All About My Instructional Videos

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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.


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: 

http://taiko.la/event/solo-creation-taiko-workshop-eien-hunter-ishikawa


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.

See more articles at www.eienhunterishikawa.com/articles

How to improvise with nabe (Japanese hot pot)

delicious nabe ready to eat

delicious nabe ready to eat

One of the most comforting things to make when the weather turns cold is nabe ryouri (Japanese hotpot cooking). I think of nabe as the opposite and equally satisfying seasonal meal of cold somen in the middle of the summer's heat. In Japan, the common cooking method involves heating broth or water in a clay pot (called donabe) over a portable stove at the table. It wasn't until a few years ago that my fairly narrow concept of nabe was liberated by the book Japanese Hot Pots (Ono & Salat). While the traditional method is lots of fun, we don't necessarily need the special equipment in order to experience delicious nabe cooking. Learning how to improvise is just a matter of understanding the key points, and our reward is freedom to try whatever we want to.

Here are my guidelines:

1. The cooking vessel – a donabe is great, but any large pot or pan works just fine. I use an enameled cast iron pan, which has the advantage of retaining heat after it comes off the stove. A lid is needed.

2. The liquid – homemade dashi is what I use most, but any fish, vegetable, poultry, or meat stock will work. Even using granulated instant dashi or concentrated broth in jars (such as Better Than Bouillon brand) will make good nabe. The main thing to watch is the salt level, knowing that you can always add more later.

3. The ingredients – this is where we want an open and adventurous perspective. Vegetables, fish, tofu, meat, noodles, and anything else in the fridge can be considered. Some things require more time to cook: for example, I will place daikon on the bottom and start cooking before adding fresh greens like shungiku (chrysanthemum leaf) or delicate things like cod fillets. When everything is added to a dry pan before pouring the liquid in, your beautiful arrangement will stay intact during cooking.

4. The shime – meaning to "tie up," the shime is how nabe dining is concluded, with a starch such as rice, noodles, or mochi. After all of the ingredients have been simmered, the delicious broth is most valuable and a neutral flavor vehicle is used to enjoy the broth and make sure we are satisfied. I don't see any good reason to exclude other starches like bread, crackers, potato, pasta, flat breads, beans, or other whole grains.

As an example, here is how I typically do nabe.

ingredients for classic dashi

ingredients for classic dashi

First I soak some konbu in 4 cups of cold water (for better flavor extraction and fuller bodied broth) for 30 minutes to several hours depending on my schedule. Then I will shave the katsuobushi while the konbu water heats on the stove. As it comes to a boil, the konbu comes out and the katsuobushi goes in. I let it steep for 10-20 minutes off heat and then strain. To this dashi, I add 1/3 cup usukuchi shoyu and 1/3 cup mirin. These flavorings can be switched out with miso, salt, fish sauce, kimchi, spices, or anything to get the salt level into the appropriate range. 

ingredients in the pan before adding liquid

ingredients in the pan before adding liquid

Next, I start cutting and arranging ingredients into the dry pan. Here, I have daikon and dry harusame scattered on the bottom. In the middle is medium firm tofu cut into 2 - 3cm blocks, which is another excellent flavor vehicle when simmered in broth. Around the tofu are enoki and shimeji mushrooms (the more mushroom varieties, the better), hakusai, negi, gobo fish cake, and shungiku. Cutting diagonally helps increase surface area, allowing for better flavor transfer. Because the quality of these ingredients is directly related to how the broth tastes, I tend to be flexible, letting freshness and integrity dictate what goes in rather than what might be 'proper.' In my example, I have several areas covered: oniony negi, meaty mushroom, fish cake richness, and added dimension from roots and greens. The noodles and tofu soak up flavor and provide contrasting texture.

hanging out by the heat vent until the kotatsu is turned on

hanging out by the heat vent until the kotatsu is turned on

Once the ingredients are all arranged, I pour the liquid in, cover, and place over high heat. As it starts to bubble, lower the heat and let boil gently until the hardest ingredient is soft enough for your liking (in this case daikon). Then, simply place the whole pot in the center of the table with spoons and chopsticks nearby. The common way to finish is to boil pre-cooked rice in the broth, helping it to break down a bit and absorb flavor. But I usually just combine the rice and broth in a bowl and enjoy. Try both ways to see if the extra step is worth it.

Nabe is really fun, especially when we allow ourselves the freedom to improvise. Keeping in mind these few guidelines not only helps avoid failures, but also provides a structure in which we can exercises our individual creativity. A very experienced performer and teacher once told me that "improvisation is problem solving." That concept took a while for me to understand, but like many things stated simply, I think it makes a lot of sense. For nabe, the 'problems' could involve what's in the fridge, the limitation of the pan size, what kind of shime to use, the dietary preferences or restrictions of the eaters, and so on. Improvising on the solutions is the fun part, and you get a comfort food that is perfect for winter. I think of pizza as another fun theme to improvise on, but that will have to be covered in a future entry.

Video: soloing concepts by jazz drummer Antonio Sanchez

Have you seen the movie Birdman?  Jazz drummer Antonio Sanchez wrote the film's score and most of the soundtrack is solo drumset.  He has also been Pat Metheny's drummer for the past 15 years.  I recently watched his instructional feature called Creative Soloing & Freedom presented by Drumeo and was impressed by the clarity with which he explained and demonstrated his concepts.  While I think it's well worth watching the video, I'll list the most important points here.

Sanchez says that he tries to tell a story when playing a solo.  This means stopping yourself from operating on autopilot.  Instead of just letting your hands play your usual licks, you start with a motive (idea) and then develop it using techniques such as:

1. Giving yourself space to think.  The space could be silence or going into a holding pattern such as a groove.  "Give space...be patient...be friends of silence."

2. Using repetition to establish the motive in our memory and the audience's memory.  Ending a solo with the same motive from the beginning is a very effective way to structure it.

3. Creating an answer to your motive's call.  As an example, Sanchez sings the opening 2 bars of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (Allegro) to see if his interviewer could sing the response (he did easily).  Another example was the melody of 'shave and a haircut - two bits.'

4. Using the full dynamic (volume) range of the instrument.  "I cannot stress enough how important soloing dynamics are."

5. Creating contrast through rhythm, sound, dynamics, etc. to interplay with the motive.

6. Developing your vocabulary by copying others, then making the material your own by exploring new ways to play them.  Emulating great players in the genre you're studying is crucial to learning that specific language.  It's important to understand the historical context of the style.

7. "Practicing with a metronome is extremely important...allows you to get your ideas in to the grid that is time.  You have to be very certain of what subdivisions you're playing all the time."

8. Making sense.  "People start following you if you make sense...saying something meaningful."  An example of NOT making sense would be the statement "I love scrambled eggs, but the movie was terrible."  Those two things are not directly related.

Sanchez says that this kind of approach in which you are truly improvising is more challenging as it has more risk involved.  But "going into the unknown" is the way to explore fresh ideas and play differently each time.  Because the possibilities are endless, it can be intimidating to start with this "blank sheet of paper."  Sanchez says that these ideas can be applied at any level since you don't need a lot of technique to start practicing this way. 

To me, everything presented in the video is spot on.  Soloing and improvisation is a topic I'm often asked to teach in workshops and private lessons, and it was good to hear new ways of thinking about the topic from one of the most in-demand drummers working today.  I would encourage everyone to check out this video and then share your most memorable take-away points.