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.


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

Northern California teaching tour recap

My teaching road trip to northern California went really well.  It helped that gas prices were low and that my Prius gets about 45 miles per gallon, plus I was fortunate with good weather during the 11 hour drive each way.  Thank you to the taiko groups for booking my workshops and to the individuals who took private lessons with me.  And thank you very much to the kind friends for hosting me as a home-stay guest.

On this trip I worked with Sakura Taiko Kai of Berkeley, a wonderful group of taiko players who told me that their age range is 60s to 80s.  It's very inspiring to feel their energy and dedication toward learning about taiko.  I also noticed that, of all the groups I have worked with, Sakura Taiko Kai was one of the most consistent in collectively keeping a steady tempo.  The saying goes that wisdom comes with age, and perhaps good timekeeping goes along with that.

Another group I was invited to work with for the second time was Sonoma County Taiko based in Santa Rosa.  This is beautiful wine country and my hosts treated me to a fantastic dinner at Francis Ford Coppola Winery as well as lunch at Bear Republic Brewing Company.  Sitting outside by the bonfire under the stunningly bright stars listening to a chorus of frogs while drinking local red wine long into the night is about as good as it gets.

 

After years of talking about it, I was finally able to work with Stanford Taiko on this trip.  They requested a shinobue workshop and a ji playing workshop.  I was most impressed by these students' organizational skills and willingness to completely commit to any exercise or concept I proposed.  I'm confident that the twenty members whom I met all have bright futures, and that the group will continue to be a leading voice in the collegiate taiko scene.

 

I was also happy to be invited back to work with the Mountain View Buddhist Temple adult class.  We covered small drum technique and had a lot of laughs while exploring exercises designed to help with tempo control, dynamics, sticking patterns, and playing along to recordings of Santana, Michael Jackson, Steely Dan, and Norah Jones.  After the workshop, we went out for ramen and talked about food and cooking, and a little bit about taiko.

I also had a blast hanging out with shamisen player Kyle Abbott in Santa Cruz, but I already wrote about that on my previous entry so check that out if you haven't yet.  Kyle is a home coffee roaster like me and he made me a fantastic cup of coffee right after I arrived.

My next trip to northern California will be in late May and I look forward to seeing friends and meeting new people in the community.  I will have a couple of performances during that trip so you can sign up for email updates and check back on my events calendar for more information.  Anyone interested in workshops or private lessons can contact me directly through email.