New Conversation with Bachido's Kyle Abbott

 Delicious pour over of Kyle's home roasted coffee

Delicious pour over of Kyle's home roasted coffee

During my recent working vacation trip to northern California, I was able to squeeze in a visit to hang out with Kyle Abbott in Santa Cruz. I first met Kyle in February 2016, and on that day I had the very impromptu idea of recording our conversation for my new blog. Part of the reason for my initial visit was to ask Kyle about his experiences selling instructional videos on his excellent website Bachido because I was preparing to start producing my own videos. In the almost two years since, I have posted numerous interviews on my blog and uploaded ten instructional videos in my store. This new frame of reference made our recent conversation especially fun and meaningful for me. It was a fun day of recording, drinking Kyle's fantastic coffee, tasting local beers in town, and cooking a great dinner on the grill late into the night.

Last year I provided some percussion for Kyle's album Frosty: a retrospective Christmas. Full of unusual arrangements of traditional Christmas songs, I always describe this album as the most uniquely interesting material on your holiday playlist. With shamisen, taiko, throat singing, shakuhachi, and various other instruments, it's bound to turn heads and prompt inquiries at your next party. You can contact me for a copy or visit the Bachido store to purchase.

Earlier this year, Kyle and I also collaborated on the planning of "Tataki," a weekend workshop series where taiko and shamisen players gather to try out each other's instruments and to discover how to play together effectively. Unfortunately we had to postpone the event due to not reaching the enrollment minimum and being declined on our grant application. We predicted that it would be a great event, but perhaps our idea was too progressive and ahead of our time? It's difficult to know if the timing was off (March 4-5, 2017) or the interest is not there, but we will be trying again in the future. Subscribing to our newsletters is the best way to stay updated for future event announcements like these. 

Kyle Eien Square.jpg

We talked long enough that Kyle split it into three segments. The first two are posted on his website's Bachi On The Horn series, and the third is below. We delved into a handful of topics including the importance of feedback from your teacher, hierarchy of ways to study, the value of current technology, and the small world of musicians where interesting connections are constantly being discovered. We started talking indoors, but that room needed to be vacated so we continued out in the back yard. It was a beautifully sunny late afternoon - ideal for recording a podcast except for the dozens (or hundreds) of crows gathering right above us. Hopefully this audio reminiscent of a certain Hitchcock film won't be too much of a distraction. I would definitely encourage everyone to check out all three parts, especially where we discuss the similarities between coffee tasting and music. Kyle and I are both home coffee roasting enthusiasts and this topic came up on our 2016 conversation as well.

 After concert photo in Santa Cruz with Robbie Belgrade, John Kaizan Neptune, and Kyle Abbott

After concert photo in Santa Cruz with Robbie Belgrade, John Kaizan Neptune, and Kyle Abbott

 After concert photo in Los Angeles with John Kaizan Neptune, Mike Penny, and Kojiro Umezaki

After concert photo in Los Angeles with John Kaizan Neptune, Mike Penny, and Kojiro Umezaki

All About My Instructional Videos


How does it work?
When you select a video, you will arrive to the description page. From there, you can "add to cart" and then pay with a credit card or paypal through the secure online payment system Stripe. Then you will receive an email with a download link for the PDF document which lists the video URL (hosted on Vimeo), the password required to view it, and the exact timestamp of each topic so you can easily revisit specific demos and explanations. There is no limit to the number of times a video can be viewed and the link will never expire.

Who are these videos intended for?
These videos will help anyone looking to boost skills and gain knowledge on the topic of choice. Most of the exercises are designed for individual practice but they can be translated for group rehearsal situations. For example, some of the ji playing exercises can be introduced to your ensemble and used during a warm-up routine. Another idea is to rehearse the improvisation interaction exercises with various soloist and accompanist combinations.

What is the difference between the videos and online private lessons?
The videos cover a lot of material which should be practiced in progressive steps. The advantage of instructional videos is that you can watch them over and over as each concept is internalized. The timestamps for each sub-topic will help to quickly find the exact point you are looking for. In contrast, online private lessons feature live one-on-one private lessons where you can ask questions, I can demonstrate examples, and you can receive detailed feedback on the material you are working on. The strength of private lessons is being able to get deeper into the topic through live interaction. For both learning methods, I am always happy to answer any follow-up questions and provide further clarification.

Why make these instructional videos?
Through my 20+ years of teaching, I have noticed that the concepts I introduce in workshops and lessons seem to help students approach their practicing in new and fresh ways. Because of my diverse musical training, my inclination is to freely borrow the best ideas and methods from other disciplines in order to come up with the most effective solutions. It's my hope that by sharing my somewhat unusual perspectives, others will find new ways to be creative in their own areas.

Do you have video samples?
Most videos have previews on my youtube channel.

Below are the currently available instructional videos. Click on any photo to learn more about the lesson.

The shinobue, also called fue, is the most common horizontal bamboo flute in Japan. It is often combined with taiko and other percussion instruments to provide music for the many festivals and folk traditions found around the country. The shinobue is also featured in taiko ensembles and other contemporary settings where the western-scale tuning of the 'utabue' are used. Due of the lack of English-language information about this instrument, I wanted to create this resource to encourage everyone to learn about the shinobue. This video will help you get a big running start.

Jazz musicians spend countless hours working on improvisation. There is a long lineage of improvisers to learn from, and many teachers have very specific approaches to guide students. In this video, I talk about learning rhythmic improvisation by comparing music to a foreign language. By breaking it down to a step-by-step process, the topic becomes less of a mystery and provides a clear way forward.

Practicing with a metronome is crucial for developing tempo control and consistent subdivision placement. This video guides you through exercises to first be able to play with a steady pulse, and then to develop independence so that your internal timekeeper becomes more solid. I also demonstrate the use of the random mute function in a metronome app as well as the subdivision mode on a regular metronome. 

The ji, or underlying groove, is the most important part of an ensemble's sound and feel. This video introduces several ji patterns commonly found in taiko repertoire and suggests variations to improve your technique. There are also exercises to develop better dynamic control as well as how to use the voice in learning how multiple parts fit together. A demo of playing with my piece Ties shows an example of my practicing approach.

Improving your small drum technique is one of the best ways to boost your skills on all other drums. This video starts with a detailed discussion on different bachi materials and sizes. The most impactful topic here is how to practice holding the stick, which applies to all stick sizes. There are also stick control exercises and a breakdown of the four major types of strokes. Everything is demonstrated, and I provide suggestions for how to continue your development after this material is comfortable.

Atarigane playing is one of my most requested topics for instruction. This introductory video provides everything you need to know in getting started: instrument selection, body position, hitting and dampening, kuchishoga system, exercises to develop technique, common patterns, and notation. I started to develop teaching materials for atarigane after realizing that this instrument was getting almost no attention compared to the other common metallic instrument, chappa.

This video provides a seamless transition into the next level of atarigane playing. I introduce new patters that build on the foundation from the first kane video. There is a play along demo to one of my pieces (June) as well as tips for learning how to improvise on the instrument. Odd meter concepts are also introduced, and the download includes photos showing the proper way to hold the kane and shumoku.

This video introduces the western notation system of writing music. The most common rhythms are written out and explained so that anyone new to it can become proficient at reading and writing music accurately.

Part 2 of this video series continues with explanation and demonstration of ties, dots, and triplets. There is some challenging practice material that will be benefit your concept of pulse and subdivisions.

Making Fermented Corn Relish

 Fermented corn relish

Fermented corn relish

Grilled corn on the cob is one of my favorite summertime treats, but this fermented corn relish is equally delicious. Like many fermentation-related projects, I learned about this technique from Sandor Katz's definitive fermentation guide The Art of Fermentation. On page 215, Katz describes the traditional Native American method of fermenting corn on or off the cob in a brine. April McGregor, a Cherokee folklorist quoted in the book, recommends using a 5% brine (about 3 tablespoons salt to 1 liter water). For the last few years I have roughly followed Katz’s recipe from a 2012 New York Times article. Just like my sauerkraut, kimchi, and dill pickle method, I prefer to use percentages with weighed ingredients for precision, consistency, and control in adjusting to my personal preference. But this would be easy to make without measuring anything and simply adding salt to taste, and there is a lot of room for variation with herbs, fruits, other seasoning as well as the salt, heat, and acidity level. Of course, the highest quality ingredients will provide the best results. Here is the basic recipe from my first batch of 2017 using only things from my garden and the farmers market.


Fermented Corn Relish
5 ears corn (680g)
1 peach (170g)
1 red onion (120g)
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds included
2 serrano peppers, seeds removed
15g sea salt (1 tablespoon)

1. Cut kernels off corn cob. It’s easiest to invert a small bowl inside of a large bowl as a stand for the corn cob. Use a sharp knife to cut kernels, then scrape the pulp with a spoon or back of the knife. Chop peach and onion. Mix with salt and let sit at least 1 hour, then squeeze to release juices. I used 1.5% salt of the total weight of 970g.


2. Mince peppers and add to corn mixture. It’s important to taste chiles due to their variation in heat level. This time I decided to keep the jalapeno seeds and remove the serrano seeds. You can also just use sweet peppers.


3. Stuff into a jar and press down to submerge in juices. This batch didn’t all fit into a 1 liter mason jar so I used a second 1 cup jar. The airlock is not required. I fermented for 2 days at 75 - 80 degrees F room temperature, resulting in a good balance of salt, heat, acid, and fermented flavor. Colder temperature might need more time for fermentation so always taste to check progress. It will keep in the refrigerator for weeks and months, though I always eat it up before that.


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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