A crossover song for beginners: Yagura no Chochin

Crossing over (a multi-drum skill) is fun for players and impressive to audiences. Kristin’s most recent composition, Yagura no Chochin, helps beginning players of all ages learn this exciting skill using a limited number of repeated phrases. The first crossovers are slow, allowing players to practice the motion. Then, the patterns get into full swing, finally incorporating movement to other drums. The song is written out here. The video shows me demonstrating the Body and our recent community class playing through the full arrangement. (Shout out to Robin, Jennifer, and Sarah!)

A few notes: 1) solo length isn’t set; the solo is over when the soloist plays the Tag; 2) the number of times you rotate in the Big Rotation depends on the number of players; rotate until everyone is back at their original drum, then play Line 4 to end the section; 3) the speed in the first section (where I’m demonstrating the Body by myself) is the correct performance tempo; 4) these rhythms are particularly ripe for mnemonics. Our last class was fond of “right ov-er, left ov-er, move ov-er, “stay right here” as a memory aid in the Big Rotation. Use what works!

If you don’t know, the yagura is the elevated platform at the center at most bon odori. People on it lead the dances, and there may be a drummer on it. It’s usually decorated with chochin (paper lanterns) as seen in this photo from the Mountain View Temple Obon. The chochin sway with the movement of the dancers. The crossing over in this song is reminiscent of that swaying, and the rotation of the players alludes to the lead dancers on the yagura.

Let us know if you learn and perform Yagura no Chochin, and happy teaching!

A power song for advanced beginners: Tenryu

Looking for a power song to teach your students? Tenryu, a recent composition of ours, might fit the bill. It’s written out in kuchishoka and western notation here, and the video includes a full run and some tips from people who are learning it.

Tenryu is a great example of how much harder it can be to learn a song from transcribed kuchishoka, and I strongly recommend the video as a learning tool. A huge thank you to Taiko SOBA for being in the video! (The terms stage right and stage left are critical to connecting the notation with the video. If you’re not familiar with those terms, they’re explained here.)

Tenryu translates as “Sky Dragon” and the idea behind the song is that the entire group is a single dragon. It’s meant to convey the freedom, connection, and power generated when we channel our ki -- ALL of it-- into a collective effort.

Some notes on the song:

  • Tenryu isn’t complex rhythmically. The challenge is in playing it powerfully without tensing up.

  • Most sections start with a pick-up.

  • The patterns and tempo generate the mood of the song, rather than players hitting as hard as they can.

  • In the transcribed kuchishoka, the bold text in section C is there to make the pattern (replacing dokonko with dogodogo) easier to see.

  • Section D is challenging on two levels. It’s the only part of the piece where the chu and odaiko play different parts, and the odaiko part can be tricky to lock. There’s also an “extra” dogodogo at the end of this section. It’s unexpected for the listener, but it drives the song into the final sections.

Notes on the video:

  • The odaiko part is being played by 4 players in the back.

  • Taiko SOBA vibrated the entire room with this rendition (go SOBA!). Nevertheless, this is a great version to learn from.

As usual, we’re releasing this under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike  which means you’re welcome to remix, tweak, and build upon Tenryu, as long as you credit us and license any new creations under identical terms.

If you have questions while learning or teaching Tenryu, drop me a line. If you perform it, please post a video let me know. Happy teaching!

Another Song for Beginners: Sanae Swing

Many beginning students have trouble feeling a swing jiuchi. This is especially true for new players who don’t have music or dance training before coming to taiko. I created Sanae Swing as an entry-level piece to help these players build facility with swing ji and with creating and playing solos.

Structurally, the song is very simple. It’s just an Intro/Outro pattern, a tag, and places for players to plug in solos (or duets, if they’re not comfortable soloing yet). The kuchishoka deck is a great tool for students who are new to creating solos. I highly recommend printing one (or more) and using it (them)!

The video above shows our community class playing a short arrangement of Sanae Swing. They opted for duets rather than solos and used the kuchishoka decks to create them. The kuchishoka and western notation are here. If you teach this song, please post video and let me know! I’d love to see where people go with it.

Happy teaching!

A Song for Beginners: Bamboo Shoots

Every beginning player needs to learn songs that reinforce the skills they’re learning. Renshu (by Seiichi Tanaka) is such a song. Renshu is canon, and an important part of North American taiko history. You should teach Renshu! (If you don’t know or know of Renshu, Google it now!)

But you shouldn’t only teach Renshu. In general, beginning players like to learn a lot of new songs. The more songs you can teach them, the more they’ll feel like they’re progressing (and the greater rep they’ll have to draw on for future performances).

Bamboo Shoots (Takenoko) targets middle and high level beginners. It’s challenging enough that your fastest learners won’t get bored but easy enough that slower learners will still succeed, especially if they have faster peers to copy. The video features my community class playing a short arrangement of Bamboo Shoots and includes the kuchishoka. The full song is written out here in kuchishoka and western notation.

The song’s pretty simple. If you use it, please post a video and let me know. I’d love to see where people go with it. Happy teaching!