Today’s workshops were on improvisation and timing. With a total of sixteen people, we were able to lay down a base beat with one person playing on each sixteenth note in a four-bar phrase – 1eau2eau3eau4eau. We all found sounds unique to our own particular instruments, and this “R2-ji-2” served as the foundation for the entire improvisation workshop. After practicing the pattern for a while and becoming comfortable with placing our particular beats, Kris slowly built up tools for us to improvise over the base beat. We began with soloists just exploring and enjoying the tones of their instruments, similar to the process of choosing a tone for R2-ji-2. The next step was then to incorporate fades – fading from the center of the drum to the edge, for example, or perhaps fading along the ka spectrum from the tip of the bachi to the base. We also found our comfort licks, or those patterns which we naturally fall back on when lost for ideas. They provide a convenient safety net, but Kris also encouraged us to expand our comfort zones by taking the comfort licks and changing sticking, starting them on off-beats, and so on. The last major tool was to create tension by playing through the bar line with a simple pattern such as straight hits, rather than always ending phrases at the bar line. We then played paired solos, practicing listening and reacting to each other, all on top of the R2-ji-2. Finally, we learned a few call and response patterns and put together a structure for a jam. Overall, the workshop was such that each step was a natural progression from the previous technique, which significantly mitigated the fear of the blank canvas for me. Kris’ goal was also to develop a melodic base beat, giving the soloist room to play with ma and work more collaboratively with the jiuchi, as opposed to expecting the soloist to carry the entire ensemble.
The timing workshop incorporated many drills from 30 Days to Better Shime, including Diminishing Clicks, Hard Starts, and the EOL Listening Test. We also practiced gradual tempo changes, avoiding the panicked, halting adjustments of trying to jump immediately back on time. As with the small drum exercises yesterday, we spent much of the time going around the room giving everyone a chance to play individually. In this case, however, Kris pointed out that the benefit was as much for the listeners as for the player, since the player will play what he believes to be correct, but everyone else can take the opportunity to refine their ears. We spent most of the workshop with a metronome ticking away, and Kris explained that it is useful to practice with the goal of striking just after the click rather than directly on it; the click can sound before the reverberant don swallows it up. Furthermore, when working on precision of timing, the overlap of click and don can be too forgiving. We then moved to naname to work on not rushing the lines of Matsuri, again playing with the metronome and aiming for arriving just after the click. The apex of the strike was the most important point here, as we worked on not sacrificing the speed of the whip to compensate for beginning the strike too early. While we practiced our powerful strike, however, Kris reminded us that each hit involves such an intricate collaboration of muscles that working on timing for a powerful strike is very different from working on timing for a soft strike. Meanwhile, half of the group played jiuchi for the Matsuri soloists, with the metronome offset so that the clicks came at every off-beat; this strategy was very helpful for getting a feel for the space necessary between hits.
We’re very excited for everything we’ve learned to come together at our final recital tomorrow!