Thursday, May 28, 2015

New Song Diary: Fingers crossed

In about a month, SJT is giving some time for people to workshop new song ideas with the group.  I've had an idea for a piece in my head for several years now; something I've introduced to the group four times over the last 3-4 years.

It's a fun idea but I haven't been able to figure out what to do with it - hence it being in limbo for four years.  But now I'm giving it a lot of development time and coming up with new patterns and directions, and now that I've committed myself to a date (not performing, just re-introducing), I have motivation for making something happen.

I think this is going to be a difficult song but also fun...once your brain stops screaming at your hands, that is.  I don't want to write it to be difficult, but the nature of the song prevents it from being easy, so...

If things take off and I pursue a composition with these ideas, I'll post some of it on here for your amusement.

Wish me luck!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Building confidence

One of the questions I get asked the most is, "how do I get more confidence?" when playing taiko.

I sometimes talk about how to "sell it" by "faking it", which requires some acting chops and an ability to focus on intention.  But there is another way to gain confidence: repetition.

Do the same thing over and over and you will get more comfortable at it.  If you don't feel comfortable playing songs, practice them over and over until you know them inside and out.  A lack of confidence usually comes from fear of making mistakes - take the fear away, and confidence has room to grow.

While it's best to practice with the group on the actual equipment you're to play, you can practice anywhere.  You can do it in without gear, just going through the motions.  You can close your eyes and visualize yourself doing it if you're serious enough.  You can sing the song through while doing the dishes, even.

Not confident with solos?  Set them.  Unless you're soloing in 12 brand-new songs for a show, odds are you can script solos for the songs that have them, and practice them like you would the song.  Less to think about, less chance to make a mistake, less fear.

Even with a ton of practice, time is going to be the biggest factor.  The more months/years under your belt, the more confident you'll be.  But if it's an issue you face now and you want to work on it, then you have on it!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

White Truffle Oil

I watch a lot of cooking-based reality shows.  Some of them have professional chefs while others feature amateur cooks.

Every now and then the amateurs will have access to some really fancy ingredients such as caviar, lobster, black truffles, saffron, etc.  Some of the cooks will go nuts with access to these fancier items, which almost always backfires.  They tend to either use nothing but the fancy stuff which means there's no real substance to the dish, use an ingredient so much that it's overpowering, or mask a fancy ingredient so much with other seasoning.

White truffle oil is an ingredient that marketing has elevated to "high quality" but is seen by a lot of chefs as perfumed garbage.  Still,  that marketing makes many people want to use it, which then can poorly affect - if not ruin - a dish.  The failure is in the idea that one ingredient will make the dish good, when it's how you use all the ingredients and where the balance is.  It's funny to watch judges watch a competitor grab the truffle oil, because they can't hide the look of worry and/or dread at the anticipation of having to taste it.

This is also something that happens with taiko compositions.  As in, there's so much you can do with a brand-new song idea!  So many ingredients!

Let's take meter, for example.  You can have a 4/4, or common time meter (white rice) to 7/4 (risotto) to 3/8 over 9/4 (lavender-infused dehydrated rice "essence").  Now, that rice essence, whatever that is, might be damned interesting when done well.  But will you want to eat it all the time?  Think about how many times you've had something over rice.  The rice isn't exciting - and doesn't need to be - but it gives a solid base to showcase the other flavors and textures on top of it.  Also, you can put nearly anything on top of plain white rice, where as infused rice essence is pretty limited in what you can pair with it.  If it's not done really well, then the entire dish could be unappetizing.  

Let's also take movement.  Staying stationary behind/next to the drum for the whole song is like iceberg lettuce.  Arm movements in simple shapes (up, down, circles, etc.) would be romaine lettuce.  Moving around a bit but with simple-to-moderate difficulty would be microgreens or arugula.  Bachi twirls and flips, intricate poses, complex choreography - that's like having a kale/chard hybrid with a Meyer lemon infusion.  Just like the paragraph above, think about the salads you've eaten.  Would you want a whole bowl of the fancy-strange stuff?  More likely you'll appreciate that in a smaller size  and enjoy the simpler greens as the base for your meals.  You may learn to appreciate the unusual new flavors, but a bowl full of them overwhelms the palate and becomes unappetizing.

I love all the creativity in new pieces, but sometimes it feels like the focus is about the attention-grabbing moments which, when sprinkled liberally throughout a piece, lose their punch and become so much "noise".  Moments are powerful when they are moments...and not minutes.  Simplicity is underrated as a vessel to showcase the truly cool stuff in a piece.  This is just my opinion, but hey, it's also my blog.  :)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Drill: Dongo switch

I'm a big fan of drills that work hand independence and/or dexterity but don't also require a need to learn complicated patterns.

Here you'll see two short versions of this drill that I call the "Dongo switch".  It isn't meant to be a sequence you need to memorize, it's just the idea of how to change up a basic pattern.

The idea is simple: keeping the dongo beat the same, you play it with different sticking rather than the usual R, L R, L R, etc...

The one sticking that I recommend trying is doubling one of your hands.  For example R, R L, R R, L R, R L, etc.  In the video, you can see me doing this slowly in the first run then double time in the second.  You don't need to switch back and forth between doubling the right then the left; stay with one sticking for a while and feel free to stop before switching to another sticking.

You don't need a metronome (but it can help), and it's good to start slow!  There's two things you can get out of this drill.  One is improved dexterity, as your hands learn to play things differently, hitting notes in repetition with the same hand.  The other is the ability to feel dongo in a different way than you may be used to.  It's a way to take something you already know and expand your perceptions.

You can do this with a straight beat as well, but I like the groove of dongo.  If you like this drill, let me know!  Also, I'm going to try uploading my videos unlisted to YouTube for a while and see how that goes.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Ever get bored of taiko?

Maybe you don't want to go to practice, maybe you don't want to play "Taiko Song XYZ" for the millionth time, maybe you feel like it's same-ol' same-ol' yet again.

Well, you're not alone.  We're all humans (well, I'm assuming most of you are) and when you do something long enough, it's pretty normal to get bored of it.  It's what you do next that matters.

There are three schools of thought which can sometimes be at odds, but not always:

  • Beginner's Mind (or, "There's always something to learn!")
This is the idea that no matter how long you've been doing taiko, no matter how long you've played the same song or the same drill, you can find something to improve.  And it's very true!  If you think you're "the shit" and have nothing left to improve on, I can give you a list of 50-60 taiko players that will find something, don't you worry.  There's ALWAYS something you can work on.

That doesn't mean that by focusing on a few points, you'll magically be "un-bored".  Sometimes focusing on a specific concept or section (like being relaxed or staying light on your feet) helps you practice your art in a different frame of mind.  It can help keep you from "business as usual" and prove refreshing and/or challenging.

  • Find a Distraction
Sometimes your brain and/or body needs to do something else.  It's why a lot of people find taiko conferences/gatherings so refreshing.  You learn new things, you hear new things, you may even hear old things said in new ways.  It can be rejuvenating!

Cross-training can also be very effective, keeping you from doing just one set of motions over and over.  I do karate and taiko, some do dance and taiko, some do sports and taiko, etc.  Finding what's common and what's different in your activities can also help keep you from getting bored.

  • Take a Break
Time off can be both the best thing and the worst.  It can be a vacation for your brain and body, letting you have time and space.  You may find that you miss being at practice, talking to the people, all the fun you had there.  And when you do return, you find that you appreciate some of the things that you took for granted before.

On the other hand, I know a lot of people that take a break or a sabbatical, and find other things to do with their time, never coming back!


The one thing you can't do is expect the group to make you excited again.  It might happen with a new song or show or direction, but if you expect it from the group, resentment is sure to follow.

So if this happens to you, and you find yourself bored, what steps will you take to make things better for you?  Just get to play taiko!  How.  Cool.  Is.  That?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Question Everything: Power


We all have our own idea of what that word means.  We all have different visuals in our head when reading that word.  The word can mean two (or more) different things at the same time: "the power of the sun" can mean that we get amazing amounts of solar energy, that it makes life possible, that the heat up close is immense, etc.

What is power then, when it comes to taiko?  What does it mean to you when you say taiko is powerful?

Does strength = power?

Do bigger people and bigger muscles mean a bigger noise?  How many powerlifters have you seen playing taiko?  There are definitely some ripped taiko players, those who rigorously work out to maintain excellent physique.  How much strength does a person need to be "powerful" on taiko?

Does intensity = power?

Most of us have seen taiko performances where the players are almost screaming at the audience with a direct, vocalized energy.  And there are other performances (taiko and otherwise) where people are putting out a tremendous amount of sweat because of the sheer physicality of their movements.  Are these forms of intensity powerful?  Is intensity of spirit or effort the same as power?

Does precision = power?

A taiko player whipping their body around and nailing a solid hit is an example of precision.  An archer hitting bulls-eye after bulls-eye is also precision.  Are they both powerful?  What about someone throwing darts and hitting their mark again and again?  Is there power in the act of being so precise?  What about power in "raw-ness", or a lack of precision?

Does volume = power?

Imagine the biggest drum you've ever seen.  So loud that even a first-timer striking it would make the loudest sound you've ever heard on a taiko.  Is that power?  What about a group playing a song at full volume for a few minutes, creating this almost-palpable sea of sound?  Powerful?  Why?  Can there be power in something quiet?

Does skill = power?

Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were phenomenal dancers.  Would you call them powerful?  Penn and Teller are amazing entertainers, but are they powerful?  What about some of the best ballet dancers?  Does their physical skill equate to power?

Does speed = power?

Okedo crossovers are fun to watch, if a bit of a party trick.  Does playing them fast mean playing taiko powerfully?  If someone can play don tsuku steady at 300bpm, is there power in that?  (Granted, something will catch on fire, but you get my question.)  I've seen people solve a Rubik's Cube in under a minute, but is that a display of power?


So what makes taiko powerful?  Is it a combination of these attributes?  Is it something not found in them?  Ultimately, the question is an exercise in exploring things you might take for granted.  If you're able to recognize why something is powerful, then you have a better chance at creating it yourself and passing that same feeling on to others!

Thursday, May 7, 2015


I've been in a large number of workshops.  I've taught a decent amount of workshops.  And for the majority of both, usually the person/people in charge teach either what they are good at teaching, and/or what they think the students need.  I think that's pretty normal.

Sometimes I've seen/led workshops where the question is asked: "what do you want to work on?"  This is generally a good question, as long as the instructor(s) isn't asking because they don't know what to teach.

But a question I'd like to see asked is, "At your level, what do you think you should be working on?"  And I'm asking that of you.

It's different than asking, "what do you want to work on?", because people like working on all sorts of things.  Maybe someone brand-new wants to work on songs waaaay above their ability, or learn an instrument their group doesn't play for the purposes of incorporating it.

It's different from saying "this is what I think you should work on," because often people teaching a workshop have no idea of the skill level or ability of the people in their workshop.   It can also lead to a player not thinking so much what they need, and instead rely on others to tell them.

Asking yourself what you should be working on, at your level of ability and at your level of experience in the group your in makes you really stop and think.  What are my weaknesses?  What does the group need from me?  Where should I be focusing my attention?

Sure, there's definitely fun to be had in learning things that don't directly benefit the here and now.  And of course, sometimes taking workshops that you know are above your level really push you in ways that open your eyes.

The path we take in our art will always have twists, turns, bumps, and detours.  But if you know what direction suits you best, a lot of things can be avoided - or detoured to - to make your journey not only productive, but enjoyable.  Sometimes you just have to stop and recognize where you honesty are on the map and go from there!

Monday, May 4, 2015

NATC 2015!

Are you going?

So this year I'm not teaching any workshops, and will be going as an observer instead of a participant.  Some workshops interest me but I may very well wind up in the marketplace or getting a bite to eat with people I haven't seen in a while; I've done that before!

I've found that the workshops I enjoy the most tend to be less about possibly interesting topics and more about the skill of the teacher.  With a really good teacher, I can attend a workshop on a song/drill that I "know" and see things in a very different way - and sometimes pick up some great ideas on teaching! 

I'm looking forward to some of the possible Discussion Sessions, because there could be a couple of really impactful ones, but I don't want to say anything in case they don't pan out.  Fingers crossed!

I kind of know what to expect overall going to NATC, because I've been to so many of them, but it's a new venue (Vegas), under a new umbrella (TCA), and I'm able to wander around and help out as needed.  In a way, it's going to be a very mellow weekend, even though I'm sure there will be a lot of socializing and catching up with a lot of people!  And it also means taken more pictures than I will care to sort through and post on FB afterwards, heh.

So I hope to see a lot of you there, and as usual, if you read my blog and find it useful - or have ideas for future posts - come let me know!  I really do appreciate all the support and readership over the years.

And don't forget the sunscreen!