Teaching Adults to Solo

Just like younger students, adults can be intimidated by the idea of soloing, which requires awareness of and ability to play on the beat (pulse), internalized phrasing so you play a solo of the correct length (if length is set), form and strike, and competency with basic beats. Improvising adds a level of complexity that true beginners* generally aren’t ready for, and I don’t recommend having students improvise right out the gate.

Here’s my method for helping adult beginners start soloing. For this approach, choose a song that the students already know that includes soloing as well as unison playing. Sanae Swing would work, as would Matsuri, as would literally hundreds of other songs.

Adult Soloing Blog.jpg
  1. Give each student a kuchishoka deck to build a solo. Set the length of the solo at 8 beats (2 measures, 8 cards).

  2. Give the students 15-20 minutes to create their solos and practice them on their drums.

  3. Add a jiuchi so students can practice their solos with a back beat, but don’t make everyone start and stop at the same time.

  4. Move to everyone starting and stopping at the same time (aka chaos soloing).

  5. Have students play their solos one at a time.

  6. Build their solos into the song arrangement.

For some students, this is still pretty intimidating, and I let those students choose to work in teams.

Out of ideas for your taiko classes? I can help! I’ve been teaching taiko in school and community settings for over a decade. Drop me a line, and happy teaching!

*True beginners = people coming to taiko without previous music or dance experience. I find that taiko attracts a lot of true beginners.  

Teaching K-3 students to solo

Creating patterns

Creating patterns

Soloing can intimidating. It’s a tough skill that draws on multiple competencies; acute awareness of the pulse, a large “beat vocabulary,” confidence, and more.

Soloing can be taught, but students get overwhelmed if you try to do it all at once. My method of introducing soloing to younger students breaks the skill into bite-sized pieces learned over several weeks. It’s one thing I do in class over those 4 weeks, rather than the only thing we work on. With students this age I let them create and play duets if they want, which is less high stakes and cultivates confidence.

Here’s my method:

Week 1

  1. Teach kuchishoka using the Squirrel Village story.

Fill the boxes with one  kuchishoka  each.

Fill the boxes with one kuchishoka each.

Week 2

  1. Remind students of the squirrel rhythm pattern from the story. Have them play it on their laps. Point out that the number of syllables they’re saying corresponds to what they’re playing.

  2. Draw a horizontal rectangle on the board. Divide it into 4 equal boxes.

  3. Choose 4 kids. Have each say don or doko. Write the words they say on the board, one per box.

  4. Lead the class through clapping the pattern their classmates created.

  5. Have students move to drums.

  6. Lead students in playing the pattern on the drums.

  7. Repeat steps 3, 4, and 6 two or three times.

  8. Introduce su. (It’s in the squirrel rhythm, but they won’t have realized it.)

  9. Repeat steps 3, 4, and 6 several more times, adding su into the mix.

Week 3
(Ask teachers to bring individual whiteboards, markers, and erasers to class.)

  1. Do steps 3, 4, and 6 from last week to activate their prior learning.

  2. Give 2-3 minutes for students to create a 4-beat rhythm pattern on their own whiteboard, drawing boxes and writing words inside them (the way they’ve been doing it as a class). Allow them to work in pairs with their drum partner or own their own.

  3. Have students say and clap their individual patterns all at the same time.

  4. Have students play their individual patterns on the drums all at the same time.

  5. Have students leave their whiteboards and rotate to a new drum.

  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 at the new drum.

  7. Rotate and repeat for up to 20 minutes.

Week 4
(Ask teachers to bring whiteboards again.)

  1. Have students make up their own patterns individually or in pairs.

  2. Have students play their patterns all together.

  3. Have students play patterns one at a time. You need to conduct this. I count in the whole group, then make friendly eye contact with a student when it’s their turn to play and mark their 4-beats with my hand. The first time around is rocky, but the second time goes fine.

At the end of Week 4, each kid or pair has a short solo ready to plug into a song. Have them play it twice if you need a longer one. Be sure to email your classroom teachers before Weeks 3 and 4 to ask them to bring their individual whiteboards to class (I have yet to run into a class that doesn’t have a set).

If you try this approach, let me know! I’d love to hear how it goes. Happy teaching!

Introducing Kuchishoka to Kids

The power of the Orff method comes from the way it fires up imagination and encourages experience. For kids between the ages of 4-8, hearing a story that includes kuchishoka primes their minds to understand how syllables relate to drumming.

“The Squirrel Village” introduces Kindergarten through 3rd grade students to don and doko. Nearly every time I’ve told it, the students join me in chanting and playing their laps by the time I finish. That even happened in the video below, where I’m telling the story to a group of adults as part of a training! (Bonus points if you spot the math integration in the story.)

I recommend using this story with grades K-3. As with any storytelling, delivery is much more important than getting the text exactly right. Try this in your next kids’ class and let me know how it goes!

(And yes, the story requires great suspension of disbelief, which is easy for most students in this age range.)