Monday, November 28, 2016

Nothing here to see!

Busy week and didn't have time to write a post, so instead, go to YouTube, search for taiko, and watch a group you've never seen before!  What do you notice?  What can you learn?

See you on Thursday!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving thanks.

A post on Thanksgiving?  Good time to reflect on gratitude.

I've posted about this before, so I'll keep this one short.

Next time you go to practice, be grateful you found something you enjoy doing, something that makes you happy that you *can* do.

Next time you strike a drum, be grateful for the animal, the tree/plant, and the earth that made that drum possible.  Be thankful for those who assembled it so that you could play it.

Next time you play a song or drill, be grateful for the group that made what you're doing possible.  If you're a leader of the group, be grateful for the dedication and sweat of the people that populate the group.  If you're a member of the group, be grateful for those that take care of the things you don't have to worry about, to make sure the group survives.

There's a lot of anger and fear out there right now.  Be grateful that you can bring some joy, some beauty into the world.

The more grateful you are, the more opportunity you have to make things better.  Think about it.

Monday, November 21, 2016


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 As taiko players, we know we have to listen to our rhythms to stay with the group, listen to the balance of front row vs. back row, listen to the quality of our strikes, etc.  But are we listening when people are teaching?

At my karate dojo, we have a student that is very eager to reply with affirmatives when he is given corrections.  He then likes to show us how he does it and explain why he is doing it differently.  But in doing so, in putting so much energy into replying, he is not listening.  And by not listening, he's not learning.  He's a bit of an extreme case of not listening, but this sort of thing happens everywhere, not just in a dojo or in taiko.

Next time you're in a group of people being given a lesson of some sort, if you can, look at the body language of the other people.  Are some of them just waiting to speak, to reply, to give their opinion (agreeing or contrary?) then they're not listening.  They're focusing their energy outward instead of receiving and taking IN information.

The thing is, I do it, you do it, we all do it.  Sometimes there are good reasons to do it.  But it should be intentional and not a default mindset.  Eventually you start missing out on valuable information when you're just waiting your turn to speak instead of taking it in, and eventually the people teaching you might give up on trying, since you're always keen on replying.  Some may even find it disrespectful, especially in an hierarchical pedagogy, like some traditional Asian arts (sempai-kohei styles).

Try recognizing when you feel the need to speak up and how long you hold on to that energy.  If it's three seconds, not a huge deal, but if you're waiting for a minute?  How much are you really able to absorb when your energy is set to project instead of receive?  Is is preventing you from getting better?  Is it creating a perception of you in others that isn't favorable?

Yes, I realize there's irony from one who writes so much to talk about listening.  I had to work at being a better listener myself, and I'm really glad I did just that.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


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How much are you comfortable moving your feet while you play?  Now, how much do you think that enables/prevents you from utilizing power or doing more things in your solos?

At our last practice, we did a workshop exchange with a local dance studio, The Get Down.  They taught us a short routine made up of different dance steps, then we taught them some taiko basics, then we had a bit of a jam/improv session.  It was a ton of fun to not just move differently, but to be encouraged to move in different ways than we're used to.

Now, SJT's style is not everyone's style.  We do a lot of lower body focus and foot activation to help us do what we do.  But even if that's not something you do when you play, having skilled feet and legs is extremely useful in playing taiko.

The more comfortable you are with balance, alignment, and shifting weight, the more you can relax while you play, even in a stationary stance.  Take a group like KODO, where you might see deep stances held for a long time.  You think they're not light on their feet?  You think they don't focus on staying relaxed?  I would go as far as to say that one of the reasons they can be so strong in their stances is because they focus on their lower body technique, including footwork.

Almost all really good taiko players I can think of are comfortable moving around, but the great ones - in my opinion - are also nimble and/or light on their feet.  Factor in age and flexibility, and you can see that most of those who have been playing for decades have this aspect even if they don't jump and spin and bounce around.

I've done martial arts for almost as long as I've done taiko.  It's been in different styles here and there, mostly karate.  The ability to move what I want, when I want it is something that benefits me to no end in taiko.  But it's more than just learning a new skill, it's also about comfort.

Most soloists prefer to stay behind their drum.  It's safe.  Some people dare to branch out and move around or away from the drum, but it doesn't always look natural - or even comfortable.  It's hard to practice moving around when you don't know what to do, when you only do it during your solo.  Just knowing where you *can* step, knowing how your feet *can* move, that's a potential huge boost to confidence.

And there's really only one way to do it...and that's to do it.  I recommend a basic martial art, boxing, or dance class, something that makes you use your feet in a different way.  It doesn't have to be a huge commitment, something once a month is still better than nothing never a month, right?

There's a wealth of skills out there that we as taiko players can really benefit from.  They're not always going to come to us, so we have to not just make the effort to go to them, but to be aware of them in the first place!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sometimes we laugh.

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Laughter is one of those interesting things.  We do it to bond with others, when we find something funny, to deal with stress, to express joy, and other reasons.

We're told sometimes to "laugh off mistakes".  Is that a good idea?  Yes, and no.  It does no one any good to dwell on making a mistake during a song or drill, because it tends to cause more mistakes down the line at worst and keep us unfocused at best.  But it's also at times all-too-easy to dismiss a mistake that needs to be addressed by laughing at it (even if you're only laughing on the inside).

Keep getting off in your solo?  Sure it makes it easier to be self-deprecating and joke about how awkward it was, doesn't make it easier for others in the group to try to stay solid when you're playing.  Maybe you keep forgetting the sequence of a song, and laughing about it makes the mood lighter, but you're not helping you - or the rest of the group - until you can get it down.

Few things are black and white.  If you're humorless about a mistake, yours or someone else's, then you're just a big ball of stress and that definitely affects your playing and the group dynamics.  If you're always laughing about your mistakes, then things don't really matter and that definitely has an effect on your progress and how much the group can rely on you.

When something is funny, it's funny.  When you need to laugh, laugh!  But don't let humor become a blanket excuse to make everything ok, because that doesn't really help anyone in the long run!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Go play taiko.

It's two days after the election and almost everyone posting on my Facebook page is in various stages of grief.  I'm not going to make this a political post, but I do want to make it relevant.

Go play taiko.
  • Play for those who don't have a voice.
  • Play to bring joy to those who need it.
  • Play to represent your heritage.
  • Play to connect to what - and who - matters to you.
  • Play for those who can't.
  • Play and *be* in the moment, in the sweat, in the rhythm, in the beat.
I've said it before, taiko don't care who you are, where you came from, why you play.  They just want you to make a good sound.  So let's go do that.  Make some good sounds!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Submit your workshops for NATC 2017 now!

Today, Monday the 7th, is the last day you can submit workshops for NATC 2017.  The format is a little different this year, but it's not too late!  You have until 11:59 PST tonight to submit.

This year there are no single submissions; you have to submit either two or three workshops - or apply to teach one of the mini-intensives.  Details are at

Good luck!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Want to get better in your group? Practice alone!

Simply doing a thing usually makes you better at a thing.


Sometimes you're doing a thing way more complicated or laboriously than you need to, preventing improvement, or sometimes you hit a cap where you're just not getting better.  And sometimes, when you're involved in an art like ensemble drumming, all the other people around you make it hard to tell what you need improvement on!

Playing a song by yourself sounds weird, especially if it's other parts are missing.  But you get to hear yourself.  Are your strikes even?  Are they really?  You can slow down and speed up on your own, but if you have to play as if you were playing with other people - even though you're not - does it sound good?

It's easy to think "I sound fine" in an ensemble, because it's one big lump sum.  Sounds get rounded up in the group striking and edges are harder to hear.  Maybe it's not you hitting a slight bit behind everyone else, but how do you know it's not you?  Have you played to a metronome and know your tendencies?  Maybe it's not you playing weaker left hand strikes, but how do you know it's not you?  Have you played by yourself and listened to both hands, or better yet, have someone listening when it's just you to tell you?

In the ensemble, it's so easy to get caught up in the energy and movement and sounds and volume, but when it masks, or worse, enables poor technique, the only solution is to isolate yourself for some solo practice.  The last thing any of us wants is to be the person that makes the ensemble sound worse, while we think we're doing just fine...