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!