Book review - Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise

Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise

Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise

I recently read an excellent book titled Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. It was fascinating to learn about the latest research regarding expertise and human performance. The authors introduce studies of athletes, doctors, musicians, chess players, mental athletes, cab drivers, comedians, Navy pilots, and others where the relationship of practicing and improvement could be measured. As a longtime student and teacher of music, I discovered many statements which crystallized into words my own experience and philosophy about practicing and teaching. I highly recommend this book, as any discipline can benefit from these important lessons. Here are some of my top takeaways from the book:

1. "First, find a good teacher" – it may seem obvious, but with so many resources available in books and online these days, there is no question that studying with a good teacher greatly increases your potential for expertise in your pursuit.

2. Immediate feedback – the sooner you get feedback after a performance, the more impactful it will be to your improvement. Quality feedback comes from quality teachers.

3. Mental representation – visualizing your goals is important. It is crucial to have excellent examples to emulate.

4. Deliberate and purposeful practice – although most people were introduced to the 10,000-hours-to-mastery concept through Malcolm Gladwell's well-known book Outliers, it was in fact Ericsson's research which was cited. In Peak, he clarifies what he describes as a misrepresentation of his original research. The quality of practice is a major component of becoming an expert.

5. The myth of natural talent – a recurring theme throughout the book is that expertise comes from effective practice and not from genetics. The authors provide interesting explanation of why natural talent is such a prevalent belief in our society.

6. Getting out of your comfort zone – it may be an ego appeasement to sound good while practicing your instrument, but real progress can't be made unless we confront our biggest problems directly. Performance can reveal our weaknesses, which is why it can teach us so much about our ability and progress.

8 Concepts for Becoming a Better Improviser

Eien on taiko-drumset hybrid setup

Eien on taiko-drumset hybrid setup

I have added a new entry about improvisation to my articles page, which contains other topics such as stick selection, metronome games, ji playing, and atarigane technique. By making these free tip sheets available, it's my hope that they help you find new ways of approaching these topics. I'm always happy to take questions or any feedback so feel free to contact me. For more in-depth discussion and demonstration, check out my instructional videos. Previews are on my youtube channel. While the best way to learn involves being in the same space, I would consider online private lessons to be a great alternative option because it still allows for live feedback and in-person demonstration. Finally, I will be covering the topic of solo creation in a workshop on June 4 at Asano Taiko US in Torrance. Here is the information and registration page:

8 Concepts for Becoming a Better Improviser

Improvisation is a valuable skill which anyone can develop through deliberate practice and by accumulating experience. It can create spontaneous interaction during performances and help ignite a creative spark for new compositions. Mistakes during performance are inescapable; being prepared to improvise with them can produce new avenues for inspiration. Like any skill, the specific way you practice improvisation is important. Here are eight concepts for becoming a better improviser:

1. Copy good improvisers – choose several improvisers you like and learn to play their solos exactly note for note. This can be done by ear or transcribing into notation. Analyze why you like these improvisations.

2. Focus on rhythmic accuracy – the first sign of insecurity is inconsistent rhythm. Use a metronome and start with simple ideas to focus on the quality of your rhythmic placement. Record yourself and listen back for areas to improve.

3. Self copy game – improvise a one-measure phrase and then play the exact copy in the next measure. Continue the cycle and gradually add complexity. Make it more challenging by working with two-measure phrases or with odd meter.

4. Sing what you play – simultaneously singing and playing your improvisation is an excellent way to break away from the limited ideas that are stored in your muscle memory. If this is too challenging, only sing your ideas first.

5. Incorporate space – strive to become comfortable using space, which can be used to highlight the notes and improve your phrasing. Not playing anything can be an opportunity to think about what to do next and to listen for ideas from others.

6. Explore sounds, timbers, and dynamics – practice a wide variety of ways your instrument can be played. Exaggerate contrast to expand your range.

7. Work on accompanying – being a good accompanist is just as important as developing your own improvisation skills. Listen, play mindfully, be solid, and provide energetic support.

8. Trade solos – trade improvised solos with other players. If they are better than you, your musicianship will grow more quickly.

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Interview: Kiyoshi Nagata talks Daihachi Oguchi, Kodo, and the taiko artist life

Kiyoshi Nagata

Kiyoshi Nagata

I had a fun time talking with Kiyoshi Nagata, the founder and leader of Nagata Shachu based in Toronto. We first met in Vancouver at the 2008 Regional Taiko Gathering, and I remember how his workshops and concert performance were all great. In this conversation, I learned a lot about Kiyoshi's interesting background which included training from Osuwa Daiko's Daihachi Oguchi as well as Kodo's apprenticeship program. Nagata Shachu, his professional taiko ensemble, keeps a busy schedule with tours, recordings, and an impressive array of artistic collaborations. One of the most interesting aspects of Kiyoshi's group is the large number original compositions they have created and performed. His website lists this repertoire along with many other informative resources so I would encourage everyone to check it out at the link below. Another topic Kiyoshi discussed in depth was his teaching philosophy. I wanted to hear his perspective because he has taught taiko classes for credit at the University of Toronto and public classes at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

Kiyoshi kindly sent me his newest CD/DVD set called Toronto Taiko Tales, and I have included some music from the album in the interview. I enjoyed it for the original compositions as well as the quality of the audio recording. The pieces are Hana, Enya Totto, Taichi no Sakebi, Tokiwa, Zare Shamisen, and Araumi. His youtube channel is full of concert footage so you can get a glimpse into the work of Nagata Shachu.

Kiyoshi Nagata

Kiyoshi Nagata

Kiyoshi Nagata, founder and artistic director of Nagata Shachu, has been performing in a career that spans 35 years. His principal studies were with Daihachi Oguchi (as artistic director and performer of the Toronto-based, Suwa Daiko from 1982 to 1992) and with Kodo (as an apprentice from 1993 to 1994). With the assistance of a Chalmers Performing Arts Training Grant in 1999, Kiyoshi studied classical percussion with Paul Houle at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

Since 1998 Kiyoshi has taught a credit course in taiko at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. From 2003 to 2011, he established a public taiko course at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. For eight years, he instructed two community groups, Isshin Daiko in Toronto and Do-Kon Daiko in Burlington, which he helped establish in 1995. Kiyoshi is also regularly invited by universities and taiko groups to conduct workshops and present lectures.

In 1994, Kiyoshi founded the cross-cultural percussion ensemble, Humdrum, whose debut Toronto performance was ranked fourth in Now Magazine’s “Top Ten Concerts of 1995”. He has composed and performed taiko music for dance, theatre, film and radio and continues to collaborate with artists from all genres of music including traditional Japanese instrumentalists.