Monday, May 16, 2016

Working on rhythm

Taiko players spend time working on sequence and form and spirit and improvisation and endurance and strength and group dynamics and percussion, to name a few things, but when was the last time you put on headphones and really listened?  Not just to taiko, but to music in general?  When did you last listen to music for the sake of improving your sense of rhythm?  You wouldn't think that you'd learn to play faster without practicing, right?  Then how would you expect to be more rhythmically robust without working at it?

For the most part, someone can teach you how to move in a certain style, make certain shapes, and learn a sequence of movements. You can also be taught how to emote, how to project energy and intention. And you can learn how to strike more efficiently, faster, louder, and for longer under someone's guidance.

But there's one area that I find is really difficult to teach to someone, and that's how to feel rhythm.  Issues can range from having trouble feeling a count of 4 or 8 naturally all the way up to syncopation in odd meters.  At a certain point, everyone has issues, no matter how good they are.

My point isn't that if you're having issues with rhythmic things, that you're out of luck, no.  It's that you really can't look to others to help you out here.  Is it possible?  Sure.  I do think that learning new songs can help increase one's exposure to new rhythms, but how many taiko songs will you learn vs. how many you listen to on the radio/CD/mp3/streaming?  I also know that listening to other people in your group solo starts to shape how you play rhythms, but is that always a good thing?  In my opinion, the best (and maybe only) way to improve your sense of rhythm is self-study.

Sometimes all it takes is listening to the downbeat, the pulse, on a passage that's tricky or complex for you.  Try focusing on one aspect, one instrument of a song to understand it, really feeling how it fits in with everything else.  Then do it again.  And again.  Then listen to a different part of the same song.  Repeat.

Practicing through focused listening isn't just good for learning how to feel rhythm and keep an internal ji, it's also good to expand your rhythmic vocabulary.  Someone who listens mostly to Funk is going to have a more expansive repertoire of rhythms to pull from than someone who listens mostly to a lot of Easy Listening, right?  Not judging either genre, but as taiko players, rhythm is good for us!  So listen to more music, explore different genres.  Seriously, this is such a powerful tool that anyone with the internet has at their disposal. 

I'll end this post with a few songs that I spent many hours listening to.  Not in total, but each.  They may be of little interest to most of you, but who knows, something might inspire you in the way it inspired me!

Art of Noise, "Beat Box"
Art of Noise, "Close to the Edit"
Nine Inch Nails, "Ringfinger" (from 4:05 on)
Overseer, "Skylight"
Primus, "The Awakening"
Hideki Naganuma, "Humming the Bassline"
Pulse: A STOMP Odyssey "Les Percussions de Guinee"
Sanford and Sons Theme
Two Steps From Hell, "Army of Drummers"
Zatoichi, "Festivo"
Dave Brubeck, "Unsquare Dance"

Annnnd that's enough for now.  Enjoy!

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