Thursday, June 30, 2016

Drill: Lights out

I might be wrong, but I would guess that the most active sense when playing taiko is the sense of sight.  There's so much visual input to take in and keep track of, even for those who wind up staring at the drums!  And then there's all that tactile, physical feedback from hitting and feeling the drum when you strike it.

But what about what you hear?  How much are you hearing?  What are you hearing?

If you ever get the chance, try playing with your eyes closed.  Especially your solo!  Now obviously you don't want to do this if your song involves a lot of movement, I'm not trying to get you hurt.  But if you can play parts of it (or the whole thing) while stationary, it will be a very different experience, trust me.

You can't see anything, so that frees up a lot of processing power.  At first, sure, you'll be a bit nervous, so this isn't something you just do once or for three minutes and get much out of it.  You need to get past the worry and get to the point where you can hear yourself.  And then, listen!  Really listen.  If it helps, don't play so loud at first.  Then add volume once you're convinced you're not going to kill yourself or the drum.

Does one hand strike louder than the other?  Are they the same tone or is one striking a different part of the drum than the other (in other words, is one hitting the center while the other strikes near the edge)?  Is there consistency to the sound and volume?

Here's the fun part.  If it sounds okay, make it *not* sound okay.  Change one hand position just a little and see if you can tell the difference.  Maybe you won't at first, maybe the drum head isn't sensitive enough, but you should be able to, eventually.  Now make it "better" again.  Experiment with this to train your ear to hear differences in sound, differences that you might not have noticed before.

To me, when I play shime and find the right spot to make my notes sound the same, it's such a rewarding feeling.  When it's not even, it's like an itch I can't reach or a smudge on my glasses.  The ability to adjust quickly and remain steady for an even sound is underrated and often overlooked.  Hitting the same tone on one drum with two bachi elevates how that player sounds.  Two different sounds, even moderately different, and it will never sound as clean, as polished.

So if you get the opportunity, I suggest trying this out.  I realize it's not always easy to get alone time on a drum, but at least be aware that this skill is something worth pursuing!

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