O-Daiko

I’ve known this for a few weeks, but because I was sooo excited about it and never imagined I’d get to do it, I didn’t want to talk about it until it became reality.

Now it’s reality: I was invited to join the o-daiko class this year. Tonight was my first class.

That doesn’t sound like sooo excited, but maybe that’s because I’ve been excited beyond words.

So how did it go?

I knew going into it that this would be hard, but this class was HARD. The stance (right hip flexor and right foot), the back arch, the arms up in the air the entire time. I used my water bottle to roll out my hip flexor during the break. And my left shoulder? Very obviously not as strong as the right.

There is going to be a lot of rolling and massage in my future.

Because the class was mostly returning students, we went pretty fast. Sensei spent the first half hour tweaking our form, and after that we launched right into segments of one of our main pieces. We even did showy arms and foot adjustments and opposite stance tonight.

I guess he thinks we can handle it.

I guess I think he’s right. We’ve got this.

Before I go, one more first: I broke my first bachi! An o-daiko bachi at my first o-daiko class. I felt it split in my hand as I hit. I looked at the pieces in my hand, then showed sensei. He gave a big smile, which I interpreted as, “Heck yeah!!”

I don’t know why I’m so thrilled about this. Probably because I’m little and don’t manage to hulk smash things very often. It took me years to break my first hockey stick.

I got to keep the bachi as a souvenir, so I decided to document it. For posterity!

Update: 2019-03-11 @ 9:37 AM

Some notes on technique, so I don’t forget.

– Stance is something like a diagonal warrior.
– Front foot is close to the base of the daiko stand.
– Upper body leaned back.
– Chin down. Look at the bottom of the daiko, not the middle.
– Straight arm up, bachi behind back, extend to strike.
– Never drop elbow.
– Sink down on the strikes, drive into the face of the daiko.

Parallel Parallel Parallel

After doing some left vs. right air drumming in front of a mirror last week, my other-side-of-the-daiko derpy arms were less derpy last night. Deliberate practice FTW!

I also have a new mantra when drumming really fast, from either side: Parallel-parallel-parallel-parallel-parallel!!! I want my bachi moving parallel to each other, and in line with the angle of the daiko.

Unrelated to arms, a stance breakthrough! I finally realized that getting my feet wide wasn’t enough; I need to consider the angle of my ankles, knees, and hips as well. (Or, if you prefer, my shin and my thighs.) I finally realized that sensei’s stance during our warmup stretches is how he stands when he demos during class. I tried this out during the class and it made a huge difference in being able to maintain a wide, low stance with my upper body straight.

I’m happy I have bandwidth for fine tuning now.

Flip it Good

In today’s installment of, “We’re learning WHAT??!?” we played the chu-daiko from the other side. Same form as from our usual side, except its mirror image.

It felt fine, right up until we had to play at speed. Holy Derpy Arms!! Gonna have to practice this one at home.

Shinnenkai

It’s been almost a year since I started taiko. I went from knowing nothing to learning about equipment, terminology, form, and technique.

I got to know the chu-daiko, and the various ways to strike it: don, do-ko, tsu-ku, ka-ra…

I got to shout, usually “So-re!”

I got to tap my sticks together, often over my head all showy and stuff.

From there we progressed to tossing, twirling, stepping, striking a pose, never missing a beat.

There were many blisters and bruises along the way. At one point, I smacked my fingernail so hard it turned purple and I thought it was going to fall off.

Later in the year, I was introduced to shime-daiko and its completely different technique. I felt a bit like a little monkey playing a drum.

Every year, our group has a recital at the end of January. I was excited when the drum assignments came out; I’d made the front row! At the same time, a little voice in my head yelled, “Holy crap!”

Still, I’d worked really hard to learn our two songs and execute with solid form. I’d cleared my schedule and attended almost every class. It felt good to see that practice and dedication pay off.

Last Sunday was our recital. I was part of the stage crew, and learned a ton about show logistics. I also got to watch our guests perform from backstage, something I’ve never done before. I loved it!

Both songs went well. I didn’t drop my bachi doing the fancy moves and no one noticed my couple little screwups. I’m pretty sure we all screwed up, so no big deal. Overall, our songs sounded like songs. :)

My friend Alissa was kind enough to take video, but for reasons I’m not entirely clear about I’m not supposed to share them with the internet. So here are a couple stills.

This first one’s from our chu-daiko piece, Bondaiko Midareuchi. We’re yelling “So-re!” whilst striking a pose at the start:

And this second one’s from a piece I played shime-daiko on, Agari Yatai, to close out the show:

February is going to be a slow month at class, when we go back to basics for the new students who join. I’m looking forward to it, because it’ll be a chance for me to refine my form.

So-re!

Shime

For the last 9 months, we’ve been practicing on chu-daiko on angled stands, striking sideways from right to left, shifting our weight in a wide stance.

Yesterday, we switched to shime-daiko, smaller drums you play from a seated position the floor. It’s a totally different experience.

Instead of shifting your weight, your sit cross-legged on the ground. Instead of moving your arms diagonally, you move them straight up and down. There’s a subtle but core difference in arm extension: Instead of “flaring”, you “tuck”. The bachi are baby sized in comparison to the ones we’ve been using for chu-taiko.

Getting the new motion down is going to take some practice.

Maintaining a still and straight upper body while playing feels like a solid core workout. Also the baby bachi don’t cause blisters as easily. Double win!

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Since I started taiko drumming in February, I’ve attended two shows.

The first one was in April. My reaction? “Holy crap, they’re really good!”

The second one was last night. They’re still really good, but now I have a better appreciation of what they’re doing, what’s hard, what’s exhausting, what’s improv, and all the little tweaks they make during the course of a live performance.

It’s like how I learned to watch hockey differently over the years. Now as I watch people drum I analyze what I like about their style and try to incorporate some of it into my own.

What’s the taiko equivalent of an ice hockey lacrosse goal?

Bachi Bruises

Another week, another slew of new things to learn. We actually warmed up with something brand new. By the end of the night, we’d done so much drumming that the bony parts of my hands were starting to bruise. Kind of like when I first started playing hockey. It’s a good reminder that I’m still a taiko n00b.

On the upside, I kept up well enough to get the first line call for a final run of everything we were working on in the first half of class. I couldn’t tell if it was because Sensei wanted a solid finish going into break, or if he wanted to evaluate my drumming more closely. Either way, it was nerve wracking. Don’t mess up. DON’T MESS UP!!

I didn’t mess up.

Learned some more big movement arms in the air shifting back and forth sequences. I love those.

Doko Doko Doko Doko Doko Doko Don

Holy bachi, taiko class is really picking up! We added a few new parts to our existing songs a couple weeks ago, then this week we jumped straight into a full set of something we practiced briefly in… February or March? In the second half of class, we learned a full set of something completely new to us.

I can’t tell if this is because Sensei feels time pressure to teach us everything before our show in January, or if he thinks we’re actually good enough now. I suspect it’s the former. Yikes!

So Much Don Don

Taiko class tonight was soooo good! We learned a few new parts and resurrected a sequence from early in the year, before I knew what I was doing. It was so much easier this time around! And the new stuff was so much fun.

We had exactly as many students as drums, so we didn’t get the usual rotation rest. After the first hour we took a break. Everyone was exhausted, but we all had giant smiles on our faces.

I wonder what we’re gonna learn next week.

First Line

In taiko class, the drums are arranged in two rows. More experienced students play in the front row, so students in the back row can watch and learn. Sensei decides who plays in which row.

This past month, depending on turnout, I’ve started to get more time in the front row. The first time it happened, it was a little nerve wracking. I was playing directly in front of Sensei and I really didn’t want to mess up.

Yesterday, I spent most of our 2 hour class playing in the front. I definitely worked harder on form to not look like a slacker, but mentally everything felt normal.

After class, one of the regular front row students asked, “How’d you like your extended run on the first line?”

The first line! That’s how you know you’ve made it in hockey.

I guess I’ve made it in taiko now too.

(I’m kidding. You know I’m kidding, right? It’s ridiculous how much there is to learn.)