Thursday, March 31, 2016

Question Everything: Soloing and repetition

This is just something I've been curious about for a while.

Some taiko players, when they solo, often repeat patterns or measures.  Some hardly or never do.  Why is that?

I wonder how much of it is conscious choice vs. habit, for one.  Do some people use repetition to think of what to play next?  Or play different patterns because they're letting their hands/body play patterns without thinking of what it sounds like?

Also curious how much of it is due to the music a person listened/listens to.  Do people who repeat patterns listen to music that's more repetitive?  A lot of music is repetitive though, so what about people who don't repeat much in their solos, did they listen to a lot of soloing without it?

There's nothing wrong with either "style" of soloing, but it makes me curious why people pick one way or the other - or even if they do pick, and instead just default to whatever feels natural?

What about you, what do you prefer when you solo and why?  What about the rest of your group?  Again, there's no judging here, only observation and questions.  The more you know, the more you can grow!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Wrist snap

I've been thinking about wrist snap in striking a lot more lately.  There was a picture taken from one of our rehearsals that showed my bachi pointed almost directly back at me while playing downwards.  My first thought was that it was bad form, but in studying my strike, it's really just the combination of wrist snap and my fingers allowing the bachi to go where it wants.

For over a decade I've been holding our shime bachi with the end tip nestled in the palm of my hand.  It's weird that I do this because our shime bachi are on the longer side to begin with, so I'm getting a lot of extra reach (that I probably don't need).  I know for more demanding passages, I'll choke up on the grip and have more control, but my default is no choke at all.

Holding the bachi this way means there's less ability for the fingers to help control and generate power, but much more potential to generate power through wrist snap.  It's a trade-off.

I see a lot of taiko players with stiff wrists.  I'm not sure if it's a flexibility issue or a tension issue, but it's definitely an issue.  They're playing with a stick instead of with a whip.  Don't get me wrong, you can strike loudly with a stiff wrist, but you can strike louder with a relaxed one and it'll take a lot less effort!

However, it's not just about relaxing.  The wrist and surrounding muscles need to be strong in order to prevent injury.  I recommend things like those spinning wrist balls, squeeze balls, grip trainers, even bachi twirling and spinning to keep those muscles in shape!

Wrist snap makes it possible to play loud with less movement, play longer with less strain, and gives way more control over your strike no matter what your grip.  There's no test you can do to see "how much" wrist snap you have, but it's something worth taking a look at. Video, photos, mirrors - simply spending some time focusing on it might be the start of improving it, and who doesn't like improvement?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Spring Tour 2016: Over!

Well, it's been two weeks without a post, and that's because tour was a beast.

Normally, we get half a day or so to wander into town, or a day off, etc.  Not this time!  We savored every hour we didn't have to be doing tech/rehearsing/playing/driving, but there weren't many.

It was uneventful, as tours go - the shows went well but there were no major incidents in our out of the theaters.  The one unusual bit was for two back-to-back school shows, one of the theater managers played pop music for the kids to sing along to, which ramped them up considerably.  Usually people are trying to keep kids under control!  Still, both group of kids were well-behaved once we actually started playing, which is good.

Crowds were mostly reserved except for the first show in NC, who was used to seeing Jazz music, plus we had some taiko folks in the audience.  I could tell we had taiko players out there, because they have no shame in applauding after solos, haha.

After the second show in NC, a couple of Western percussionists were really curious about the left-handed grip on the okedo; funny what different people are interested in.

Now that we're back, we get right back into our home concert prep with 3 weeks to go!  That takes us right into another short tour and a second Bangerz collaboration, as well as another busy festival season through August.

Regular posts start up next week!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Spring Tour 2016

Back on the road!  It's a shorter tour this time, but one of the busiest.

We're performing concerts in Blue Bell, PA, Somerville, NJ, High Point, NC, and Wingate, NC.

For this tour, we're having to play back-to-back concerts in different cities/states, which means performing, packing, getting in late, leaving early, driving, and getting to a new theater for another show.  We'll be fine, but it's definitely not as comfortable as some tours have been.  We have no non-taiko days this trip; every day is in a theater and teching, playing, or both!

Still, it'll be fun.  We meet new people, expose taiko to new audiences, and perform the art we love.  I may or may not be able to blog much while we're out - maybe once or twice at the most - but I hope to have some good experiences to share when I get back.

...and then BAM, right back into our home concert prep!

Monday, March 7, 2016


The word "control" isn't one I hear a lot about in either of my arts.  Words like tension and connection and grip and adjustment come up, but rarely "control".

I've been thinking about this concept lately.  Are you "controlling" the technique , or are you "in control" of the technique?

I'll admit this is semantics, but I define "controlling" the technique as using too much strength, holding tension, gripping too tightly, etc.  I define "in control" as making micro-adjustments, staying loose, adapting on the fly, etc.

Control under the "controlling" mindset is often an illusion.  Being stiff and tense is a way to feel like there's a sense of command over your body or a technique, but is it really?  In karate, being stiff means you limit your speed, power, and are more likely to be off-balance.  In taiko, tension kills the sound quality and causes separation, both visually and in terms of striking efficiency.

Think of those that you consider a master of their physical art.  They're not stiff, they're not tight.  They aren't controlling their technique.  Odds are, they're fluid, efficient, relaxed.  They can move in and out, strike, and/or compensate for errors without thinking about it.  That's being in control of the technique.  And it's not just a matter of experience, either!  You can practice a technique poorly for years until you have an inefficient technique that you do "well."  Using tension during specific moments, using core strength instead of limb strength, etc., - this is why the masters are where they are.

It might feel like you have to give up control in order to get more control, but once you change your viewpoint of what control really is, you can then take steps to a better path!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Taiko Elevator

picture from

I made this analogy a while back and it's been interesting to think about it more deeply.

Imagine a person's progress measured as upward motion in a building.  How far up are you?  Where do you get off?  Why?  When do you get back on?  We're all in different groups, at different ages, learning in different ways, being taught in different ways.  Everyone's elevator is different.

Some people get on the elevator and take it up until they get off at a certain floor.  The floor may be the "Comfort Department" (where things are still easy enough to do) or the "Injury Department" (happens to the best of us), or even something like the "Teaching Department" (where personal growth is sacrificed to help others come up).  They stay there for a long time and other people may surpass them.

Some people get off at every floor and the elevator is in a different location on each floor.  They struggle but are determined to not only find the next elevator, but get to the next floor.  Others might have a much easier straight shot upwards with no floors to distract them for quite some time.  Sometimes the former people find the right elevator that takes them up many floors at once, sometimes the latter people stop on a floor and get frustrated trying to find the next elevator because they never had to before.

Some people have to take the stairs, at a much slower pace.  Others, the escalators.  Sometimes the floors seem like temporary stops as a person figures out what to do next, but become permanent whether by choice or not.

On occasion, a person might think they've hit the top floor, thinking their destination is done, but in reality there are many more floors yet to go through.  And at other times, a person might hit the end of a particular shaft and feel "done", but there's another elevator waiting for them if they take the time to look through that floor and find it.

Analogies can be made with the buttons, too.  If all the floors are pushed, progress will take quite longer.  Maybe that person wants to be thorough, but maybe they're being overly-cautious.  But someone who only pushes the top button(s) may find themselves at odds with the group's needs or overlooking floors they should be stopping on, to take food and bio-breaks (think of these as things like composing, teaching, supporting, networking, etc.)

This analogy isn't perfect, but it's a good one.  Where are you in your building, in your elevator?  How many floors have you gotten off at, and how long do you stay there?  Why did you get off?  How much further up can you travel?  Is that limit a real limit or the limit you've imposed?  Lots of questions, always lots of questions...