If you’ve paid much attention to popular music in the US, you’ve probably built an experiential understanding of a 4/4 time signature. You can also probably sense when a musical phrase is about to end, and you may have noticed it’s often after 16 beats, or 8, or some other multiple of 4.
Not everyone pays this much attention to music though, and I’ve worked with taiko students who haven’t built an internal sense of what 4 beats feels like (yet). As a result, they sometimes create solos that are 9 or 17 or 33 beats long. These can be cool, but more often than not they derail the rest of the students, who are concentrating on holding a jiuchi and/or playing the tag that’s coming up. There’s a time and place for advanced solos, but it’s not usually your beginner class. If you have a student whose complex timing is difficult for your other beginners to follow, consider moving that player to a more challenging class before they get bored and quit!
Helping students build an internal sense of 4/8/16 beats frees them to focus on movement, playing on beat, expression, and the 1,000 other things that go into soloing. Here’s how I’ve helped students build an internal sense of 16 beats. It can be easily adapted to any phrase length.
Play a straight jiuchi and lead your students in counting to 16 out loud on the beat. Make sure you don’t let two syllable numbers take up two beats.
Keep the jiuchi going for another 16 beats while you continue counting out loud. Have students improvise a solo (everyone at the same time, aka chaos soloing). The students don’t need to count to 16 out loud while they’re playing, but they’re welcome to.
Alternate the counting for 16/playing for 16 for 10-20 rounds.
As your students get more comfortable, step down your support (i.e., only count the first 4 and last 4; stop counting entirely; don’t let the students count out loud while they’re playing). You can (and should!) also try this with a swing and horse jiuchi. Doing this for a few minutes for several classes in a row will help your students internalize what 16 beats feels like.
Let me know how this technique works for you and how you adapt it, and happy teaching!
(Lastly, a shout out to everyone I connected with at NATC in Portland! It’s so inspiring to see taiko people from all over North America come together to share our love of this art form. I was deeply touched to hear how many of you have been using activities from this blog in your classes. Thanks to everyone who attended and took the time to say hi, and I hope to see you all at NATC in 2021!)