Taiko Drumming: Working the Brain and Body

Last weekend, some of my studio families, friends and I took a beginner taiko drumming workshop. It might sound like an unusual activity for a piano studio, but music is music, regardless of instrument. Besides, nothing challenges your sense of rhythm and coordination like playing percussion in a group.

The first time I heard taiko drumming live was at the Calgary Omatsuri, featuring the Midnight Taiko Kai. I was immediately drawn to the driving rhythms, the synchronicity amongst the ensemble members, and the martial arts like discipline.

That was several years ago. I have since gotten to know two members of Midnight Taiko though other musical endeavours, thus making it rather easy to set up a custom taiko workshop through the Mount Royal Conservatory.

Taiko and Brain Games

We had a three-hour workshop let by Paula Midori Niekar sensei, Artistic Director of Midnight Taiko. She started us off with various brain exercises based on the Rock, Paper, Scissors game to wake up our foggy brains:

After a few minutes, we added the rest of our body to the mix, scooting up and down the floor. It was challenging.

Next, we learned basic techniques for holding the drumsticks (bachi) and our stance (kamae). The latter reminded me our our long stance for one of the martial arts I practice.

Testing our Endurance with Taiko

We learned a couple of basic patterns by ear and by rote, which is traditionally how taiko is taught. Then, we moved on to the Oroshi, which is the "Come check out what we're doing!" pattern.

Finally, we learned Isami Goma, which is a song I have heard Midnight Taiko perform. It translates to "Courageous War Horse." It's quite a long piece, so we had to learn it in sections and went through countless repetitions.

It really tested our memory, coordination and physical endurance. Finally, we had it decent enough to record:

Unfortunately, the sound quality isn't the greatest. My poor camera mic just couldn't handle all that percussion. Next time, I'll bring my Handy Zoom and adjust the mic levels and set-up appropriately.

My students and their parents enjoyed themselves immensely. Afterwards, they expressed the desire to do another taiko workshop next year.

Opening the workshop up to my piano parents and friends made for a wonderful studio community activity. As some of you know, social interaction with other "piano geeks" was one thing that was missing from my musical education growing up. It became an integral part to my musical studies at university. Group activities are an important part of my studio for these reasons, along with giving my students varied ways to enjoy music.

どうも ありがとう ございました to Paula Midori Niekar, Lisa Macleod and the Mount Royal Conservatory. If you'd like to try your hand at taiko, check out the taiko programs at MRU. If you'd like to hear taiko live, check out Midnight Taiko in concert on March 17, 2018.