Monday, October 17, 2016

Soloing for the song, part 2

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So in this post here I talked about the idea of "sitting in the song" or matching the feel when you solo.

I find that at a certain level, musicians who "get it", get it.  It's definitely an advanced concept, coming from years of experience or an understanding of musicality, or both.  It's one thing to listen to a piece and know what you want to play that compliments or matches the song, but then to be able to actually play it, in the moment, with all the other factors to consider, that's not easy.

How do you get to that point?  Well first is to understand that there are differences in each song, each situation, each ji, that have different characteristics.  You don't even have to know what you'd play differently at this point, just have this awareness.  How does a straight beat sound, feel different from a swung triplet, or dongo?  How does a matsuri song sound, feel different from a complicated piece in an odd meter?  How does it feel to solo when everyone around you is playing a ji for you versus you playing by yourself in an empty room?  Recognizing and identifying those differences is step one.

Think of all the different music genres.  You might have a Hip-Hop bass line that would fit in time over a Country track because they're the same tempo, but will it sound "good"?  (Don't get me wrong, it might work, but you can't just put it in there and expect it to work, you have to really consider the effect.)  If we stick with taiko, look at a song like Miyake.  The solo is to a dongo, but the stance and style of the song shape (limit) what the solo is going to sound like.  Transplanting a line from something more festive, even in a dongo, may not be a very good fit.

Step two is to have self-awareness about what you're playing.  How similar do your solos sound to each other, once you look at them outside of a song?  In other words, if you think of your solos as audio recordings and then isolate the track that has only your notes, do they all start sounding the same?  If that's the case, you might be imposing your will on the song, instead of sitting in it.

Let's look at the example of having everyone playing a ji versus being by yourself.  With everyone playing, you can get away with just a few notes and it "works" because there's something under you, supporting you.  But when you're completely by yourself and only playing a few notes, it can easily sound empty, disjointed, uneasy - even if it's the exact same solo.  A solo without a ji is quite a difficult thing to pull off.  Most people will have at least something to solo along to, but you can use this concept to influence what you decide to do.  Eitetsu Hayashi gave us a workshop on odaiko solos and said something very interesting.  He said that when he's by himself on the drum and no one is playing ji for him, he will play his own ji and solo on top of that with accents and flourishes and what not.  That gives the audience cohesion and lets them come on the ride with you, a ride that you control.

Just imagine how complicated this gets when you're not the only person improvising!  That's a huge step up from soloing.  When do you take the lead?  When do you give it up?  When do you add a little something-something?  Are you playing at the same tempo as them?  Are you matching their mood as well as the song?  Are you still in the tempo of the song?  Are you sitting in the song or are you just playing whatever?  Not easy, but so rewarding when it works, trust me.

Like most skills, the biggest part of this one is awareness.  It's an awareness that you have to be vigilant about, lest habits take over and you're playing what you normally would play, without considering the situation or song.  It's not something to only worry about at the higher levels, because practicing it early on can only make you stronger the longer you're able to do it.  So start sitting!

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