Thursday, April 28, 2016

Question Everything: Allowing mistakes

Are you the type of person that lets other people make mistakes?

Say you've taught a drill or section and have someone play it.  They make some errors.  What's your inclination?  Do you try to correct everything you saw?  Tackle the bigger issues?  Let them figure it out on their own?  There's no "right" or "wrong" answer, but there are "better" and "worse" answers.  It really depends on context.

Does the person need to know everything they did wrong?  Is it too much information too soon?  Will they only get worse if certain things aren't addressed?  Which ones?  How do you prefer to receive information?  Is it the same way they prefer?  If not, can you modify it to make it better for them?

Another question is how much of a learning tool is making mistakes?  Some people will learn from them, struggle to get past them, even use them to help teach others later on.  If you take the opportunity away to let someone self-correct, are you depriving them of something?

If you can't wait to tell someone what they've done wrong, what does that say about you?  If you never feel like you have anything to comment, does that become a self-perpetuating mindset?

You probably shouldn't take glee in other people making mistakes, but if being given all the answers is akin to spoon-feeding and given non is like starving someone, how much is just enough?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Slow jams

I've written about the benefits of playing things slowly in the past.  But some new ideas came to me recently that I wanted to expand upon.

Try playing a taiko piece slow, slower than you're comfortable with.  How does it feel?  Yes, of course it feels slow, but are you feeling where the notes should fall, regardless?  Or is it making things more difficult because you're used to hearing it within a certain tempo range?

Slow training like this makes us appreciate and understand the relative space between notes no matter what the tempo is.  The tendency at a slower tempo is to either try to speed up to what's "comfortable", or to get even slower because the relative space is unfamiliar and there's nothing to lock into.

Getting comfortable with a slower tempo can be mental, in just not worrying about it and enjoying the difference, and/or physical in feeling the tempo internally, locking into that and trusting yourself.  But if neither one is there, you're almost guaranteed to be unsteady.

You might not actually want to play a piece slowly, but next time it happens, consider it a training drill.  Monitor how it makes you feel and after it's over, have that inner dialogue so it's something you can grow on!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Question Everything: In-between

After doing two concerts last Saturday then watching one of them on Sunday, I was thinking about writing a post on stage presence, but this topic came out of that one.

Most people and groups focus on the obvious things: better technical skills, more impressive movements, more energy output, even more unique or fun songs.  And that's totally fine!  But what sets people and groups apart sometimes even more than differences of any of those things is what they do in-between things.

Take a performance by any given group.  Ignore the songs.  What?  Yes, ignore them for now.  Look at what they do in between songs.  Look past what they want you to look at, even, as some groups will do a transition song or activity.  How are the other people moving the drums?  How much presence is there in how people move, how equipment is moved?

Take a song with multiple soloists.  After one person solos and another person begins, watch the first person.  What happens to their energy, their intention when they know the attention is off of them? What happens to their technique?  Is it consistent or does it wane?

Take even an individual solo that lends itself to larger movements/space between notes.  What are they doing between the hits?  Are they extended?  Tense?  Anticipating the next motion?  Do their hands jerk the body around or is the body controlling the hands?  Are they savoring the space between moves or seem to barely be keeping up?

What other in-betweens can you think of that could show a person's level of skill, or a group's focus?  Footwork?  Time?  Distance?  Kiai?  And what about your in-betweens; how do these questions all apply to you?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Rhythm Spirit 2016!

I'm writing this post in advance, as the concert is tomorrow and I know I won't have any time or inclination to write between then and Monday's post.  So this post will be read after the concert, but I'm referring to it in future tense.

I'm also going to keep it short!

Tomorrow's two concerts are sold-out, which is always a treat.  The energy from a home audience filling a theater is unbeatable.  We have 6 new pieces debuting (including one of mine) which is something we've never done before.

After the concert weekend, festivals start right away - Sunday, the weekend after, the weekend after that...  It'll be a big shift going from concert mode to festival mode, but it's still fun!

Maybe I'll have some major epiphany on stage to write about later this week, or maybe I'll just pick something random like a YouTube video to comment on.  Stay tuned!

Monday, April 11, 2016


One thing I really appreciate about both taiko and karate in my life is that they've taught me to be in the moment.  Present.

In karate, it's of course important in a partner drill, but even when doing basics or forms, this translates to taking in information and not being distracted by it at the same time.  In taiko, since we mostly play as an ensemble, you often have to constantly be doing something and aware of it at the same time.

This sense of being present can manifest as not letting my gaze travel to the side to watch someone else's form, not letting the mistake I made last time affect my confidence this time (because that was in the past), or maybe even allowing myself to enjoy the technique/pattern I'm currently doing and not thinking about what comes next.

Being truly present to me brings a condition of calm, relatively so when we're dealing with arts that involve repeated striking and loud noises!  If you're worrying about making mistakes, you're in the future.  If you're lamenting the mistakes you made, you're in the past.  There's definitely some skills that are required to be able to stay calm-ish, things like reaction time and mental acuity.  In other words, being able to process things and react quickly means you make less mistakes and have less issues in the past, as well as less to worry about coming up.  Also, in taiko, the more you're able to be present, the more your true self can emerge.

It is possible to be very present and overwhelmed, however.  Going back to what I said earlier, it's possible to be aware of lots of things and become over-burdened trying to process it all.  If that's something you struggle with, all I can say is you have to find priorities and learn to ignore the rest, as hard as it might feel at first!  Over-thinkers and perfectionists may have the most trouble truly being present, being at peace with whatever may come.

I credit being trained to be so much in the present with my ability to not get flustered at mistakes, to enjoy the feeling of the technique, to be able to focus on making improvements I want to work on, and to mentally "step back" and analyze my techniques as they happen.

Mind you, it's not always easy, and it's not always the state of mind you want to be in, but the more you're able to achieve this frame of mind, the more likely you are to find yourself in control when you need it the most!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Enjoying the hiradaiko

Today's post is just me talking about something I'm really enjoying

For our home concert this year, one of our pieces has me doing a ~3-minute odaiko solo.  I've played on odaiko a lot in concerts, and for songs much longer than 3 minutes, even with some soloing, but never just an odaiko solo.  But it's not just that that I'm happy about.

We're using our hiradaiko, a massive drum over 6' in circumference.  It's thinner than a normal odaiko, but that doesn't do anything to make it look or sound less amazing.  And the thing that I've really been enjoying is the sheer size of the head.

With most taiko, the "sweet spot" is a smaller circle in the center.  Hit outside (or inside) this area and you don't get the same tone or ring that you will otherwise.  It's all about vibration and harmonics.  With most odaiko I've played on, because of my broad shoulder width, I have to play with my arms held in more than I'd like, in order to hit that sweet spot..  With our hiradaiko, however, I can play with my arms straight out and be well-within that circle.  And it feels so good to play and not have to maintain a certain position of my arms, knowing my default strike is exactly where I should be hitting.

Add that to the serious BOOM of that massive drum, and I'm one happy camper.

Mind you, at the end of those 3 minutes, I'm happy it's not a 4-minute long solo.  Things start to hurt after 3...

Monday, April 4, 2016


I have to assume, if you're reading this blog, that you enjoy and maybe even seek out new things to learn.  But is learning only an additive process?  Do benefit only when we obtain more?

What about contradicting information, either from another source or your own discovery?  What about information that proves wrong after study or in practice?  How does adding that information alone make you better?  What if you simply learned something poorly, due to your limited understanding at the time?  Maybe you can fix it, but maybe it's better to simply unlearn it alltogether.

Sometimes the best way to learn is to reduce the chaff, or information that's not relevant anymore.  It's a freeing process.  Think of it this way.  If I teach you 10 new things, that's 10 new ideas you have to carry around and process on top of what you already know.  But if in teaching you 10 new things, we're able to get rid of 5 old ones that don't work for you anymore, that's essentially a net gain of 15 "things", just like as if I had taught you 15 to begin with.

For example, if your bachi are too big or too small for you, you have to learn how to deal with them.  If later on you learn what bachi are best for you, then stop using incorrect ones, you've come out with one new and one un-learned piece of information.

or some of us, we get to the point where we're not learning a lot of new stuff often and there's more benefit in dropping older ideas that don't apply than in seeking out just "more".  And for those who are overly-analytical in general, the more ideas you carry around with you, the more they weigh you down.  Streamlining yourself provides an excellent solution.

It's detrimental to learn new things that build on other inefficient, or incorrect things.  For example, if I learned how to strike but in a sloppy manner, and then learn how to play paradiddles or across multiple drums, finding a way to "unlearn" that sloppy striking doesn't mean I forget how to play paradiddles or on multiple drums.  It might mean having to fill in that gap on striking with newer, better information, but in doing so, it should make everything easier in the long run.  If I don't unlearn the "bad" stuff, what sort of foundation am I putting all the more difficult stuff on top of?

Essentially, this is really about self-evaluation.  It might be how you taught yourself to jump or spin, it could be how you learned to feel syncopation, it could be what you thought a "strong" solo was, etc.  What's weighing you down?  Only you can answer that!