Monday, July 4, 2016

Soloing and improvisation

Been thinking about the difference between soloing and improv lately....

In taiko, I hear these terms used interchangeably, but it's really not a big deal.  People seem to understand the meaning based on context.  It's important to realize, however, that these are two different skills that can be totally independent of each other.

A solo generally means one person has all the attention.  The easiest example is being the only person on stage, but it could be a stage full of people where one person is the only one moving around or playing something.

Soloing requires the ability to "sell it".  All eyes (and maybe ears) are on you!  It might be a prescribed pattern that's dictated by the song or you could be improvising stuff, but in those moments, you represent the song, the group, and yourself.  No pressure!

To improvise (improv) is to make things up on the fly, out of the blue.  It doesn't mean you can't have done it before, just that it wasn't something set.

Improv can be in the movements, in the notes/patterns played, in your kiai, even in your expression and energy.  I'm guessing a lot of taiko players see improv as the thing they do during a solo, if they want to make things up.  But improv can happen outside of soloing, too!

When and what you kiai is often improvised, no?  Sure, some songs have it written in, but otherwise, you kiai when you feel it's right.  That's improv.  And in some songs, say something like Matsuri or a more casual piece, if you embellish what you play on narimono or assorted percussion (like chappa, kane, chekere, etc.), that's improvised.  Same if you do it on a shime or any other instrument, really.

A lot of taiko players seem intimidated or nervous when it comes to doing solo work or drills.  Partially I think that stems from not having a large repertoire of things to pull from, but also from the pressure of thinking "I need to make things up on the spot".  But realize that a solo doesn't mean you have to improvise, and you're probably already doing a lot of improvisation you hadn't realized in songs you've been playing!

Play a pattern from a song that fits the ji you're soloing in.  Pressure gone.  Embellish a bit, expand on it a bit.  What can you do from that?  Next thing you know, you're improvising more and more and hey, it's not such a big deal!

Stand in front of a mirror and just look.  Make faces.  Pose.  Move around, but keep looking.  There's your biggest critic, and you're doing ok, right?  If you can "sell it" to yourself, then you can "sell it" to the audience.

It may still not be easy to solo AND improvise, but at least you can look at them as two different skills, two things to work on at your own pace instead of one big insurmountable problem.

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