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!

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