Monday, January 12, 2015

Playing music


"Playing fast around the drums is one thing.  But to play music, to play with people for others to listen to, that's something else.  That's a whole other world."  - Tony Williams

Tony Williams was a jazz drummer who played with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, among many others.  His quote is good food for thought for us taiko players.

I've seen a lot of players with really fast hands.  And I've seen a lot of players who can pull off some fancy patterns.  But sometimes I get the feeling playing fast comes with a cost: playing musically.

Don't get me wrong, I love being able to play fast.  I push myself to play faster doro-tsuku and crossovers on the katsugi okedo, among other things.  And I feel like I'm still getting faster!  But when it comes to actually performing - soloing, mainly - I want to speak through my music, not overwhelm with it.

I want the option to create a wall of sound through a lot of notes, but I don't want that as my default.  I want to match the song, the vibe, the feel at the time to enhance what's already there.  Think of it this way.  I love hot sauce.  I put sriracha, Tabasco, Cholula, and what-have-you on most things I eat.  But I wouldn't put it in my cereal!  Nor would I want it on a Panna Cotta or a classic dish like a Beef Wellington.  If I was making a meal for others, I might add a bit of spice but I would take into consideration the people I was making it for and the kind of occasion it was.  It's not for everyone, it's not for every time.

One drill I have people do in my improv workshops is to give them a few bars of time to solo and a limited number of notes that they can play, say 4 to 8.  Soloing under that extreme parameter is actually really easy; you can just hit the drum 4-8 times whenever.  But to make that solo work, you have to put those notes in just the right places to make it sound musical.

Being dexterous and fanciful aren't bad things - better to have the ability to be that than not -  but without moderation and the ability to temper when to go there, they become habits that are hard to shake off down the road.

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