped back and came to a great realization that helps me feel better about my struggles: there are different types of ki.  A matsuri song is going to have a very different energy than an odaiko solo, right?  This wasn't a new ide to me, but I'd never really thought about it in context of my struggles before.

When I'm playing odaiko, even though you can't see my face, I am trying to make sure you can see the intention in my body in my stance, in every strike, no matter if I'm fresh or tired.  It's not something I think about as much as have trained myself to do.

When I solo, I'm "on" and feel like that's when my projection is a reflection of the joy I'm feeling in expressing myself.

This definitely isn't limited to taiko, either.  When I'm in the dojo, my intention is to hit hard/score/win/overwhelm.  My kiai are part of my technique, part of the movement I make.  My projection is focused like a laser through my target.

And there are still many other examples that you can find all over the place.  A hip-hop dancer has a very different energy than a ballet dancer, but one is still projecting and showing intention just as much as the other.  A clown in a 3-ring circus projects a very different energy from a heavy metal vocalist on stage or a chef giving a public demonstration to a studio audience.  And then there's something like butoh, a Japanese dance form that specializes in slow movements.  That's a very powerful, very different form of energy.

What all this helped me realize that I'm not "bad" at projecting ki, I just have trouble in some areas over others.  What can my strengths teach me about my weaknesses?  Maybe it's easier for me to generate a more intense energy than joyful, ok.  Maybe instead of trying to "be" joyful, I'll try to be intense and dial it back and see if that works better?  That's where I am now, aware that I have the tools but just need to figure out how to use them.

I hope this post gives you reason to look at your own ki, the variety you feel and project, and how to use your strengths to bolster the areas that need help!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Shoulders


I was watching taiko videos on YouTube, as I'm wont to do, and became really aware of how much excess shoulder motion a lot of North American taiko players have.  Looking at both karate and taiko, I find that almost every motion/action is done best when informed by the center of the body - the hara - and wonder why the shoulders get so involved when some people play.

I've written a post about posture here and the hara here, but this touches on something more specific than either of those posts.

Playing taiko requires using the arms quite a bit, and it's easy to feel like the shoulders are the connection between the arms and the body.  People often throw their shoulders into their hits or lean towards the drum, either on purpose or subconsciously when they play.  There's a lot of excess tension from the grip through the biceps when this happens, and all the focus seems to be solely in those few muscles.  I see this a lot, probably more than any other single problem in taiko.  Is it really a problem?  Well, I think it dampens everything, from the visual impact to the quality of the strike.  So...yes!

But if the hara is given the job of generating power, of connecting the body, it can lead to ease of motion, an upright posture, and less tension overall.  Not saying it's as simple as willing it to happen, but looking at most martial arts and many movement-oriented arts, the center is the key.  Terms like "centerline" and "posture" come up again and again in these arts, as well as phrases like "dropping your weight" and "extend from the center".  You rarely, if ever hear people saying "move from the shoulders" or "hunch forward for more power."

I'm thinking most of you reading this aren't disagreeing with me, but sometimes it's easy to understand something but not recognize when you do it yourself.  How is your posture when you play?  How do you know?  Video is excellent for this, but sometimes you need more than one angle.  For example, a camera directly in front of you while you play shime might not show any lean in your body, but from the side, it tells a totally different story.

Good posture not only saves wear and tear on your body, it makes your techniques better.  And even if you have good posture already, examining the things you're already doing well now makes you a stronger player!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Improvement


I've been a 2nd-degree black belt for a while now.  I've been the most-senior member of SJT for several years now, too.

Those are pretty good things!  So why try to do more?  Well for me, I can't stand being stagnant.  The idea of improvement excites me.  Because I want to inspire others to try harder, too.  All of it.

The hard part is that improvement at my level isn't always easy.  I pretty much made it to 2nd-degree black belt on ability, but now that we're under a new parent dojo, testing rules changed.  It got a lot harder.  I blogged about failing my test for 3rd a few years back.  It's still going to be difficult to test again, but I want to keep working on it.

In taiko, I can play almost every spot in every song in our repertoire and have experienced so much simply by being there for so long.  My improvement comes in small increments in practice, and it's hard to find time to get it from outside the group, but I want to keep working on it.

Naturally, there are times when I'm happy to coast a bit - life happens and sometimes it's nice to relax a little.  But I don't accept that where I am now is "good enough" just because I'm doing well or have done a lot so far.  Taking on a hard task just for the sake of getting better isn't always comfortable, but to me, the alternative is worse.

This is in no way a judgement of anyone else or any other path that others might take.  This is me and my path.  I hope that I inspire others to try to do more and to let people know that more is out there for them, even when it's daunting or uncomfortable.


So here's to 2016 and whatever growth I may find!

Monday, December 7, 2015

2015 Retreat

So this past weekend, SJT had its annual 3-day (sometimes shorter) annual retreat.

Reports, retrospectives, brainstorming, planning, venting, discussing, all of that and more happens at our retreat.  Nothing I can tell you anything of, though.  Sorry!

Anyways, with work and then the retreat taking up my weekend, nothing much to post today.  Instead, take the time you'd normally spend reading my posts and play a kick-ass solo on your lap or desk or whatever's handy!

Woo!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Question Everything: Choosing a spot


In your group, do you ever get the choice of where you want to play in a song?

You might have a situation where different people know different parts and it's a bit of first-come, first-served.  Or maybe it's where you're practicing a song with multiple redundant parts (e.g.; 4 shime but all the shime are playing the same thing).  If you have the choice of where to go instead of being told, where do you go?  Why?  What does that say about you?

If you knew senior members of the group were watching where you went from song to song (if it's your choice), would that change which spots you took?  Why or why not?  Are you always going to the "prestige" spots, whatever those might be?  Are you always in the front?  Always in the center? Always hiding in the corners?  Is that choice a conscious one?

I'm not saying what you do now is "wrong", because without context, all I can do is hope you ask these questions of yourself.  So, ask yourself how you'd feel if someone else in the group took the same kind of spots you normally would take.  Would you even notice?  Would you form an opinion based on where they played (and didn't)?

In my 23 years of taiko, I've gone through a phase where I didn't know enough parts to have many choices, a phase where I could choose "prestige" spots but had to be careful lest I came off seeming arrogant, a phase where I purposefully chose last to let people have their choices, to where I am now.  Now I'll just pick a spot I want to play, sometimes "prestige", sometimes redundant/secondary, sometimes percussion, or sometimes I'll sit out if I know there are enough people.  Sometimes I'll wait a little bit, sometimes not.  I make sure I'm not always taking a solo spot, not always taking a center spot, etc.  It's much more balanced.

So what's right for you?  Only you can determine that, based on your group, practice etiquette, and how often you're able to pick a spot in a song.  But you should have an awareness about your choices, even if those choices are completely balanced in the end!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Ripples, pt. 2


I wrote here about the ripple effect, about how what and how you say things affects people and events around you.

Sometimes, it's what's being said that causes a big splash.  Something controversial, something heartfelt, something that strikes a chord.  It almost doesn't matter who says it, because it's the words themselves that cause a response in other people.

Sometimes, it's who's saying something that causes a big splash.  Group leaders and founders, teachers, people who've been in the community for a long time, and others like this are able to cause great ripples.

Most of us feel passionately about something, or many things.  And we wouldn't be sorry for causing some ripples, especially when they're positive!  Unfortunately, often the biggest ripples are the negative ones.

The most powerful ripples are those about the former from those in the latter.  Good or bad, they are heard and they are felt the fastest, the deepest.  That's just how it works, taiko or otherwise.  But sometimes the effects aren't really felt for a while, bouncing around under the surface, bouncing off each other, making new ripples that begin the process all over again.

When you drop a stone into a small body of water, the ripples extend outward.  When they finally hit an object, they bounce off it to create new ripples.  And those ripples bounce off each other.  It's much the same with how words get out from a speaker into the group or the community, and people talk about what they've heard, creating more ripples.

When those ripples are negative, it can be really hard to deal with them.  Maybe they come from someone you respect.  Maybe it makes you reconsider a group you enjoyed watching.  And now you're likely to create more ripples from your own experience, talking to others, furthering the process.  These are the ripples that wind up going back to the source, hurting their reputation, causing people to lose respect, or even outright shun. 

I've ranted a lot in my blog and realize that I may have had this effect myself, so I try to be a lot more careful these days.  My words don't have the weight of a lot of others in the taiko community, but they can cause ripples nonetheless.  And because of my blog, even the things I say to people in person can have the same effect.  It's not always easy to be a better person, but I feel I have a responsibility to try.  Otherwise I'm being a hypocrite.  This blog is as much about me getting thoughts out of my head as it is a way for me to better myself, after all!

Positivity begets positivity, negativity begets negativity.  What you say and do comes back to you, if not directly then in ways you don't notice at first, but in the ways other people think about you and react to you.  What ripples are you causing?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Partnership

image: Huffingtonpost.co.uk

If you're playing really loudly but aren't matching the volume with your ki, is that fair?  If you're playing really quietly but aren't just as focused, is that fair?  Fair to who?  The taiko!

I want you to think about the bond between the player and the taiko.  Without the other, what do you have?  An inanimate object.  Someone with a pair of sticks.  You need both to make the taiko come alive - the animator and the medium.

We express ourselves when we play taiko; our true selves come out.  But what I've found after years of watching concerts and festivals and workshops and jams is that some people "hide" behind the drum.  Not hide literally, but it's like the wall of noise they create by hitting the taiko feels like "enough" and they don't match the output in terms of spirit.  You can fool the ears, but you can't fool the eyes when you do this.

It can be as simple as projecting more when you kiai, or much more fundamental in terms of confidence or stage fright.

This sort of thing can happen in solos, where a subdued personality plays loud notes.  It's like using plain white bread to serve up the best, tastiest sandwich fillings.  It feels...lacking?  Matching the bread to the filling seems the best course.

Another way to think of this is trying to sing a song but keeping the mouth somewhat closed.  You can be heard, even understood, but the impact and quality of the music is dampened.  Open you mouth to sing and you can make something pleasant become something wonderful.

So make a deal with the taiko when you play it.  Don't hide your spirit behind the sound you produce.  Don't make the taiko do "all the work".  DO put your intention, your ki into the drum when you play.  It might mean putting yourself more out there, but even if that's uncomfortable at first, don't you think you owe it to the taiko?

If you treat the taiko like a partner rather than an object, you'll find you're more likely to match its output with your own!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Precious


Most of my readers - most of you - play taiko.  We tend to feel very attached, very passionate towards our art, regardless of why we play.  I've noticed that a lot of taiko players tend to feel that taiko is precious, that it's special, even that it's unique.  But is it?  Yes!  And no.

Some people approach taiko as a way to connect with Japan and Japanese culture.  For them, seeing taiko put in a music video and used in a perfunctory way may very well be upsetting on a personal level.  This takes something that is precious to them and - in their minds - belittles it.

Some people approach taiko as a way to explore or express their identity.  For them, seeing taiko used on an award show out of context or as just another drum may very well make them feel minimized.  It's something precious to them that has just been - in their minds - devalued.

Seeing a pattern here?

Now, some people see taiko as a drumming form to be enjoyed with friends.  Being told they're disrespecting other taiko players by not doing X or Y correctly may be frustrating to them.  Things precious to other people are being imposed on them.

Some people see taiko as an art form that has so much potential to grow and expand.  They want to make taiko more precious in their lives  and being told that they're "what you're doing is not taiko" is baffling.

Seeing another pattern here?

Essentially, this is a situation where everyone is wrong - or right, if you prefer.

I also see this sometimes when people discuss the issues in their taiko group or the taiko community as if their/our problems are unique to taiko.  Issues with identity, growing pains, recruitment, funding, social dynamics, authenticity questions, etc., all of those are very much like the issues discussed in other musical, dance, and artistic forms.  Most of us don't know about those similar issues unless we're somehow involved in other arts.

Considering that people in another art form are just as passionate about theirs as we are about ours, we shouldn't think that ours is "more precious" or more important.  It is "more precious" to you/to us, but those other people would make the same argument about theirs, right?  If anything, we can learn from what other art forms have gone through or are dealing with, because they are "us", just in a different art form.

It's important to acknowledge what is precious and why it is precious to you, but you can't discount anyone else's reason because these are personal and subjective for each of us.  You also can't impose your reasons on anyone else.  It's great to have discussions on this sort of thing, but discussions have to come with perspective!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Out of the box


I’ve taught workshops and sessions on improvisation, and one of the most valuable things I can tell people is to be creative.  Creativity is like a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it.

There are two different concepts I want to get to in this post.

The first idea is really trying to stretch your creative muscle by going to new and unusual places (for you).  Say you have a shime in front of you and a pair of bachi.  If you’re told to improvise with it, what would you do?  Most people – a high majority, I’d say – would play on the shime with their bachi.  And why not?  There’s nothing wrong with that.

But what about playing the stand that the drum is on?  Or the floor?  Or on yourself?  What about playing the drum with your hands?  Or the stand with your hands?  Or the floor?  Or yourself?  What about no percussion at all and using your voice to improv, say with either kiai, kuchishoga, or song?  What about doing a visual improv with motions and movements?  What about lifting the shime off the stand and holding it while you either play it or just move around?

For some of you, I may have just blown your minds.  For others, you may be thinking that all of that is dumb.

Regardless, if you can at least THINK about these possibilities, you’re starting to use that creative muscle.  Would I ever take a shime and roll it across the floor like I was bowling?  Probably not, but there’s a new idea that I might get other ideas from, and one of those might be something to pursue.  If you discount too many ideas in your head, then that creative muscle atrophies.  Remember, there’s a huge difference in thinking about something and doing it.

The second idea is sort of contrary to the first, but not completely so.  Imagine you have in front of you, a set of twelve drums.  Some are down on betta, some naname.  Some are lower toned, some are higher. Some shime as well.  You have your pick from six different types of beaters, from oak bachi to bamboo slats to timpani mallets.  You’re told to improvise.  What do you do?

I would say that a large majority of people would go NUTS.  Why not?  Sooooo manyyyyy drumsssss.  It’s fun!  But what about taking the most familiar pair of beaters (probably the oak bachi), and playing a solo on just one drum?  In a way, that’s thinking outside of the box, isn’t it?  And again, even if you don’t actually do a solo on just one drum, at least thinking about it means you’re using that creative muscle.

Creativity can be complex or daunting but it can also be simple and comforting.  The trick is to let your mind be flexible.  You can’t think of ALL the possibilities, but you can start with some!

Monday, November 16, 2015

New Song Diary: Works in progress?

Last Saturday, SJT presented 11 new song ideas (yes, ELEVEN) to a small audience.  These were all Works in Progress.  For us, a Work in Progress (WIP) means that there is more to do, adjust, rework, etc.  They’re also rarely as long as a full piece.

We’ve spent three, maybe four months developing our ideas, teaching them, and practicing them.  For the last 2 weeks we just did run-throughs of the 11 pieces to prepare for the presentation.   Compared to a “show”, this was less formal and with less pressure.

I’ve never had a “Work in Progress”.  I’ve only had…well, “Works”.  I write songs and they get played.  Not that anything I write is automatically good enough to BE played, but in the past when I’ve put in the time and intention to write a piece, it has been performed.  So now I’m looking at my two WIPs and it’s going to be different now that they’ve “debuted”.

In my head, I know my pieces aren’t done.  One is well on its way, and the other is just getting its footing.  I have a lot of work to do to develop them fully.  The thing is, I’ve heard them played dozens of times to the point where I’m used to hearing them as “completed”.  So I’ll have to step back and re-think of them both as still “in progress”, and remember that I can edit and adjust things as I feel I need to, even if some of the changes are large ones.

At this point, I don’t know if it was a good thing for my pieces to have this stopping point or not.  It's not that the WIP presentation was a bad thing, I mean that in the context of creating a new idea, would it have been better to keep creating and be open to change until the end?  Or is having a “foothold” a way to have a solid core to grow from?

I figure the answer will be different for each piece and I can’t “go back” and try different paths for them, so maybe there’s no way of knowing unless I, as a composer, wind up preferring one way or the other.  After my 12 Songs in 12 Weeks experiment, I did learn a few things about my preferences, but this is new territory and I want to stay open-minded.  

Regardless, at least one of these songs will be completed – but who knows when or where it (they) will be performed!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Blog post




I write a lot about how teaching makes an artist stronger.

My blogging is a form of teaching.  And while it started out for me as a way to rant and throw my thoughts up, I’ve often had to think out some of my ideas just as a teacher would.  How do I inspire someone to try harder, to expect more from themselves?  How do I describe a drill so that other people could understand it?  How do I encourage while also challenging held beliefs?

In some of my blog posts, I’ve asked people to think how they would teach something they know, or how they would approach someone if they were tasked to introduce a new concept or idea.
In that same vein, what would you do if you were asked to write a blog post?

Do you have a skill you’re known for in your group, like composing, energy/ki, or your practice methods?  Maybe you’ve been around for a while and can offer advice to people who are starting to feel bored.  Maybe you’re new and can write about what it’s like to find your way around.  The question isn’t so much WHAT you could write about as HOW you would write about it.
 
When you start considering your audience, tone, important points, examples, words to avoid, length, and other such aspects, you start thinking about the stuff you're familiar with in a very different way, if you're not used to teaching already.  Even if you already teach in a classroom or in-person environment, teaching through the written word is a much different experience.

The key to becoming a stronger artist isn't just finding new things and new skills, but in looking at what you already do and re-examining it in different ways.  You might just be surprised!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Shapes

image from http://www.cs.jhu.edu

When you first learn something, you generally try to make the same shape(s) that your instructor makes.  You learn to put yourself in those same positions, angles, arcs, etc.

At first, this is a great way to understand something new.  You may not get from A to B gracefully, but you can "do" A and B.

But there's a point when trying to match shapes is at best unhelpful, and at worst, detrimental.

Some examples:

1,) When I play shime, because my chest is moderately broad, my arms angle in somewhat.  They are straight, but they definitely point inwards a good deal.  If someone else matches that angle because they're matching my shape but is of a smaller build, they're going to be struggling to play relaxed with their arms unnaturally held out.

2.) When I play shime, because I'm tall, I have to get lower in my stance so that I'm not having to hit too far downward for the strike.  Someone shorter, matching my height on shime might very well be standing up far too high and have to do a lot more work with (still) bad technique.

3.) When I play odaiko or naname, I often get into a very wide stance that I'm able to have due to flexibility.  Anyone trying to match that shape without the same flexibility may compromise the rest of their technique greatly, or even injure themselves.

What I recommend, after you understand those basic shapes (however long it might take), is to figure out what's on the inside of those shapes, and also figure out how to move from one shape into another.  It's the internal stuff that's difficult to figure out yet immensely valuable.  But that, dear readers, is for another post (and I do believe I've talked about it in the past).

Shapes are like training wheels.  Great at first to build basic skills, but the longer you rely on them, the harder it will be to make any progress.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Drill: Volume


I've seen a lot of people play taiko who don't hit very hard.  And I've seen a lot of people play taiko who hit too hard.  It's easy to point out when someone falls into one of these two categories, but how do you - as a player - know where you fall?

"But Adam," I hear you say, "I strike just fine."  How do you know?  Were you told that explicitly?  Did the person telling you see a full range of your performance?  What if they're wrong?  I just want you to question those things you take for granted.  So let's assume you really don't know.

The easiest way to find out if you're on an extreme is to play something simple at your "default".   Something like a straight beat at a not-too-fast tempo.  Then try playing a little bit louder, louder, louder...  Or alternatively, a little bit softer, softer, softer...  If you find you can't go much in one direction, you're likely at an extreme.

But what if you're not THAT close to an extreme, and it's not so easy to tell?  Try thinking of volume on a scale.  Try thinking of it on a 1 to 5, or 1 to 10: whatever works for you.  The quietest you can play with control and still be heard is a 1, the loudest you can play without breaking something is the highest number.

Play a song, solo, or drill at your default volume.  Then do it again a notch in either direction.  from a 3 to a 3.5 on a 1-5 scale, or a 5 to a 4 on a 1-10 scale, etc.  Don't just go through the motions!  Then you get nothing out of the drill.  Take note of how easily you can hear yourself and how much more or less relaxed you feel.  Do it again, a notch in the same direction, and again, and again.  Then start at your default and go in the other direction.

If you find you have trouble playing softer but know you have room to get quiet, you'll need to stop your motions just a little bit sooner and focus more on timing the squeeze of your grip.  If you find you have trouble playing louder, think more about generating speed through gravity and use of the body instead of muscle, and hitting a target past the drum head (like an inch through the surface).

Did you find that you can play softer with less exertion?  Or louder and make a really sharp sound?  Did you find you can get a LOT louder?  Or a LOT softer?  Did you discover a range of volume that you're comfortable playing at?  Maybe you don't have to play as loud to make a really big sound, and that'll save you, the drum, and your bachi some wear and tear.  Maybe you can play louder with little effort.  This drill will help you find out.

Another benefit to this drill is learning how to use dynamics in your toolkit when you solo, instead of only playing one volume level all the time.  If you know you have a range, you can start using it a little bit here, little bit there.

For many people, the "default" volume is the only volume they're used to playing at, and that's not even necessarily a volume that's best for the drum or your body.  So explore what you're capable of, in both directions!  Otherwise, this is one less area for you to be personally empowered in, and who knows what you're really capable of!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Relaaaaaax.


Tension is the enemy.  There are arts out there that like generating tension - like weightlifting, or arm wrestling, but for the arts I practice and the arts many of you practice, tension is just a pain in the ass.

Too much tension in the legs means you can't use the body to power your moves.  Too much tension in the shoulders kills the arm's ability to truly unleash its full potential.  And tension in one place causes tension in other places, possibly in your entire body.  Don't believe me?  Clench a fist.  Your entire arm is involved, all the way up to your shoulder.  If there's tension in your shoulder, there's tension in your neck and torso, and so on.

When you relax, you let your body act much more efficiently, enable gravity to help, let your body absorb shock easier, and can react much quicker.  I don't know that I'm saying anything people don't believe, but the problem is making the body listen to what you want it to do.

Tensing is so natural, so easy to do.  It's almost like we're wired for it, so we have to learn HOW to relax.  As I've said before in previous posts, when you start a drill with the intention of relaxing, it's almost unavoidable to repeat many of the habits you're trying to break.  Learning small adjustments in the face of established habits is reaaalllly hard.

So I recommend putting yourself in a position where your habits have nothing to grab on to - no familiar footholds, in other words.  Try moving from a place of extreme relaxation.  Be sloppy, with just enough energy to keep you upright.  If it's something like taiko, maybe you don't let the bachi rebound off the head.  Or you collapse your weight down into the floor like a mini-squat.  Something like karate might have you almost falling after a kick or a turn leaving you all twisted up.  That's fine.  In fact, if you're comfortable in this state, then odds are you're not really putting yourself into the drill and holding tension.  Get wobbly-relaxed!  Breathe out when you move.  Take a lot of time between individual moves.  And DON'T WORRY ABOUT HOW IT LOOKS.  As soon as you worry about that, you'll want to adjust.

Keep in mind that relaxed doesn't always mean slow.  You can still accelerate a technique, but not control it.

This is where you can feel the extremes of relaxation.  And from here, you can start making adjustments.  Just a little bit, here and there.  Juuuust enough tension to keep your posture upright, or just enough to keep your arm from bouncing at the end of a movement.  Doing small adjustments back towards the "norm" can teach you a lot more about body awareness than trying to start at the "norm" and adjust from there.

So try a drill, song, form, whatever - and do it so relaxed to where you feel silly.  Can you still make a sound?  Can you still do it with speed?  Can you still connect your body?  Then small steps up, focusing on stay relaxed.  What do you learn?  What can you retain?  How different does it feel?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What are you doing differently?



Odds are, you're getting hands-on instruction from a teacher, probably regularly.  Maybe you go online and find things like this blog to help you get better.

But what changed for you since last week?  What are you doing this week better than you were the week before?

Don't take it as a negative thing.  Take the opportunity to look at what you've improved in, whether it's doing something you were told to do differently, or something you figured out on your own.  It could be a big thing or subtle, but I'm betting it's there.

Maybe you really can't think of something that got better since last week.  Could be it's there but you can't think about it, could be last week was focused on things you couldn't improve on (for sake of this post).  Still, even thinking about it makes you aware that you can improve - that you could have improved.  Ideally, you take that to heart before next week, when you can ask yourself this same question.

Also, if you've been playing for a while it's sometimes hard to see differences from one week to the next.  Try month to month.  Year to year.  Bigger gaps mean more progress to see, even if there's also more to forget!

The idea here is while you might be taught how to get better, only you can feel the impact.  And while instructors might notice the changes before you do, the more you're able to see it for yourself, the more you can take charge of your own growth!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Metronome Love, pt. 5: Soloing


If you've been soloing for longer than a month, I will bet money you've gotten off the beat at LEAST once.  Even if you're a cyborg and can nail any set tempo without fail, you're playing with other human beings and the tempo is never mechanical with people, it's organic.  It shifts and bends with and without you.

So I say to you, play your solos along to a metronome!

"But Adam," I hear you saying, "didn't you just say we're playing to something organic, NOT mechanical?"  Yep, I did say that.  Here's the thing - learning to solo to a metronome teaches you to know your tendencies.  Do you tend to rush?  That's very common.  Do you tend to play late?  Are you inconsistent?  Even if you're able to stay steady, are you able to tell where the downbeat is or are you just "using the force"?

Playing to a metronome means you can play without the pressure of having anyone else watch or judge your solo.  You can play with headphones if you need to, ensuring you'll definitely hear the downbeat.  You can play at any tempo you want, any volume you want.  But what you have to focus on is staying on tempo more than anything else.

If you tend to get off-tempo, it's all-too-easy to play to the metronome, get off, get back on, and repeat.  That might teach you to recognize when you get off more quickly, but it would be even better to learn how not to get off to begin with, right?

So get the metronome going at whatever tempo you want, imagine the song you're soloing to (or just solo to the beep/click), and FOCUS ON THE TEMPO.  If you can't hear the metronome, play softer or turn it up.  That's the gist of the drill, but it can be a lot more difficult when you add in movements and effort and oops, where did the downbeat go?  So if you find you're having trouble staying with the metronome, stick with a base tempo and keep things mellow.  Add more later.

This will translate to playing with other people, because you'll have learned how to listen, learned what your tendencies are, and can make the adjustments that you need to, so much easier.

A solo that gets off tempo is like pasta with overcooked noodles.  You might have the best sauce, the best presentation, and the best wine to go with it, but it winds up a disappointing experience.  Once the pasta is perfect, everything else makes it so much better!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Syncopation


The more I play music, the more I appreciate syncopation.  And I absolutely love putting it in my songs and my solos.  People think I have something against downbeats!

Syncopation comes when notes don't fall on the downbeat or in expected places.  It can be a simple as emphasizing the 2 and 4 when counting "1-2-3-4" or so complicated that you literally have no idea where the downbeat is.

At first, when people start putting syncopation in their solos, they often tend to throw it in wherever, which makes the patterns sound a bit random.  It's like a cupcake with a cherry stuck on the side of the cake part.  Then there's a point for some where they put in a LOT of syncopation to where the effect is lost because there's no "home" to come down on, no anchoring.  This is like a bunch of cherries and frosting with no cake.  Intentional syncopation is powerful, even if it's simple.  When it's complicated or prominent, it has to be even more intentional.

Now, I definitely get made fun of for my liberal use of syncopation.  But it's not like I'm making up notes that aren't there (like I've discovered "17th notes" next to the 16th notes, ha).  I just feel them wanting to be played.

One things that makes someone a master musician isn't how many notes they play (reflexes fade with time) or how fast they can play (speed fades too) but where they choose to play the notes they can.

For me, syncopation is the spice, the flavor that makes taiko so tasty.  You can have a strong stock (lots of players) and a hearty protein (playing together and loud) but then you add some spice, some patterns that weave around the strong downbeat, and you dramatically change what it feels like.  Maybe you add sriracha, maybe you add oregano, maybe you add peppercorns.  How much you add also changes the profile of the "dish".  But add too much and you have a mouthful of spice that ruins the experience...

So how do you get better at syncopation?  How do you get comfortable with it?  Like I've said many times on this blog, listen to more music.  New music.  Different music.  Genres like Electronic, Heavy Metal, and Funk are loaded with the stuff, and a lot of the lyrics in Rap music are delivered with it as well.  Western drumline and drum kit solos are also a huge arsenal of syncopation.

From there, maybe try repetition in your syncopation.  Try out patterns but repeat them so you can feel and hear what they're like, rather than just "ooh I put a note in between downbeats!"   Don't be afraid to play notes where you might normally NOT, because that's how you learn what sounds good and what doesn't, outside of your own head.

Finally, it's important to mention that the more you start using syncopation, the more important the sense of the downbeat is.  It's your lifeline, your anchor to all that fun - and when you lose that anchor, fun turns to chaos and it can be really hard to get back.  So at first, as you get used to it all, don't stray too far.  In my opinion, the best syncopation players have the downbeat so strongly within them that they can get miles away from it and still be rock-solid.  Many others are shaky only a few feet away!

I'll end with a few songs that might be useful, entertaining, or even daunting:

Stevie Wonder, "Superstition"
The Sugar Hill Gang, "Rapper's Delight"
D and K Cadence from the movie Drumline
Gene Krupa vs. Buddy Rich
Dave Brubeck, "Unsquare Dance"
Kodo, "Stride"
Incompetech, "Firebrand"

Monday, October 19, 2015

Question Everything: The little things.


When you bow into the dojo, bow to start practice, bow to each other, what are you thinking?

When you make a pose at the beginning or end of a piece or form, what are you thinking?

When you kiai, what goes through your head?

Do you do the motion because you're taught to do the motion?  Because it's what you've always done?  Do you kiai because it's expected?  Is that all there is to those actions?

The things we take for granted are often great places to learn lessons:

- Where's your weight when you bow?  Where do you bend?  Are you hunched?  Do you stop halfway or bounce?  Where are you looking?  How would you teach someone else to bow?

- Take a pose you hold in a song or a form.  What are you supposed to be embodying?  Did you just execute a counter-attack?  To what specific point?  Are you supposed to look strong?  Relaxed?  Are you tense in weird places?

- When you kiai to support a soloist, does your body language support the intention behind the kiai?  Are you giving that same feeling when not opening your mouth?  Do you think about when your kiai falls in a song or just let it go whenever you get a breath?

When you explore the little things like that, you gain two things:  One is the ability to analyze things easier, quicker.  The big things become little and the little things become second-nature.  The other is the ability to make informed choices about your movements, your energy.  To shift, to tweak, to make changes when needed.

It's too much to try to look for all of the little things, but if you take one song, one form, or even one single aspect for a little while, it's manageable.  It's not "sexy" or exciting as far as drills go, but it can pay off in spades down the line!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Soloing, part 13: Imitation as a tool

Photo: Associated Press

When I was new to taiko, I listened to Kodo and San Jose Taiko a LOT.  Cassette tapes and CDs and VHS were played over and over and over again.  And then over for good measure.

I tapped along to the songs I could only hear, and would play along to the videos I had.  There were about 2-3 songs from each group that I would listen to more than the others, specifically to play along with the solos.  I liked how they sounded, I liked the challenge of the difficult parts.

I was learning new patterns and new ways to solo, but I was also learning new sensibilities that were different to my own.  When I started playing along, it wasn't easy at first, but after a while I was not just playing the patterns along with the performers but enjoying some improvising of my own OVER those same patterns.  It's something anyone can do, if they want to put the time into it.

The groups and songs you like may not be the same songs I like, but that's totally fine.  The point is to find the ones that aren't easy to do at first, that make you practice and listen and figure out what's going on in order to train your ears and your hands.  If it's a solo you can play pretty easily, then it's not really teaching you something.  It should take some time to "get", because that means it's actually training you in something new.

One thing to note, though.  DON'T PERFORM THE SOLO YOU'RE COPYING.  That's bad form, like playing someone else's song without permission.  This is about using imitation as a tool, not as a way to play new solo patterns or movements!  You have to take what you learn from this and make it your own - which is yes, more work - but it's all part of this process.

And if you think you're good enough to play it all, try this (from 0:20 on).  Good luck.  ;)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Question Everything: What if it really was about you?

How many times have you been in a class where the instructor made a blanket comment that you ignored?

It could have been something like, "be careful not to speed up when you play xyz," or "don't tighten the shoulder on this move here," or whatever, really.  When we hear comments like these that aren't aimed as us directly, many of us think "well I wasn't doing that, so they weren't talking about me."



But what if you took every blanket comment and assumed they WERE talking about you?  What would happen?

Would you get overwhelmed with all the comments you now had to consider?  That's possible, in which case maybe take every other comment.  Being overloaded isn't going to help!

Maybe you'd start feeling like you're not very good, but you know you'd be doing this as an exercise, so that's not too likely.

Or maybe, just maybe, you'd start thinking about some of the things you figured didn't need to be worked on, things you took for granted.  You might find that you're doing things correctly, but in the process, find other things to think about or work on.  You might find new ways to explain/describe how you're doing things correctly, for when you have to teach it to someone else.

Of course, you don't have to do any of this, you can dismiss the comment even when you know it doesn't apply to you.  But does it make you any better?  Are you sure that you can't improve on the technique mentioned?  By repeatedly thinking "that comment's not about me," does it start to develop a mindset that sabotages you down the line?

It's pretty common for a person giving a comment to not single out the one or two people that the comment is meant for.  It's less harsh that way, but also means there's a good chance the person/people who need the comment the most don't "hear" it.  Is that person you?

So try taking all the comments you hear for a practice or two.  Or a month, whatever works for you.  Even just the act of processing what you hear differently can make you a better artist!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

New Song Diary: Two Works in Progress


A couple of nights ago, I had the entire practice session to teach my two song ideas.  It's a LOT of work to have two new song ideas to teach for about an hour each.  Most of that consisted mainly on keeping all the patterns straight and having a general plan of what to cover.  Happily, everything went well!

I mean, there was some smoke coming from people's heads, but that's kind of normal with my pieces...

The hybrid song idea (okedo + naname) went very smoothly.  Okedo patterns are a bit tricky given the syncopation (I apparently am not fond of downbeats, ha!), but people were playing them fine.  Naname players just repeat a lot of simple patterns, but now that I've seen how it looks and hear how it sounds, I can tweak their parts a bit.  For the presentation in November, I'll just have a few chunks to play, focusing on how the patterns interlock, and maybe some soloing.  That's a good start.  After that?  I want to think about the mood and purpose of the piece, but I have some ideas already.

The pod song I'm tentatively calling "LEFT to my own devices".  A little corny, but it also highlights that there's something going on with the left hand - namely, it never stops playing a straight beat.  This was a harder song to teach, simply because I had a lot more material and more of the rough sequence planned out.  It gets increasingly harder as the tempo increases (which is written into the piece), but no one died...except I haven't finished the ending yet and won't need to by November.

So things are good.  No guarantees that either will become full-fledged songs, no guarantees that either will be played at next year's Spring Concert, but things are moving nicely and there's a solid structure for both.  *phew!*

Monday, October 5, 2015

Video: Being silly


Watch this.  It's very silly.  Go ahead, I'll wait.

I was originally just going to leave that and end with "enjoy some silliness!" but I thought I would say just a bit more.

This is a good example of "selling" something that's silly.  Humor is a tricky creature on stage, often over-sold to the point of it feeling forced, or under-sold to where it feels awkward.

Comedy is an art, just like taiko.  It should be given time and thought when put into a song or a set, often needing time to "bake" before the timing and mood are just right.  The person doing it is also a factor - a joke told by Richard Pryor would not feel or sound like the same joke told by, say, Al Gore.

So as you enjoy the silly video, take some time to think about how humor can add to or distract from a performance.  Your audience will thank you for it!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Listen to new stuff!


Musically, I like to think I have pretty eclectic tastes:  Taiko, 80's, videogame music, Heavy Metal, instrumental soundtracks, Hip-Hop, Funk, Electronic, some Rap, Big Band/Symphonic, world music...lots of genres.  I know what I don't like as well, but it's a much smaller grouping.

I strongly believe that for taiko players, how we solo and compose is strongly influenced by what we listened to growing up - and to some degree, what we listen to now.  Another element that influences us is the group(s) we play with, especially how other people solo, but I've written about that before.

The reason for the post today is because I've started to explore dubstep, which is a genre I've not given much attention before.  I know dubstep gets a lot of scorn, for reasons I won't go into here, but as a genre there are some very interesting things that have been done since its start in 1999.  There are some amazing uses of the "drop bass" and syncopation done at faster tempos.  I'm finding it very inspirational in terms of thinking of rhythms in new ways!

Now, I don't recommend dubstep for everyone, and some of you might hate it outright, but my point is that if we want to grow as musicians, as artists, we need to be exposed to more things.  Stuck in a solo rut?  Listen to a new music genre.  Stuck in a compositional rut?  Learn the basics of a martial art or dance form (YouTube is great for this). 

I'd be curious to hear if anyone reading this does discover a new art form that inspires them, so please let me know!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Question Everything: How good are you, really?


It's a really difficult question to ask...

First, whom are you asking?  Are they qualified to tell you?  Are they biased?  If you ask your parents, you might get a very different answer than if you ask your teacher(s).  Are they likely to dodge the question rather than answer it bluntly?  Most teachers I know would, at the very least, soften the critiques and highlight the positives - but is that an accurate picture of what they think of your abilities? 

If you ask someone who's only seen you a few times, you might get a much more honest answer, but they also have less context to judge you on .  If you ask someone who's watched you for years, the opposite might be true.  Which is better?  And what if the comments are unsolicited?  Do they have more or less weight?

Second, how did you phrase the question?  Because it's not an easy question, the more you qualify it, the more likely the results are affected, but that's not necessarily a bad thing .  For example, asking "Am I any good?" is a very open-ended question, which can let people pick what they want to focus on - your technique, your attitude, your solos, etc.  Asking "On a scale of 1-10, where would you say my striking technique on naname is?"  will get you a much more specific answer, but doesn't address all the other ways of striking, your form, your energy, etc.

Third, are you open to hearing the answer?  If you're thinking you're great and you hear "you suck", will you disregard what you heard?  Or the opposite, if someone tells you "you're great" but you think you suck...?  Will you take the comments at face value?  Do you know how that person gives feedback?

Some people need to really know you well before they're honest with you, some people will tell you what they think you want to hear, some people will be cryptic in their responses - how do you interpret that data?

Finally, what will you do with the information?  Are you looking for what you need to work more on?  If it's something you've heard before, will that make you more or less inclined to act on it?  Are you fishing for compliments to the point where the critique just becomes "noise"?  Are you going to remember what you heard in a week's time?

The answers to these questions are going to be different for each of us.  But what I've found in my experience is that the people that are truly good at what they do - regardless of the art - also have a REALLY good understanding of what their strengths and weaknesses are.  My theory is that the question of "how good am I?" is something they heard from teachers before, but is now something they ask of themselves, again and again.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Recovering gracefully


So I came a story the other day: 

Erin Hazler was used to running in the back of the pack, but this race was different.

She struggled for most of the Indianapolis 15K, and when she rounded the last turn, she recalled, she saw to her horror that she'd taken so long that the awards ceremony had already begun — a few feet from the finish line. Just when she thought the embarrassment couldn't get any worse, one of her friends started screaming her name. Her other friends took up the cry, raising their arms to form a victory arch for her to run through.

"You must have a lot of fans," the announcer said gamely, and dozens of people turned to Hazler, waiting for her to say something — anything — in reply.

"Take that, fast people!" she screamed in jest, and the crowd erupted in laughter.

Now I've talked a LOT in my blog about failing, about growing because of failure, and how fear of failure is worse than failure itself.  Ok, but what do you do WHEN you fail?  Notice I said when, and not if...  ;)

Maybe you drop a bachi - maybe you break one!  Maybe you have a set solo and clearly get off.  Maybe you fall down!  They've all happened to me and I've seen them happen to others.

Honestly, I think the only way you get better at dealing with a fail is through experience in failing, but it's not like you build up a tolerance per se.  Instead, you're able to keep calm and make more thoughtful or rational decisions, which might translate to the audience as quick thinking.

One thing you can do while you wait for your next fail is mentally go through the steps of what you'd do when it does.  So you're soloing and one of your bachi explodes into a cloud of microscopic wood particles.  Atoms.  How will you solo with just one bachi?  No, really, think about it - do you just do your normal soloing and pretend?  Do you put one hand behind your back?  Do you start doing more movements with your now-free hand?

Or let's say it's something really unlikely but possible, such as your naname drum falling off the stand and being flat/horizontal on the stage.  Maybe you scramble to lift the drum back up on the stand - nothing wrong with that.  But maybe you kneel and play the drum as it is, not trying to hide the fact that something terrible just happened, and instead embracing the situation as best you can (putting it back up after your solo is over, haha).

And finally, the biggest factor that will help or hinder you is your mindset.  Are you the type to panic at the thought of dropping your bachi?  Are you going to freak out when the lights go out on stage?  Will you grimace when you realize you have two different bachi to play your piece with?

Lemons from lemonade!

Monday, September 21, 2015

New Song Diary: Momentum for two


In November, SJT will be doing a Works In Progress (WIP) mini-concert for donors and special guests. at our studio.

The idea is not to present a finished or even completed song, but a section or snippet.  For the audience it could be a lot of fun, but for the composers it takes a lot of the pressure away to make a song and get to focus on composing a song.  From there, some of the WIP pieces might get green-lighted to be completed for our Spring Concert.  If not, they can still be worked on if the composer desires.

For this WIP, I have two songs lined up.  One is the piece I've talked about for a couple of years now - left hand playing a non-stop straight beat between the left and center drums, while the right hand plays patterns.  It's a very simple concept that really challenges the hands and brain.  The other song is a hybrid of two pieces I never got traction on - one being a katsugi okedo piece that focuses on chops and musicality, the other being on naname and playing facing the head flat-on striking in an x-form.

Workshopping both pieces has been really successful, if not always easy for the people playing the parts...

For the first piece, which I'm calling "the pod piece" for now, I'm aiming to do about 1.5 to 2 minute's worth of material, showing how I up the tempo in a sneaky way, throw some patterns, get some soloing, but this one is definitely the piece I'm still trying to develop a mood for.  Do I go a little silly?  Do I go a little rock-and-roll feel?

For the second piece, which I'm calling "the hybrid piece", I definitely have the mood of the piece I want, and I figure I should aim for the same amount of time by November.  Throw some patterns, soloing, and see how people take to it.

With both pieces, I have to constantly remind myself that I'm not WRITING A SONG by November.  I'm just doing "songstuff" for now.  It's weird for me not working towards a definite, finished project, but it's a good way to compose without too much pressure!

Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Controversy


Most of us play taiko.  I think that it's really hard to play taiko without passion, which means taiko players are in general, passionate people.  When we see something about our passion that offends or disturbs us, it's easy to come at things, well, passionately.  But often, it can make things worse.

My last post was about the thread in the Facebook's Taiko Community group and some of the points I brought up.  Recently there was another post about groups in North America that exclude non-Japanese players.  I took umbrage at the premise because it was put up as something that's common in North American taiko and something that our community is ok with.  A subsequent reply, much later in the thread talked about Americans being "ignorant" and I called that one out as well.

But I'm not here to have a pulpit to show why I'm right and blah blah blah.  What I'd much prefer is for people to take a breath, take a step back, look at the thing that bothers them, look at how their argument will sound when put into words, and realize that in many cases, context matters a LOT.

I realize that's a lot to ask - if more people did that in society, we'd have a happier life!  I admit I still have to work on this at times too, especially when I'm feeling really rant-y, haha.

Some of the arguments I see or hear have some pretty serious fallacies in them.  It's both from my ornery nature and a background in debate that I get involved in these discussions and threads.  Sometimes I do feel a certain way, but more often than not I just want to point out when a "fact" is just an opinion, or one persons experience doesn't mirror someone else's.  I want people to look at their arguments from a position of objectiveness and ask, are things really as bad as they seem?

I don't want anyone to feel an issue important to them isn't important.  I don't want anyone who wants to have a discussion to feel their topic isn't worthy.  I only hope that the loudest voices in the room aren't the ones that garner the most attention, that logic can have an equal place with passion when issues are brought up.

Now, what will the next controversy be?  Any takers?  :D

Monday, September 14, 2015

Posture



Nothing makes you more aware of your posture than tweaking your back.  So while making sure I didn't make it worse, I've been thinking a lot more about posture.

It's not so much just "how do I move without hurting myself", because that's a given, ha.  Instead, it's looking at the alignment of people when they perform, being aware of my own tendencies when I move, etc.

In karate, I know/have been told I often have a forward lean when punching.  I've been trusting my eyes to inform me of my posture, but they only see a tiny bit of me at any given time, mostly my fist in front of me..  And I'm trying to reach my imaginary target, which is causing me to lean forward and/or twist more than I need to in order to accomplish this.  Lately I've been working on feeling my technique instead of relying on what I see.

I can look ahead in the mirror, but that doesn't catch the forward/back alignment I need to work on.  If I turn sideways, I can't do the technique right while looking 90 degrees, either.  Also, at this point, I know what the issue is, so having someone tell me I'm doing it isn't helpful.  I have to start being able to feel what the proper posture is and recognize when I deviate from that.

Looking at posture in taiko is something worth taking time for, as well.  I see a lot of shoulders that hunch forward, butts sticking out, torsos curved/leaning forward, and/or torsos tilted to the side (especially in naname).  In many cases we as taiko players have the *ability* to see ourselves in a mirror (when there are mirrors to be had), but it seems we often have trouble *actually* seeing these things as well as adjust visually.  Just what is your skeleton doing?

How important is posture?  It's often that the posture is a result of something at work you don't want, things like tension, or over-extension, to name a couple.

The solution?  If you don't have any idea how your posture is, ask someone to take a look at it.  Maybe even a couple of people.  Ask them to look for tension, curves, and angles that don't need to be there.  If you don't have people, use a recording device and play something while recording from the front, then side, then back.  Be critical.  Be honest.

If you just try to play normally and adjust, it's going to be really hard.  Because what you're used to will be where you return to.  Instead, start from a position of good posture, relaxed, and play slower, softer.  Make the priority to stay in this "better" position and note how it feels.  From time to time, keep starting in this position and really focus on how different things feel.  It might take time, because if you're not being vigilant, you'll revert without realizing.

Is it worth it?  I can tell you that the better your body is in alignment, the easier everything else is in the long run.  So that's probably a "yes" then...


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Video: Madonna and taiko



THIS video was posted in the Facebook Taiko Community group.  Not all of you are members or go there often, but a really interesting discussion got started.

Essentially, for either a music video or concert tour, several dancers are being taught the basics of taiko (and flamenco).  The thread had people saying things ranging from that they didn't like it to that this isn't taiko to commenting on cultural appropriation.  After watching the video myself, I made a few comments that got a lot of "likes", and wanted to post those comments here.

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"This thread/video touches on something I've pointed out to people in the past: If the taiko community wants to see MORE taiko out there, garner MORE attention and get MORE popularity, then we can't in the same breath be upset or shocked when it leaves "our" hands, "our" control.
 
The art form has to either have freedom to grow - which means seeing and hearing things people don't like, or be protected and held tight - which leads to isolation, maybe even stagnation.

I'm not coming at this from one side or the other, just noticing this push-pull dynamic from the taiko community that may never (should never?) settle."


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"So here in this video we have a group of dancers trying to learn how to play taiko. They're not claiming to be taiko players. And there are those among us who say "I don't like it." That's fine. But when people say "that's not taiko," you open yourself up to the fallacy that taiko - the art form - can be defined. It can be described, but not truly defined, because it's growing constantly and people are doing stuff with it that we may never know about.

It goes back to the argument of "what is taiko?" which is a trap in itself. Who gets to define what taiko is to another? If Kodo plays Monochrome on phone books, is that taiko? If a group of Caucasians buy Asano drums and only get instruction from watching other groups play on YouTube, is that taiko? I'm not asking anyone those questions specifically, but I do ask everyone to be careful with labeling some taiko as "not taiko" when it's simply "taiko you don't like."


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"Something else to consider is that we are all beginners at some point when it comes to taiko. For Madonna, she happened to want to use taiko and flamenco in her video - and maybe flamenco artists are saying the same thing that we are when they watch this video?

But consider this: there are a lot of taiko players out there that may never move as well as the dancers in this video, but maybe have better striking technique or better ki. Does that make them better or worse as taiko players? Also, maybe there are videos of us that other taiko players see and those players are thinking similar things about *us*!

Think back to the first few taiko lessons you had. Would you be embarrassed to have that broadcast to the world? Maybe the dancers felt awkward but this is their job - to sell it as best they can. And they look better than I did when I first played taiko for the first time, lol.

If we instead think all of us are beginners, if we instead look at taiko as an art form full of potential, we can still say "I don't like this" and yet still see how there are positives to be had.
"


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There's a lot of topics in there that I might focus on in future posts, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on my thoughts or the video, or both!