Monday, September 12, 2016

Western Notation

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In taiko, most songs and patterns are taught by rote (repetition), by kuchishoga (vocabulary of notes), or even by online videos.

Western notation is sometimes overlooked as a tool or thought of as making the learning of taiko as "less authentic".  I find it to be an invaluable skill, despite its limitations for taiko.

I can't write a new song on a sheet of paper and hand it to my group for them to play, because most people in the group don't read notation.  But I can give it to a few people outside of practice who do read music for them to try things out.  I can also put my ideas into notation software like Sibelius for me to hear patterns played back and then tweak things around.  This helps for when I want to present something not-written to the entire group, because I'll have some of the kinks worked out already.

But even more important than teaching patterns with notation - in my opinion - is how it makes you think of music in a different way.

Knowing notation means having a better understanding of how patterns can sound totally different when just one note shifts a tiny bit earlier or later.  It gives an ability to see patterns in your head in a very specific way and that ability can help you craft more interesting patterns.

Having notation "in your pocket" so to speak helps when you have a pattern or song idea in your head that you want to capture.  Sure, you can record that on your phone, but sometimes you're in a place where you can't do that, like a business meeting or already ON the phone, and a quick scribbling is all it takes.

Finally, learning notation enough to be useful to most taiko players really isn't a lot of work!  There are a lot of online resources that will teach you the basics.  All you'll ready need is to know:

  • How to designate meter and what the numbers mean (4/4, 7/8, etc.)
  • Notes and rests (whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth and maybe thirty-secondth)
  • Dotted notes
And that's it!  There's extra stuff that can be useful like dynamics/volume indicators, marks for repetition, accented notes and the like, but since most taiko pieces don't have to worry about pitch, harmony, chord progression, etc., you can take the basics and do a lot with it.

It takes practice and a willingness to do it until it becomes useful, but you won't regret learning any of it.!

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