Thursday, June 22, 2017

Winding down...

This blog has been active for a long time now.  Getting close to 9 years!

But all good things must come to an end, even if it's not entirely by choice.  I'm also finding that I'm starting to repeat myself on some topics, so maybe it's a good time to wind things down, take a retrospective at what I've written, and end strong.

I'm not ending with this post, oh no.  But the end  is on the horizon, wherever that horizon might wind up being.

If you've been reading, if you have questions or topics you'd like to see me address/rant on, now's the time to tell me.  I've taken more than a few suggestions over the years, and it's fun to see where an idea leads.  Maybe yours?

I don't think there will be a lot that's different for a while, just my usual rambling and pontificating about things that come to mind that I think might help others.  But stick with me for a little while longer, and I'll try to make it an enjoyable finish!

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Question Everything: What questions matter to you?

The questions you ask determine the answers you get.

I question everything.  It's not always endearing, but it's what I do.  And when I post under the "Question Everything" tag, I tend to pose questions and not try to give answers.  It's more than just because I know I don't have all the answers and want to remain mostly neutral.  It's because sometimes, the answers are less important than the questions are.  Sometimes, the exercise of thinking through the question leads to new ideas, new possibilities.  But even more important than that?  Knowing the right questions to ask.

Let's say you're watching someone play taiko and taking a look at their skills.  Do you ask "how could I make them better?"  "Am I better than them?"  "What can I learn from watching them?"  Maybe you ask multiple questions, which is good!  But think of the questions in this case, not the answers.

If you can look back at the questions raised your head, what do they say about your thoughts and motivations?  What kind of answers do they lead you to?  I'm not asking what answers you actually get, I'm asking what categories of answers open up depending on the questions asked.

So let's take the previous example above, watching someone play taiko.  If you're asking questions about how to improve their skills, how to make them "better" (whether or not you have the opportunity to do so), then your answers are going to be more specific, more focused.  But are they slanted towards a sense that you can improve on what you see?  Or that you want to show off how much better you think you are?  Which category do the questions you ask fall into?

Do you compare yourself to them?  Do you ask if you're better than them?  Are you trying to find reasons to put your own skills down?  Or maybe trying to find ways to make yourself feel better?

Are you trying to figure out what you can learn from someone when you watch them?  Are you focusing in one area that you think is the most important, possibly missing out on other, maybe even more interesting areas?  Are you looking for something you think you might see, rather than observe what you actually see?

I could go on and on, but you get the point.  Your mindset will tend to determine the questions you ask, and therefore, the kind of answers you'll receive.  So here's a scenario: someone who can't play fast patterns might watch someone who is really good at it.  This person figures that by watching the player's hands, they'll have a chance to figure out better technique.  And so they focus intently, until they see something that seems useful in the hands.  But what if the fast hands come from being relaxed, which comes from using the body more efficiently, from the core muscles to the lower body?  The answers lie there, not where the person is focusing on.  By thinking they can find the answers in a specific area, the questions are limited and provide limited answers.

There are a lot of ways this can go, and as humans we all have biases and blinders to deal with.  I just want you to realize that a lot of the conclusions you reach are a product of the questions you allow yourself to ask.  What about the questions you haven't considered, that other people might ask?  What answers are you missing out on because of questions you haven't thought of?

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

But I'm not tense!

Tension is your enemy.  And it's insidious, in all the places you're not aware of, creeping in often as soon as you turn your attention elsewhere.  It's even worse when you know it's there but can't get rid of it!

A few weeks back in the dojo, talking with a student about sparring, I told him that he was way too tense.  His response was, "but my shoulders aren't high up!"  That response took me aback a bit because it was a almost a non-sequitur at the time.  How did that matter?  But it did make sense, in that I understood what he meant...even though he was completely missing the point.

When I'm teaching at the dojo or working with people newer to taiko (or just our style of taiko), I'm often telling students to relax.  Sometimes it's as easy as reminding them to breathe!   One of the most visible signs of tension is when the shoulders are up too high.  If you've ever had a massage, you'll know there are a lot of sore spots on the upper shoulders and lower neck!  That's where tension likes to creep in, especially those of us who work on a keyboard a lot.

And this is what that student was getting at, thinking because his shoulders weren't scrunched up high, he wasn't tense.  Thing is, you can be tense no matter what position you're in, no matter what's up or down.  You can drop your shoulders and tense up to a painful degree.  If you want to be technical, unless you're lying down flat (and maybe even asleep), you're probably holding tension. Are you standing?  Well you'd collapse if you didn't hold some tension, so...

People may not feel tense, but the human body is great at compensating.  When something hurts, other muscles take up the slack.  When I hurt my back, my core muscles did a lot of the workload and I was told the strength of those muscles was the reason why the pain wasn't as bad as it could have been.  Stress is uncomfortable to the body, so think of it as a form of pain - and so the body will naturally try to compensate, so that you don't have to feel it.  Problem is, sooner or later, you *will* feel it, in soreness or injury down the line.  If you're younger, you won't feel it maybe for some time, but trust me, if you're ignoring stress now, you'll pay for it later.

So when you can, when you're practicing, instead of thinking, "am I holding tension?" think instead, "where am I holding tension?"  Find it, at least some of it, and try to get rid of it.  Breathe, stretch, collapse, shake it out, whatever.  And you have to assume it's there, because if you're in any sort of stance, if you're moving your arms up and around, you have tension.  If you think you don't, unless your art involves you lying in a puddle on the floor, you're sorely mistaken.  And maybe just sore!

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Technique - the cause or the effect? (pt. 2)

I usually don't add to a blog post that I've just done, but after my last one, I've been thinking more about the idea of seeing the result of technique vs. the cause of it

When you watch someone do a really cool thing, it can inspire you to try that thing yourself.  "Wow, that jumping triple kick hitting all three targets was really cool!  I'm going to try it!  Huh, I apparently suck at it..."   Or maybe, "that guy played 5 different drums with overlapping strokes and really fast patterns, I can do that too!  Oh wow, I'm not hitting things well at all..."

That's human nature, after all.  We see, we love, we want to do.  And it's not to say you shouldn't be inspired!  But you shouldn't also be discouraged by failing to be able to do as well...if you understand what's going on here.

I saw Akira Katogi play a couple of songs at TaikoBaka a few years back.  Here's a clip of him playing.  His style may not be unique, I don't know, but it was the first I'd seen like this and it was really really fun to watch.  So of course, when I got back on a drum, I lightly tried what I had seen, and as expected, I was horrible, haha.  But I planned for that.  I just wanted to see if I could figure out some of the techniques used, and...nope!  Not from just watching it once.

It's very clear that he has a lot of practice doing this sort of playing, but on top of that, he has good fundamentals that feed into his style of playing.  It's complimentary.  And while I might have really good this or excellent that, I'm missing the practice and the modifications I would need to make in order to do what he's doing.  So I wasn't disappointed, but instead more impressed by how easy he makes it look.

And that, that's what I hope to accomplish through this (and the last post).  Realize that impressive moments often come about through hard work and long practice.  The un-sexy stuff, if you will.  And sometimes it's the boring stuff that is really the hardest to do!  Keeping your right and left hand sounding even no matter what drum/style you're playing, staying on tempo in a solo, knowing to play a little quieter so that you don't overshadow another part, etc.  Those take a talent most of us take for granted...

Now, don't ever feel you shouldn't want to do the impressive stuff you see others do.  But realize, those moments are just moments, passing points in time and that still require strong fundamentals to achieve.  And while it's possible to replicate a moment through practice, it may very well be a lot of work for a little gain.  Maybe if you're going to put in a lot of work on something, it should be something that brings everything up so that you don't have to work a lot later.  Make sense?

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Technique - the cause or the effect?

We often see the result of a technique and want to be able to do the very same thing.  Watching someone playing a pattern really fast can be impressive, and it's tempting to just try and replicate it.  Watching someone do an acrobatic, fancy kick can be impressive, and it's tempting to jump up and try it.

But it's likely, you'll wind up getting tense amd hitting a bunch of wrong/bad notes, or pulling a muscle and falling over...

In talking with a student in the dojo earlier this week, he was saying how he needs to "hit hard".  I asked him what he meant, and he said if he was hitting someone bigger, he would need to "hit harder".  I told him if his technique was good, he could hit hard enough; he would have the ability to choose how powerful to make his strikes.  A bit later he said how he thought my jab looked like a hook so he was trying to arc his as well.  I told him it shouldn't hook, it just goes in straight.  When I thought about what he meant, I realized he was probably talking about how the elbow joint bends after snapping the punch out, because after that moment of tension, I'm relaxing the arm and it naturally bends a bit (and there's the "hook" he's seeing).

The effect that you see that impresses you is a result of good fundamentals, or at the very least a lot of practiced motion.  Either way, that person who impressed you understands how to do the thing they're doing.  You're likely to only see the impressive part, the result, unless you can step back and look at what's going on under the surface.

For a lot of fast notes on multiple drums, a person needs to be relaxed, have flexible wrists, know how to link their hands to their hara, know how to utilize their hara, and still have the presence of mind to listen for when things don't sound right so they can adjust in subtle ways.  To do a jumping spinning kick that has the potential to cause damage, a person needs to have strong leg muscles, be able to coordinate which parts of the body from head to toe to use when, and also have the ability to activate and deactivate tension in the muscles needed at the right time.  All of these steps described come with thought, training, and practice.  But they're not "sexy".  They're not what people go WOW for.  They go WOW for the result.  We all do, in some things or others.  Being able to see past the initial WOW and notice all the components needed to make it happen is a skill, and comes from both you working on fundamentals over time as well as the ability to appreciate that work in others.

A couple of other analogies I've come up with:

If I give you something you've never thrown, like a hand-axe, and tell you to hit that target over there, you can focus on the target and hope you hit it, or try to be in a steady, solid position and align your arm as best you can, your grip as best you can.  The former focuses on the result and will most likely end with an axe clattering on the ground, while the other might end the same way but with information you can use to better the next throw.

If I tell you that "Sam died," but you don't know Sam, you may very well not care.  You have no reason to care.  The result has no impact.  But if I first tell you that Sam was this person in my life and did all these things for me and then died in tragic watermelon accident, you very well might be astounded, saddened, or feel something.  You need something to enable there to be an impact in the first place.

So think about or find something that makes you take notice, maybe something that gives you a WOW.  Then look deeper.  What are they doing that enables them to wow you?  What is their body doing?  What's consistent about their technique?

When you realize that infrastructure is the way to producing amazing results, it can seriously change how you look at technique overall!

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Monday, June 5, 2017

How much ma can you stand?

Ma is the Japanese word for a gap or space.  In taiko, ma is a concept that is really useful, but that many don't really embrace.  So here's my question to you:

Imagine you're playing a solo on a stationary drum.  Doesn't matter what type.  Play play play, and then stop playing, even though it's still your solo.

How long can you go before you need to return to the drum?  How long can you stay still/hold a pose, make a motion (or several), move around, whatever, before you feel like it's uncomfortable and you need to make some noise?

Be honest with yourself - I'm sure you can imagine yourself not playing for a while, but really, with people around you watching, the rest of the group behind you supporting, the energy all around you, can you really hold out for a long time?

Ask yourself, why are you uncomfortable without playing notes?  What is it that compels you to return?  Is that something you can work on?  Could work on?  If not, why not?  Couldn't you make use of it in your personal repertoire?

Mind you, there's a point in any song, in any solo, where you can have TOO much ma.  But most of us won't cross that threshold.

This isn't to say that people need to play less notes in their solos, and it's not a judgement of any sort.  I Just want you to self-examine and feel that uncomfortable-ness on purpose for once, and use that feeling to start some internal dialogue.  Because why not?  Questions can lead to answers and answers can lead to growth.

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

The issues around you.

This quote is attributed to Ian Maclaren, a Scottish author.

When I go to a conference, participate in an online discussion in the FB taiko community, or even just have long chats with taiko friends, sometimes I'm reminded that my taiko is not their taiko.  My struggles are not their struggles.  This doesn't only happen when I talk to people, it can happen just by thinking about it, but it tends to happen more when other people are involved.

Most of us live in our own taiko bubbles, like we live our life in a bubble of some sort.  No, not going to get political, but we tend to be with like-minded people, play with like-minded people, etc.  In taiko, it's easy to forget that your group is not like other groups, that other groups have issues that your group does not.

Your group might not have budget issues, membership issues, location issues, concerns with social justice, authenticity concerns, repertoire deficits, equipment woes, identity conflicts, growing pains, etc.  But some other groups do.  And while you might not have any way to help them out - or even know which groups are facing which issues - sometimes it's important to realize that these issues may shape how they view you or treat you.  It's not that you should walk on eggshells everywhere you go, but again, refer to the quote above.

Many conferences ago there were a couple of "Non-Japanese in taiko" discussion sessions, and I felt the people who benefited the most weren't those who had issues within their groups, but the Japanese-American players who were surprised to hear that there were any issues at all.  When I attended the "Women in taiko" discussion session last conference, there were issues that I was reminded of, that I don't necessarily have to think about for myself on a day-to-day basis.  I'm sure if I went to an LGBTQ discussion session, I'd be enlightened about issues I'm not aware of or have to address.

It comes down to being a compassionate, aware human being.  Not being wracked with guilt because you can't know everyone's personal trials, but just knowing that everyone has their own issues, issues that you may never have even considered.  Be kind.  Always.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Question Everything: Traditional taiko

I've been seeing more people talk about/offer classes in traditional taiko.  It's clear this is to differentiate it from contemporary taiko, but what exactly is "traditional taiko"?

I'm not going to give a history lesson of taiko here, but ensemble drumming is a relatively new art form.  It was something that came into being in the early 50's, which puts it around the same age as jazz.  So when I hear people talk about "traditional" taiko, it either means ensemble drumming (kumidaiko) in the earlier years, or taiko before it was made into ensemble form.

For the latter, there are some older forms of taiko that aren't so much done as an ensemble, styles like those that come from Miyake and Hachijo.  But when people say they're teaching those styles, they tend to use the names of those styles

So that means it's probably referring to the former.  But what makes taiko traditional?  Is it only using Japanese patterns and rhythms?  What are those?  One person's dongo is another person's swung triplet.  Is it not using non-Japanese instruments?  Most taiko groups I've seen, regardless of what they play, only use Japanese instruments - or if they incorporate others, do it in very few pieces.  Is it not using non-Japanese movements?  Good luck identifying that one.

Take the katsugi okedo and the popularity of "crossovers".  This idea came from the Korean style of drumming called Samul Nori, adopted by Kodo.  Is it now "traditional"?  It's been "around" in Japanese taiko for ~20 years now, tell me?  If it's not traditional to you, will it be so in another 20 years?  40?  Ever?  This is when the definition argument starts getting blurry.

Not that it's a huge movement, but is the increased sighting of more "traditional" taiko teaching makes me wonder if it's a resistance to more contemporary taiko?  But only in North America?  Or Japan as well?  Or is it more wanting to show people what taiko is without adding bells and whistles, sort of a matter of pride?

This is not a judgement post, because I always try to observe and question, then to pass those to my readers to (hopefully) stir more questions.  So if you use the term "traditional" taiko, what does that mean to you?  And if you hear someone else talk about "traditional" taiko, ask them what that term means to them!  See what you can learn.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Question Everything: Taiko exposure

Tanaka-sensei is attributed to have said he wanted taiko to be as well-known in America as sushi. There have definitely been more and more non-taiko performances where taiko shows up, taiko groups are asked to play, and taiko is given exposure.

But what kind of exposure do we want?  What are we comfortable with?  Is it too late to start worrying?

Take, for example, Metallica using taiko in one of their shows here.

Some people will see that and LOVE it.  Taiko in a rock concert, with a legendary group, with a crazy amount of exposure!  Others will lament at the group playing the drum poorly, and say it's not how people should play taiko.  Then there are others who may not be sure if they like it or not.

Look closer and see that there are sensor pads on the drum head most visible - played by James Hetfield - which produce different sounds when struck.  We may never know why they did this, maybe they couldn't amplify the drum enough or maybe they mostly wanted the visual?

So now you have taiko...sort of.  Does it bother you?  Encourage you?  Why?

As a community we need to realize that the cat's out of the bag.  We can say collectively that we should strive to inform and educate people about the historical use and traditions of taiko, as well as the blah blah blah can I buy a set already?  That's happened before and will continue to happen, so now what?

If you're bothered seeing taiko played by non-taiko players, you should first ask, what's a taiko player?  Does one lesson count?  Four?  Ten?  Taught by who?  Played on what?  When you see people playing on taiko in shows like this and think maybe they're not very good, have you seen a lot of different groups play taiko?  There are community groups and beginners that may be at that same level of ability.  Do we need to ask "what is taiko" again?

As always, I highly recommend reserving judgments and asking yourself questions like these when you come across taiko in unexpected settings.  It's not that you should or shouldn't like what you see, but you should ask yourself why or why not...

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Taiko memes

So...I started making taiko memes, and I don't know why I never thought of it until now.

This post is not going to be one of the deeper ones, that's for sure.  So here's a small sample of what I've been doing.  I'm posting these and more on my FB page, and they're all original creations, good or bad, haha.   Enjoy!

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Exaggerating something that you do can be a really good idea to explore.  Through this idea, you may find out where you can and should give more.

I don't know how many taiko players consider themselves "performers," but taiko is often a performance.  Staging, arranging drums, movements, playing together, projecting energy, expressing yourself/yourselves, all of that is part of performance.

And with performance comes the output: what the audience sees, hears, and feels.  I've learned through my own experiences that while I feel like I'm really enjoying myself, it may not translate through my expression.  Here I thought I was really projecting and what I see instead on the video is a light smile.  So I have to exaggerate these expressions, to push myself past what I'm comfortable doing, to make it look how I feel.  It takes diligence and is something I'm still working on.

Do you see yourself when you watch a video and feel the same way?  It can prove interesting to really push yourself and focus on making yourself explode with feeling, even when it feels comical.  Do it enough times, watch the results, and dial things back if you need to, but trying to up your expression by degrees is really, really difficult.  Sometimes you have to make a large leap!

And then there's exaggeration of physical attributes, like in a stance or making shapes with your arms.  For example, I'm tall.  Shocking, yes, I know.  For taiko, I'm almost too tall.  However, it's really easy for me to reach multiple drums without having to try, and I can stand really close to a naname drum and have an easy time playing.  But when I look at myself on video, again, it doesn't look very good.  I had to learn to exaggerate - which meant working harder, sure - to get lower, get further away, to make it look "right".

And when it comes to holding the arms up, pulling the arms back, making circles, etc., even when it means more effort (gasp), the effect is really diminished when things aren't extended fully, joints are bent, motions are short-cut, etc.  Having the intention to practice things in an exaggerated way (without hurting yourself or messing up the music) can lead to some impressive visuals, even if it feels to you like you're being a showboat or feeling silly.  You have to try it and see what it looks like!

But wait, as with most things, going too far the other way can be a bad thing, too.

When you exaggerate to the point where you lose the intention of movement (getting flail-y, over-hitting, etc.) or rely on exaggerated expression to the point where you can't tone it down, well that's not good either.  There's rarely good to be found on either extreme of any spectrum.  However, I feel like most people (including myself) would find benefit in using exaggeration - or at least exploring it - in practice and performance.

If you ever thought "my stance is low enough," or, "I'm probably smiling enough,", then those are places you probably should look into.  It doesn't mean you should play taiko as if YOU WERE USING ALL CAPS, but using exaggeration as a tool can lead to some really worthwhile improvements!

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Question Everything: What makes someone "good"?

We all want to be "good" at our art, right?  We'll watch someone perform and think, "wow, s/he's good," or "yeah, that group is pretty good."

Well, what does that mean?  And does defining it make it more or less valuable as a metric?

If a person is super-musical but not that great at movement, are they still "good"?  What about vice-versa?

What about if they blend in perfectly with the rest of the group, is that good?  Is it "better" when they stand out?  Or is that actually not a good thing?

If a person is an excellent teacher but not as skilled as their students or even able to do the things they're teaching, does that make them not as good, even if the information is really valuable?

If a person is a great performer but rude or mean to people around them, does that make them "less good" in your head?

Is it important to you that other people see you as "good", whatever that means?  Why or why not?

If you see someone who would otherwise be "good" in your eyes, for the first time and they're having a bad night, you may not realize that they are, in fact, "good".  How many times might this have happened for you - and how many times might have someone thought that about you?

How often have you been told someone was or wasn't good, and had that opinion affect what you hear/see with your own eyes later?

If you think a person is "good" when you're new to an art, but then 10 years later think otherwise, when were you "right"?

Again, what does it mean to be "good"?  And how much does that definition depend on who's asking, what mood that person is in, how much context and experience that person has?

So, are we good here?  ;)

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

How labels limit potential

Ever told another taiko player that "oh, I don't play odaiko," or "I don't play fue."?  In other words, when was the last time you defined yourself by what you don't feel comfortable playing?

Was it because you haven't had the opportunity to enjoy/play something, or because you really don't like the feeling of being unskilled on a different instrument?

It would be easy to judge someone who does that, but I can't say I've never done it myself.  This is a human trait, after all.  Take fue, I've never tried more than a short 15-20 minute session to make some noise.  I wasn't good at it, the idea of learning to play it didn't really appeal to me as much as other instruments did, and we have other people in the group that are happy to take it up.  So I admit I will say "oh, I don't play fue," and it end there.

But what does it do to your potential as an artist when you start defining yourself more and more in such solid, binary terms?  What are you losing out on?

There are a lot of taiko players in North America who are of mixed-race.  Half-Japanese, half-Filipino, half-White, half-whatever.  Some people might very well say they're one thing or the other, choosing whatever suits them.  Maybe it's because they feel strongly one way, maybe it makes them feel better, whatever.  But what happens when there's indecision, when there's confusion?  It will make a person think, make a person question.  And from questioning comes answers, even if not solutions.  But there's potential there - energy there - from which to draw from, energy that cannot exist when someone simply decides "I'm not that," or "I'm this."

I can use myself for the next example.  I'm White.  My ancestry is Scottish, Russian, Irish, and German.  Didn't start karate until my teens, and taiko near the end of my teenage years, so no Asian influences growing up.  Now, could I call myself Japanese-American? There's a Japan, there's an America, but there's no place called "Japanese-America".  This term is an artificial construct that society created to help define people.  Being Japanese-American is being part of a culture, having a certain mindset, and based on all the activities I do and some of the ideals I've adopted, I could argue that I fall under the definition.

Some of you are probably thinking of reasons why I'm wrong, some of you are probably trying to wrap your head around the concept, some of you might be confused.  But in that, in those arguments and conflicting thoughts, there is energy.  That's the kind of energy I referred to earlier, the kind that can lead to inspiration, exploration, creativity.  To simply define myself as one thing and say "well, that's what I am" closes the door.  A few doors here and there help me get through the day, but if all I do is close doors, how much am I shutting myself off from?  Am I simply just trying to protect myself from thinking?  From questioning?  From seeing where it takes me?

So maybe you're not going to suddenly decide to take up an instrument you've been avoiding, or engage someone in a philosophical discussion about culture appropriation, but if you can be aware of the doors that you've shut - or that you've kept open - you can at least have the choice of what to do with them in the future.  Without that awareness, all you have is hallways with nowhere to go.

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Monday, May 8, 2017

How students can affect your teaching.

I get to teach very different groups of people, in different situations.  Sometimes it's taiko to people who've never played taiko before.  Sometimes it's karate to people who have been doing karate for years.  The combinations change, but there tend to be two general types of groups I encounter.

There's the quiet group who doesn't ask questions, often even when prompted.  They tend to do what you tell them, but it's mostly a monologue from you to them.  Then there's the group that is likely to ask questions, especially when they hear information they don't agree with or when it contradicts what they've heard before.  There's dialogue, even when it's not in a path you planned going in.

Now there's nothing wrong with either group, but sometimes they can take a difficult turn.

For example, when the quiet group just blinks at you, when you're making jokes or trying to be engaging and getting nothing back, boy is that draining.  In taiko, even total beginners tend to smile, but in karate I've had groups without any expression at all.  It could be due to intimidation of my position as a black belt, but...I'm not a harsh teacher and I tend to use humor.  Also with a passive group, it's easy to feel like a really good teacher - because I'm telling them what to do and they're doing it.  That's good teaching, right?  Ehhh...not necessarily.  If I'm not teaching them something good, then it's just parroting, not learning.  And "monkey see, monkey do" is not a great way to impart wisdom.  I can easily get a false sense of ability without anyone asking questions, anyone challenging me to explain something better.

But on the flip side, a group that keeps asking questions can make you feel like they don't believe you, or that maybe you don't really know as much as you thought you did.  Even if they're being respectful and asking questions genuinely, it can easily disrupt a lesson plan if you had a schedule you wanted to get through.  And it's draining in a different way than the above group, because you have to be more flexible, more on your toes.  It's easy to come away from a group like this feeling like you're not a good teacher or even a skilled artist, or to feel like you're mean, clamping down on the discussions by limiting questions or cutting people off.

So what's best?  There's never a "best".  It depends on your personality, the level of the people you're teaching, the kind of questions being asked, the mood of the people listening to you, etc. etc.  But these groups can greatly affect both your teaching and how you think of yourself as a teacher.  It's not limited to groups, either - a single student can have the same effects on you.

Another thing to consider?  How do you affect teachers with how you are as a student?  Hmm...

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

But what do you really sound like?

Kumidaiko, or ensemble drumming, is a wonderful, powerful art form.  When you're playing in it, unless you're drastically off-tempo, it sounds great to play with other people in a group.

The problem with playing in a group, especially a larger group, is that you really don't get to hear what you sound like.  This is especially true when you're all playing the same pattern/melody, but still applies when you're not playing what others are playing, like when you're soloing.

We think we're playing together, but it's a very loose version of "together".  The noise that a taiko makes (the big, booming sound) has an attack, when struck, then a decay as the sound carries.  One drum alone can be pretty loud, and then if you add several more drums on top of that, the combined attack can often sound like one note, smoothed out by the accompanying decay (also combined).

Years ago, Yurika and I were trying to hit our respective shime with a single note at the same exact time.  The difficulty was that we were in a recording studio with equipment that isolated our sound and it was painfully clear how hard it was to be exact, even with multiple tries.  It was a surprise for me at least, because I never realized how much difference could exist between two "simultaneous" strikes.

The reason for this topic today is because I think playing by yourself - for practice purposes - will tell you where your strikes are weak, where your tempo is unsettled.  If you have 5 other people playing the same pattern next to you, you cannot really tell if your notes are consistently even, because your ears just aren't that adept at picking out sounds.  Play by yourself and it's much easier to identify.

If you really want to check your technique, record yourself playing a song or solo and listen to it afterwards.  Are you steady?  Are your notes even between right and left hand volume?  It very well might be, but until you do something like this, how do you know?  And if you don't do you know what you can get better at?

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Monday, May 1, 2017

When it's over

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No, I'm not leaving the blog, not leaving taiko, nothing bad happening, just thinking about what happens when people eventually do leave taiko.

When you stop playing taiko, what will you always wish you got to do/try?  Maybe you wished you wrote a song, maybe you wished you got to take a workshop with someone specific, maybe you wished you could play on stage in fundoshi...  But it's too late, once it's over.

Whatever those things are, is it really too late to do some of them now?  Sure, maybe you don't have the money to go to Japan for a month and train, that's different.  But can you sit down and write a song, maybe with someone's help?  Maybe it doesn't even need to be performed, if you've at least completed it.  Can you manage to go to a conference or workshop just once to take a lesson with that person you're really inspired by?  Can you set aside a little bit of time each week to work on a song or solo so that you're ready to play in the song you've always wanted to play?  Even if you're not playing it, is knowing you could play it something to take satisfaction in?

What are your goals and which of them are closer than you realize?  Why not tackle them, one at a time?  The alternative is regrets, and regrets are far less fun than achievements!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Empty your cup

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There's a story in Zen literature about a scholar who asks a master to teach him.  The scholar tells the master about all he knows, about his opinions on things.  The master, while listening and pouring tea for the scholar, keeps pouring until the scholar's cup was overflowing.  When the scholar remarked how the master was spilling tea everywhere, the master told him that like the cup, the scholar was full (of ideas).  The only way the scholar then could take any more information in was to empty the cup.

An empty cup is ready to receive.

One of our brown belts at the dojo was talking to one of the black belts the other night.  The brown belt has a head full of assumptions about karate and there is no more room in his cup.  I was able to observe what happens when tea is poured in a full cup from this interaction.

When the black belt asked the brown belt what a certain technique was supposed to be about, it took a good 20 seconds for the brown belt to give a straight-forward answer:

"It's a block."
"Ok, what is the block defending against?"
"Well, it's a scooping block."
"A scooping block against what?"
"An attack."
"What kind of attack?"
"Someone punching me."
"Ok, but what kind of punch?"

Once the type of attack was established, it was clear that the punch was unrealistic and never going to ever occur in real-life.  But instead of once acknowledging that this was new, useful information (which myself and almost every experienced martial artist I know has their mind blown with at least once), the brown belt moved quickly to a different aspect:

"So that punch is never, ever going to be used.  Most common punch thrown is a right hook."
"Right, so I was thinking I was blocking it."

Because there was no room to take in new information, the response was to essentially ignore it - without confronting it or dismissing it.  This was mental over-spill, happening in real-time.  And it went on for a couple of minutes, with each new idea, each lesson given having no real effect.  Any sort of conflicting information to what was already in his head created dissonance that made him look at something else or justify what he was doing already was an equal equivalent.  Which, unfortunately, it never was.  His assumptions were filling his head and had been for so long, that it became a habit to mentally zip and dodge information that was being made available.

So think about your own learning, your own understanding of things.  How much can you really take in when presented with new information?  I'm not even talking about information you disagree with, stylistic differences, and the like.  I'm talking about learning things that might help you move better, play faster, teach more efficiently, etc.  Information that had you been a beginner, you would have absorbed with enthusiasm.

Emptying the cup doesn't mean you forget the lessons you've learned, only that you don't assume that's all there is to know.  It means putting your ego aside for a little while (which is hard, really hard at times!) and having a beginner's mind with the material presented to you.  Eventually your cup will fill again, and you'll have to keep emptying it, but as difficult as this process might be, what's the alternative?  Never learning anything new, and never understanding new ideas and concepts that make things you do now even easier?  I think it's worth the effort, yes?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Teacher obligations

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I feel obligated to my students.  Maybe I'm teaching a song to the group, maybe I'm teaching basic skills to the public, maybe I'm teaching a new form to people at the dojo, whatever.

Their development is in my hands.  Doesn't mean I'm responsible for their success or failure single-handedly, but it does mean I have the power to affect it greatly.  If I focus on the wrong thing for too long or use the time inefficiently, I'm making it harder for them down the line.

The hardest part for me for teaching is sometimes remembering it's not about me.  It's not about how good I think I am as a teacher, or how skilled I am at the skill I'm teaching, it's about understanding what my student(s) need to get better in the time I have with them.

A good example of this would be if I was a teacher who taught best by talking, teaching students who don't learn best by listening.  Ideally, they would adapt and it would make them better students to learn in different ways, but that makes it about my style of teaching, makes it about ME.  If I'm going to say I'm a good teacher, then I need to figure out how my students will learn the fastest.  Maybe some learn best with humor.  Maybe some need to see me doing it alongside them.  Maybe some need to write things down.  Maybe some need to understand context.  Not all teachers can figure out this information quickly, but the good teachers try.

I can tell at the dojo when I'm explaining a concept that's not sinking in.  So I get someone who's just blinking at me and have them do a thing.  Maybe I make them attack, maybe defend, maybe lose their balance, whatever.  They may not know HOW I did that thing, but now they know that that thing has purpose.  I also have had many occasions in taiko when I'm trying to explain a complicated sequence or pattern, and there's smoke coming from people's heads.  It's not that they're not smart enough to understand my super-awesome ideas, it's that I'm not doing a good job of teaching it.  I need to regroup and come at it in a different way.

Remember (or imagine) yourself back in high school, having a teacher would would read from the textbook along with you.  And you spent hours - days - of your life looking down at the book or up on the overhead reading the material you could have (or already did) read on your own.  Maybe for some people, that was effective, but it drove me out of my freaking mind!  I speed-read and going that slowly was agony.  I learned LESS that way.  And there was no dialogue, just passive listening, so unless questions were encouraged, there was rarely any sense of understanding of more than a surface level.

But a teacher that wanted our class to be passionate about a subject?  They would ask US questions, they would challenge our assumptions.  They expected us to prepare and were disappointed when we did not.  They would go on tangents to relate a lesson to something in real-life.  Nothing was ever *just* talking, just listening, just being shown, just comedy, just multimedia, etc.

If it helps, put yourself in the student's shoes.  Maybe the teacher is doing a technique that you just can't understand.  If only they would explain how it fits in to the greater whole?  Or maybe the teacher is telling you every detail you need to know to do it right, while you're just hoping to try it for the first time so what they're saying makes sense.

When I teach a workshop to the public, after warm-ups, basic body position, and general striking notes, I then give them a drum to play on.  I learned that as soon as the drums are in front of a group of people, half of them aren't listening to the notes I'm about to give.  It's "shiny object" syndrome.  And so I give 30-40 seconds of "whee" time to let them play/hit/feel what it's like, THEN go about the rest of the lesson.  Getting upset over and over again that people weren't listening wasn't helping anyone get better; it was just making me frustrated.  So since my goal is to teach people, not to get frustrated, I figured out a solution!

The teachers that really want their students to improve are the ones that attack it from different angles.  It's more work, it's more risk of "being wrong" in front of the students, but ultimately everyone wins out in the end!

Thursday, April 20, 2017


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I talk about gratitude in my blog from time to time, about being grateful to be able to play the art I love, to have a group of people that I can play with, an organization that makes my playing possible, even the equipment to do my playing on - and many other areas.

But I was thinking about the idea of appreciation, and how it's different.

If you go to an art gallery, you might come to appreciate some of the art.  You like how something looks, maybe even how it feels or sounds.  That's the purpose of the gallery, after all.  You can of course appreciate other things, like a beverage, furniture, sounds of nature, etc.

Playing a shime and hearing where the tones differ just inches apart, that's something I can appreciate.  Pulling out one of the oldest drums we have on the shelves, I appreciate how different and unique the sound is.  I appreciate the sound of the cracked chappa, the sound of the odaiko before the new heads were broken in, the spot on our sumo-daiko  that looks like Abraham Lincoln (no, seriously!).

All of these sounds and shapes have character, stand out a little from the rest.  And we may not want those qualities in an actual performance, sure - but acknowledging them, appreciating them, that's better than dismissing them or just labeling them in a negative light.

What little peculiarities are there in your equipment, your costumes, your rehearsal space, or even in your membership that you might miss if they were gone?  What's something that stands out when used - and so you may not use it anymore - but that has a quality that could still be artistically useful?

If you can appreciate, you can be grateful.  If you can be grateful, you can do some good!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Drill: Pass the trash

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The term "pass the trash" is used in a variant of 7-card stud poker.  It's also a good drill to use in soloing with your group.

Essentially, you listen/watch the other person solo before you, and then take some of it to start your own solo.  Maybe there's a distinct riff or pattern that you like, maybe it's a big movement, maybe it's a recognizable sequence you can modify.  It's not all that difficult of a drill, it makes you play things you might not normally play, and it makes you really pay attention to the preceding solo.

One thing that is often overlooked in a drill like this is that as the soloist, if there's someone after me, I have to "pass" something to them.  If my solo is really disjointed, doesn't have phrasing that they can pick up on, is too complex for them to replicate, or is just really off, then what can they use?  In essence, I've messed the drill up for them.

This isn't about copying someone, but borrowing, modifying, adapting.  It's successful when other people can see the two solos and identify what's being used each time.

"Passing the trash" helps create new "launchpads" for soloists, and helps exercise the improvisational muscles.  I highly recommend trying it!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Question Everything: When is it taiko?

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I've posed this question in the past, but for my newer readers I'd like to throw it out there again with a slight change.  Instead of the broader "what is taiko?" question, I'll make it "when is it taiko?".

Follow along the steps and when it hits a level you feel qualifies as taiko, ask yourself why?

Imagine a group of people ("training" = "training in taiko):
  • with no training, standing, hitting phone books with Western drumsticks.
  • with no training, standing, hitting phone books with bachi.
  • with no training, in a low stance, hitting phone books with bachi.
  • with some training, in a low stance, hitting phone books with bachi.
  • with some training, in a low stance, hitting drums made out of PVC pipes with bachi.
  • with no training, in a low stance, hitting wooden taiko drums with bachi.
  • with no training, standing, hitting wooden taiko drums with bachi.
  • with some training, standing, hitting wooden taiko drums with bachi.
  • with some training, standing, hitting wooden taiko drums with bachi, playing a song written for Western percussion (marching band, orchestral, etc.)
  • with some training, but very unskilled, in a low stance, hitting phone books with bachi.
  • with no training, but very skilled, in a low stance, hitting phone books with bachi.
  • with some training, very skilled, playing non-taiko drums as if they were taiko (Western, Samba, African, etc.)
  • with some training, very skilled, hitting wooden taiko drums with bachi, incorporating non-Japanese elements such as juggling, hip-hop dancing, electric guitar, etc.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.  Which of those qualify as taiko for you?  Is it more dependent on training?  Stance?  Equipment?  Why?  Can you argue for the others or are you steadfast in your opinion?  Has your opinion changed over your time playing?

I find it really interesting when people qualify what is or what isn't taiko, and I'm happy to debate them with this sort of logic-list.  Most of the time, when people say "that's not taiko," what they really mean is "I don't like it" but don't want to come out and say that...

Recognizing that all of this comes down to opinion, we can either choose to be more open-minded or close-minded.  But either way, just realize that no one is "more right" than anyone else!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nothing today!

Writing this in advance, as we've a concert this weekend in Auburn, Washington, and I won't have time to blog after I get back.  So enjoy the break until Thursday!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Question Everything: Dogma

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We all get taught things along our path.  Teachers here, instructors there, sensei and peers and people you didn't expect to get lessons from will all teach you something.

But when does it become dogma?  When do you believe something so much to be true, either because the person saying it means so much to you, or because it makes you feel good to believe in it?

When do you recognize the dogma you subscribe to and what do you do about it?

In my karate organization, for the rank of black belt I'm looking at next, I have to be able to interpret any sequence of movements from any of the myriad kata (forms) I know.  What is this block into this block into this movement into this punch actually supposed to be doing?  What is the attacker doing to cause me to warrant this sequence of moves?

There's an argument that says the movements should not be taken literally, that they teach concepts of movement and mechanics that can be adapted to suit the situation and preferences.  But the other school of thought says that the movements are to be done almost exactly as they are in the form, and it's up to the practitioner to understand the lessons hidden within.

I'm much for the former.  But our organization, the people who will be judging me, are for the latter.  And so I struggle under this but ultimately I have to follow the rules if I want to advance.  I can talk to others about my opinions, I can argue my case with people on both sides, but I'm not going to be able to change the system.  If the former is important enough to me (and it is), I will have to study that on my own but also train to do/explain what the requirements tell me to do/explain.

The dogma of my style, of my organization are clear, although at first I wasn't as aware of them, and now I can choose how I react to this information.  But this dogma is quite established.

A more extreme form of dogma in martial arts is when you have dubious schools that focus on harnessing energy to do extraordinary things, like drop an attacker without touching them, make people lose balance with just a light touch, etc.  The students have convinced themselves so convincingly (usually through the instructor's reinforcement) that these skills MUST work, that they do.  Even when they only work because of that belief, and not for or on anyone else.  This is an extreme form of dogma, but not too hard to fine.

In taiko, I see people adhere to different dogma, like they do in martial arts.  A certain group is "best".  A certain way of playing is "superior".  The sempai-kohai (senior-junior) infrastructure is the most "beneficial".  Being louder = being a better player.  Etcetera.  Some of these come from a person's own beliefs, but often they are taught and/or magnified from the instructor(s).

My group has its own style, its own set of rules, its own way of making things work effectively.  Some might even call it a dogma.  I find most of it works really well for me, but (and as anyone who knows me can attest), I still question and ask "why" because I want to know, I want to understand - not just swallow, not just absorb.  Even if something turns out to be the best advice I've received, questioning it well will only make it more valuable in the long run because I'll understand it better!

Just understanding that everything you've been taught, everything you know, might not be true, is scary.  Not scary "for some people", scary for all of us!  And it's not easy to speak up, to question, to make the effort to look past what's dangling in front of you.  But if you take away any one thing from my blog, let it be this.  Always, always question.

Monday, April 3, 2017


I've been thinking a lot about the concept of "uke".  In karate, "uke" is receiving/being the one who receives.  "Tori" is attacking/completing/being the attacker.

Watch this clip, which starts at 22:58, for about a minute (until 23:55).  There's a good example about what it looks like to "lack uke" in karate.

When I spar, against someone with equal or greater skill, I find my uke diminished against someone who has an aggressive offense.  I've been practicing, I've gotten better, but this is definitely one area I need more improvement in.  Mind you, the solution isn't to just take getting hit so I can hit back, that's recklessness and counter to the tenets of any martial art.

In taiko, you're not competing with another person, but in a way you are, against a fear of failure.  This fear is the enemy in a performance, and when you are so worried about making a mistake, your technique often suffers.  Tension builds, focus suffers, even movements and striking are lessened.  Ironically, you're more likely to actually make the mistakes you're so worried about.

Now watch this clip, (until 44:45) about what good uke is about.

I see people in taiko focus so much on their solo, or a particular movement in their solo, but that lose the ability to deal when they make a mistake despite all the planning.  That's like what the sensei here talks about as "training to win".  And even as I type this I'm realizing that this is the beauty, the benefit of learning improvisation, so that you can truly receive whatever comes in that moment, whether it be a feeling, a musical phrase, or even the energy from people around you.

So when you train, are you training to "win"?  Or are you training to be able to receive?  Are you able to maintain what your instructors have been trying to instill in you when things don't go as planned, or do you give up easily?  Think about this, think about where your mind goes when you perform (and practice) and be honest with yourself about how you react to the stimulus around you, good, bad or otherwise.  How's your uke?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Question Everything: Shatter the illusions

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Last post, I asked my readers to try and discover something new that might have escaped their notice.  This week, I want you to try and find something you thought was true, something that you accepted as truth or were taught as "the way", and question it.

The longer you play taiko, the harder it can be to find something new to question, but then again, sometimes the things you've been doing for the longest time are the things you don't think to question!

There are some illusions I've shattered (or have had shattered for me) in my time as a taiko player and martial artist:

- Being stronger means a louder sound/stronger hit.
- Playing/punching harder means a better sound/hit.
- The more bachi you have, the better musician you are.
- The more prominent your group, the better performer you are.
- A great player/artist makes for a great teacher.
- New people don't have anything to teach more experienced people.

With these examples as a framework, from technique to equipment to people, I'm sure you can look at your own training, your own experiences, and find something to not only question, but to also shatter and find a greater truth by doing so.

The more you question, the more potentially informed you can be.  Nothing should be sacred in this regard.  The more you hold sacred and are uncomfortable looking deep into, the more likely you have something that at best, is fluff, and at worst, causing you physical harm and/or keeping you from improving.  Truth is not always a pretty thing, but it can be tremendously enlightening and empowering.

So go shatter an illusion today.  You might find you have a taste for it!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Notice something new

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Maybe you've been playing for a long time, or maybe you're still pretty new, but I'd like you to step back at your practices for a minute and notice something new.

Maybe you might find a piece of equipment that's taken for granted but needs repair.  Maybe you realize the same people are always cleaning something that others aren't.  Maybe you notice that there's a loose tack in one of the drums.  Or it could be something like you noticing a part of the drum head that sounds a little less lively than the parts around it.  Maybe it's even finding something you don't know the answer to, like who maintains the shime bachi or something like that.

My point here is that it's easy for any of us to take things for granted, and sometimes just the act of looking for something new reveals information that makes you more appreciative, more grateful, or even just more aware.

So, go find something new at your next practice.  See if maybe that information enhances your playing, or even your value to your group!  Worst-case scenario is you tried...  :)

Thursday, March 23, 2017


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One thing I've been noticing for a while is how people hold themselves when they're waiting to be heard or waiting for their chance to say/do something.  Sometimes it's the proximity of how close they stand to the person(s) they want to address, sometimes it's the angle of how they stand compared to other people in the group, but it can be several other things.

No judgement on this, because when isn't there a time you really want to be heard and have to wait for it?  We all go through that, even professionally.

But my question to you is what if you went through a whole class and purposefully avoided getting attention?  How weird would that feel to you?  What does that tell you?  If you didn't approach the instructor, if you didn't ask questions, if you didn't make jokes - just for one class - would that be easy or hard for you?  And what does that say about you?

Conversely, if you went through a whole class and actively sought attention throughout, how difficult would that be for you?  Would you have to change your actions a little or a lot?  What does that tell you?  If you decided to ask several questions and get involved in conversations, would that surprise people?  Would it improve your experience?

This isn't a critique of people that speak up, or those that choose not to..  It's also not a critique of people that want to be heard or acknowledged, nor those who prefer to follow whichever way the current flows.  As I usually do, I just want people to think about their tendencies and how it affects - or doesn't affect - their training and how others perceive them.

In the dojo, there's an advanced student who will, during breaks, often come stand over with the black belts as we discuss what we're going to do next.  When one of us asks if he has any questions, he'll say "no, I was just wondering what we're going to do next."  Then we tell him he'll know when we tell everyone else.  He wants attention but not so much to actually ask upfront, but the way he goes about getting it is actually more off-putting than if he just asked directly.

There have also been students, advanced students at times, who don't ask questions because they didn't want to "impose" and then suffer through misunderstandings of technique for sometimes years because of it.  That's frustrating in a different way as an instructor, because now asking that person if they have any questions leads to a guessing game.

As with most things, a balance is best.  But before you can achieve any sort of balance, you have to be aware that there is a spectrum, and then whereabouts you fall on it.  Which is why I asked how hard it would be, how much differently you would have to act, if you went to either extreme.  The less you have to change of your behavior, the closer to an extreme you are.  Always question, always seek awareness!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Audience sizes

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Over my time as a performer, I've played shows that were sold-out and shows where hardly anyone showed up.  It's never been for the same reason; it could be for many different factors.

And it's definitely more fun when there's more people, even if for some performers it can be more nerve-wracking.  But my question to you is do you do anything different, give anything different when there's a smaller crowd vs. a larger one?  Why?

I wouldn't think anyone would say that a small crowd means one could put out less ki or less effort, but have you ever caught yourself doing that, even subconsciously?  I mean, if it's easier to want to give more to a larger crowd, logically, it would make sense to go the opposite way with a smaller crowd.  Doesn't mean anyone automatically would do it on purpose though.

For me, when there's a smaller crowd, I try to give them an experience that really lasts.  At least, that's what's going on in my head.  For whatever reason, they came to see us perform, and since there's less of them than usual, I can focus what energy I might have put more "out there" on them.

If it helps, put yourself in their situation.  You've come to a show despite the weather, or that wasn't widely publicized, but you're really excited to be there.  If the performers put on a really good show despite the numbers, you'll be really appreciative, right?  Imagine if they went the other way, how bummed would that make you feel?

I can't say I've seen a taiko show where a small audience made for a lackluster show, but I do think it's easy for us - any of us - to hold back a bit in that situation.  Being aware of our own tendencies may not be the first step to growth, but without it, you can only get so far!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

2017 NATC Registration!

Alright, here we go!  Registration for NATC 2017 has started for those who became members (or renewed membership) of the Taiko Community Alliance prior to December 10th, 2016.

This is the 10th NATC to happen, and each one gets better-organized, better-planned, and it's great to see feedback get implemented whenever possible!

There's a lot of good workshops offered, with newer workshop leaders as well as established ones, and a new system of mini-intensives for those who want a lot of consistent instruction from one instructor.  Very much worth taking a look into!

No workshops taught by me this round, because I was involved with things from the committee-side, but I'd love to get back into it for the next NATC!  We'll see.  First, have to survive this one!

So go check it out if you haven't already, and if you can't register for this round, regular enrollment starts on May 1st, so make sure you do that!

Will post again on NATC when it gets closer to the date, so until then, good luck with your workshop selections!

Monday, March 13, 2017

YouTube and taiko

Going to make this one a short one, because I can't brain anymore today, ha.

Have you gone on YouTube and searched for taiko?  Not for a specific group, just taiko?  I highly recommend it.

I use this search line in YouTube's search bar: "taiko -tatsujin -osu -master".  That gets rid of most of the videogame taiko, and leaves mostly the real stuff.

It's really interesting - and eye-opening - to see what's out there.  What do taiko groups in Poland look like?  Did you even know there were taiko groups in Poland?  What are Japanese groups up to?  What about collegiate groups you've never heard of?  How are people playing the same public-domain piece your group plays?  Are they doing something different that you'd like to incorporate?  What collaborations are happening that you would never have thought about yourself?

Overall, we tend to get used to the taiko we see in our own, limited bubbles - including groups that regularly post on FB, but what else is out there?  Take a look and find out...

Thursday, March 9, 2017


I've written about being thankful and gratitude before.  It's something I think the world can use more of, in our daily lives, in our relationships, in everything.

So whether or not you do it out loud, I want you to go to your next rehearsal and thank the instructors for helping you.  Thank them for being there for you, giving you their time and attention in order to make you a better artist.

Thank the people who give you a space to practice in, whether it's a roomy studio or a noisy parking structure.

Thank the students that come to practice with you, for you.  Thank them for loving the art form so much that they make your group possible.

Thank your audience (even if they're not actually there at the time) for coming to support you, see you, enjoy your art.

I'm sure you can think of others to thank, but it might start sounding like an Academy Awards speech where they turn up the music to get you off stage!  There are funders, presenters, committees, relatives, friends, etc.

It's easy to get caught up in our own concerns, worries, and issues, so sometimes giving thanks is a good way to put things in perspective and be grateful for all the things other people do to make your art - whatever it may be - possible.

And of course, thanks to all of you who read my posts, my ramblings, who ask for advice and challenge me to be a better artist in the process!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Are you an equipment diva/divo?

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I've seen a lot of different artists in my 20+ years of taiko.  Not just taiko players, but other musicians, dancers, performers, etc.

And I've noticed a range of preferences in these artists, from those who just want things to work, to those who are exceptionally picky about every little detail.  I've seen people happy that they have an instrument that makes noise then jumping into it, and I've seen people that insist on great changes to ensure that a specific instrument is at a specific angle before they're comfortable continuing.

Now sometimes, it really depends on the venue.  If I'm getting paid to perform, I sure want things to be to my exacting standards, sure.  But aside from that, aside from an obligation involving money, where are you on that spectrum?  And how does it improve - or limit - your skill?

Do you gravitate towards the newest drums you have?  Or the highest-pitched shime?  Is it because they sound better?  What about appreciating the characteristics of older or less-loud drums?

Do you have to stand in a specific spot to make your performance better?  What if it's less optimal for you but better for the view/the audience/the presenter/the rest of the group?  Which matters more?

How much time do you spend adjusting things by inches, millimeters, when it's not a visual issue but a comfort one?  Will a drum being 1/4" in one direction mean you can't play it as well?  Sure, you don't want something to look askew on stage, but again, take the visual component out of it.

Actually, my point here isn't about the actual things you might be doing, but rather what effect it might have on your ability.  If you rely on really loud drums to be heard well, are you then neglecting to learn good enough technique to play on something "thuddy"?  If you only play with drums in a certain arrangement that gives you the "best performance", is that limiting you to learning how to adapt to other arrangements, especially when things aren't in your control?  What does your time and insistence on certain instruments and configurations do to your ability to be more adaptable, more grateful, more appreciative?

Look, to a degree, we all care about our equipment.  My questions here are to make you consider your habits, your limits.  Like any of you, I also care about the quality of my visual, my output, my performance.  There are definitely divas and divos out there in the artistic world that I imagine are trapped in the rituals of equipment expectation, and maybe someday when I'm a divo (ha) I'll enjoy being super-particular because it makes me feel better about my performance.  But until then, sometimes I like playing on the oldest drum and appreciating its qualities, or having drums in places I wouldn't normally put them, and seeing what happens!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Improv outside of music

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As my readers (and watchers) know, I'm a huge proponent of improvisation.  Being able to create something on the fly and changing things up at will are extremely gratifying skills to have when playing music.

A good improviser can think in the moment and play whatever comes to mind at the time.  A really good improviser can also listen/watch/react to what's going on at the time, like if they're following someone who played a lot of notes, and deciding to be contrasting for the sake of variety.  A great improviser does all that, but also can deal with issues and problems that come up, like a drum falling off the stand during the solo, a bachi breaking, or someone in the audience being a distraction.

But really, those skills don't end there.  If you can be flexible and fluid enough in the middle of a song that's playing on no matter what you do, then you can probably think on your feet when you're setting up for a song or set and something unexpected needs to be dealt with.

Or maybe you planned something with X amount of people at practice and one or more people are't there.  Being a good improviser can help with reacting to less resources than you planned on.

Another great benefit from being good with improv?  Stress relief.  When you're quick on your feet, when you've developed the ability to make things work, you don't freak out as much about things.  Does it mean that you won't get mad at Karol for forgetting to bring the chappa to a gig, or that you won't have to talk to Reginald for putting the shime in the wrong place?  No, but you'll find it doesn't make you as distracted at the time and the show is better for the audience.

Improvisation is a skill that you can use in almost every aspect of your life, but sometimes it's easiest to practice is when you're already creating something - like music!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Another day, another anniversary.

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Eight years ago, I started this blog.  I didn't have a schedule for it, I didn't have plans for it, I just wanted an outlet.  850 posts later, here we are.

Once I got past the first few years of posts that came "easily", I had to start thinking more about what to write about.  It made me think a lot more about things I took for granted, and made me look beyond my own personal experiences.

The more I wrote, the more I felt I needed to accountable - not really "to my readers", but to myself.  The act of saying - over and over - "try harder" actually helped me try harder!  And censoring myself from some of the posts I could write helped me be more thoughtful, which sometimes slips when I'm super-passionate on a subject.

Not every post is golden wisdom, and sometimes it's hard to write about something compelling after so many have been written.  But I still get something out of trying, and so the blog continues.  Who knows what's in store over the next year or ten, but as always, if there's anything people want to talk about or have me comment on, find me on Facebook and drop me a line - even if it's something that we disagree on.  Challenge me, inform me, teach me new things!  I'm always trying to grow.

And I hope you stick around for the ride!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Back on Monday

Sorry, been really busy lately and will have to skip today's post.  Back on Monday!  Keep practicing!

Monday, February 20, 2017

When to parameter

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I strongly believe in using parameters, or imposed restrictions, as a creative tool.

When used as a tool to create solos, a parameter can be like putting your thumb over a running hose.  You get a stronger stream that shoots further, because it's so focused.  You might not want nor need it for general use, but it might be the perfect thing for a particular purpose.

Maybe you're trying to come up with a new solo move or new patterns, so you put a parameter in that says "play double the amount of notes you normally play" or "incorporate a lot of spins".  It forces you to do things differently, and often can spark some really creative ideas you might not normally have come up with.

When used as a tool to create songs, a parameter can be a way to generate new ideas, but also a way to limit them if you're not careful.  For example, maybe you have too many ideas and making yourself focus on "only naname" or "use lots of hand percussion" helps set you on a path that gains momentum.  However, in my case, I learned that limiting myself too early on made things more difficult than they needed to be.

I was thinking of writing a piece but I didn't want it to be too much like this or too much like that, so I was hampering my creativity.  Better to just let it come out the way it wants to, and then steer it in a direction away from where you don't want to go, rather than never start because you're worried it might "go there".

Parameters have given me and many other people some incredible ideas and insights, and I can't recommend them highly enough!  If anyone wants some ideas on how to use them or what kinds there are, get in touch and I'll be happy to tell you!