Decorative Knots for Atarigane and Shumoku

Angled kane and shumoku.jpg

I recently started a serious study of knots and quickly found out how bottomless this world of knot-tying really is. During my Tokyo Edo Bayashi intensive (read about it here) last June, Suzuki sensei showed me his method of tightening shimedaiko including all of the knots. But for the atarigane and shumoku, sensei simply showed me his instruments and advised me to look up some decorative knots and experiment after I got home. While this was a fun activity, I realized the challenges of not only learning how to tie them, but to find the correct knots in the first place. The internet usually makes information searches fast and easy but my lack prior knowledge made it frustrating to comb through hundreds of tutorial photos, videos, and useless web links. For knots, it turns out that you need to know the exact name of the knot before any good search results will show up. This was even more difficult when I was trying to find the English name of Japanese knots, or trying to reverse engineer knots from photos. Fortunately there are a lot of great tutorials online when you start with the correct knot names, and I list all of the ones I use here.

My research is knot done yet, but these labeled photos will provide a good starting point for anyone looking to add some color and style to their atarigane and shumoku. I don’t believe that there is a single correct way to approach this, and I would encourage everyone to experiment with different combinations of these and other knots. Much like the study of the Edo Bayashi music, there is no end once you start going deeper and deeper down this path. It would be fun to see everyone’s versions so please send me a photo if you try this yourself.

The left-side photo below shows a 5.5 Betsubiki atarigane with some decorative string I repurposed from a pair of chappa. The shumoku (Marukuma Edo Bayashi) string was originally on one of my other kane, and at 93cm it’s probably too long. I might go with something like 60 - 70cm for the shumoku string (length before tying). The common colors I see are purple, red, orange, and white, but it might be interesting to try other colors or combinations. The right-side photo (orange string) shows my experimentation with locking loop knots so that the string length is easily adjusted for different playing styles. Of the two, I prefer the adjustable grip hitch for its ability to hold more firmly. I added a variation so that the end of the string points down rather than out to the side. This photo also shows the proper orientation of the kane where the string holes are toward the bottom.

There are some bonus photos at the end showing two knots: the cowboy bowline and the snake knot. I used an old piece of string from my vibraphone to practice these knots before trying it on the real material. I would highly recommend doing this to get more familiar with the many different techniques. The cowboy bowline is typically used as the starting knot for shimedaiko and is called moyai musubi もやい結び in Japanese. Although I considered similarly breaking down all of the knots I list here, I decided knot to because doing your own research is invaluable, and I wanted to keep the length of this blog entry reasonable. Feel free to send me any follow-up questions. Good luck and happy tying!

Purple kane with shumoku.jpg
Orange kane and shumoku.jpg

Poacher’s knot

Adjustable grip hitch
(variation of passing the string through the last loop down)

Snake knot
Tsuyu musubi つゆ結び

Shamrock knot (sailor’s cross)
Agemaki musubi あげまき結び

Japanese square knot
Kanou musubi かのう結び

Purple close up copy.jpg
Orange close up copy.jpg

Snake knot

Japanese square knot

Triangle lanyard knot

Double connection knot

Overhand knot

shumoku top copy.jpg
shumoku bottom copy.jpg

Snake Knot

snake knot loose copy.jpg
snake knot tight copy.jpg

Cowboy Bowline Knot

Cowboy bowline loose copy.jpg
Cowboy bowline tight copy.jpg
green string.jpg

Video: Five Study Tips for Taiko Players

Eien kane photo 2018 taikothon copy.jpg

A few months ago I was asked to submit a video for the Taiko Community Alliance Taikothon 2018, a one-day online event where videos from taiko artists and groups are broadcasted for public viewing. Typically, the videos contain live performances, discussion on a topic, or even skits (I especially enjoyed the creativity and production quality of Zenshin Daiko’s submission). Two years ago, I made a video explaining my approach to the rules of rhythm by breaking down the notion of pulse and subdivisions. This year I decided to contribute my top five tips - practices which have most significantly helped my development as a taiko player. Below is the video, which covers these tips and demonstrates them in an example where I play a hip Edo Bayashi atarigane transcription along to a cool funk tune. My top five study tips for taiko players are:

  1. Think like a drumset player - good drumset players prioritize consistent timekeeping and being good accompanists. This means that we are always working on tempo control and playing with appropriate dynamic levels. Listening and flexibility are crucial ingredients for good accompanying.

  2. Transcribe music - students of jazz commonly transcribe and learn to play the solos of their favorite musicians. Not only does this practice teach you what kind of notes to play, it provides invaluable insight into why those notes are played and the phrasing (inflection) used to bring them to life.

  3. Study traditional music - there is no substitute for experiencing the depth of an art form with centuries of history. When healthy, traditional music is full of life, constantly changing due to the cycle of practitioners keeping the best parts and removing the worst parts. There is a reason for everything contained in traditional music, and this is powerful.

  4. Focus on your sound - the sound of your instrument is the most uniquely personal part of playing music. Trying to emulate your teacher’s sound or your favorite musician’s touch on the instrument is the path that will lead you to improving your sound.

  5. Take private lessons - just like the clear difference between rehearsing with your group and practicing on your own, studying privately with a good teacher will greatly accelerate your development compared to learning in classes or workshops. Private lessons should have a laser focus on your goals, and a good teacher will provide the tools for you to reach them as long as you put in the work.

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.

Edo Bayashi & Shishimai expert Kyosuke Suzuki sensei

Suzuki sensei has been one of my most important teachers over the past ten years.  My first opportunity to meet and work with him was during the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble 2005 tour and I remember being immediately struck by his deep commitment to the highest performance standard.  North American audiences may know him best as the brilliant shishimai performer with a lengthy and life-like repertoire of choreographed actions such as playing with a butterfly, licking its leg, eating a mikan (tangerine), searching for food, and interacting with the audience.  Although 'shishimai' is usually translated as 'lion dance,' Suzuki sensei has mentioned in workshops that the shishi (獅) is a mythological creature, not technically a lion.  He also contemplated that the word 'dance' may be closer to odori (踊り) than mai (舞) because of the subtle differences in implication.  This kind of detailed explanation is a great illustration of Suzuki sensei's dedication to the meaning of this traditional art form which helps us understand its context and perform it more appropriately.  Anyone who has studied with him would likely agree that he is a masterly instructor who is kind and patient while never compromising his expectation of the highest artistic integrity.

Edo Kotobuki Jishi at 2011 NATC concert

Edo Kotobuki Jishi at 2011 NATC concert

Suzuki sensei is also an exceptional musician on Japanese flutes (nohkan, shinobue), taiko, atarigane, and piano.  Based in Tokyo, he belongs to the acclaimed Wakayama Shachu, a performance troupe and school in the tradition of Edo Sato Kagura, recognized as an important intangible folk cultural asset by the Japanese government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs.  It would be absolutely fantastic if someone was able to present the kagura performance by Wakayama Shachu in North America one day.  Seeing performances and studying these traditional Japanese music forms have been invaluable to my own musical development, and I'm always encouraging other taiko and fue players to research and engage in the rich history of these instruments.  One of my personal performance highlights was at the 2011 North American Taiko Conference evening concert where I appeared on stage with three of my teachers (Suzuki sensei, Saburo Mochizuki sensei, and Kenny Endo) for Edo Kotobuki Jishi.

Last summer, Yuta Kato (Asano Taiko US & Los Angeles Taiko Institute) and I worked to bring Suzuki sensei for a two-week teaching tour that included San Jose, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle.  For much of this trip, I accompanied and translated his workshops and private lessons, covering Edo Bayashi (festival music of old Tokyo) and Edo Kotobuki Jishi (shishimai of Edo).  I've also translated for Suzuki sensei on previous occasions, and the more I see his teaching, the deeper my appreciation for his approach becomes.  His pace of instruction is fast, yet meticulous.  His energy is usually greater than everyone else's combined as any workshop participant can attest to.  And the session is truly free of extraneousness.  His insistence on vocalizing music parts (kuchishoga) and his frequent demonstrations are my favorite parts of the workshop.

See videos and more info about Suzuki sensei here

I'm excited that Asano Taiko US in Torrence, CA is now selling the recommended fue, bachi, sheet music, and CDs for Edo Bayashi and Edo Kotobuki Jishi.  These materials are used by Wakayama Shachu and recommended by Suzuki sensei.  It's great that now anyone can order them from the Asano US online store. 

See the recommended materials here

Please contact me or Asano Taiko US for questions about the instruments and to receive updates for future opportunities to study with Suzuki sensei.  His workshops and lessons are always followed by enthusiasm and positive feedback, so the more people there are to join me as his fans, the more often we can invite him over to share his expertise with us.