What is a Kaga Taiko Lesson Like?

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In January Mayumi and I decided to dedicate more time to learning the traditional Kaga style of taiko drumming. We had taken two four-month "Primer" courses through the Ishikawa Taiko Association and desired to learn more. We headed out to the Ichikawa Juku in Komatsu, where Mr. Kazutaka Ichikawa teaches. Almost everyone in the Komatsu area who plays taiko has been taught at some point by Mr. Ichikawa. As we talked with Ichikawa sensei about our plans to return to the US at the end of this year and teach and perform taiko in Michigan, he was pleased, but he also warned us that we would have to work hard if we wanted to do Kaga taiko.

"If you really want to learn Kaga Taiko, I'm not going to go easy on you any more," he said.
"That's alright," I replied, "we don't have much time, so we need to learn quickly."
"You're not going to like it. You won't want to come back next week," he warned.
"Don't worry, I can handle it. I'll be back," I said.
"I'm serious. No more "Mr. Nice Guy," he gave one final warning.
"I promise, I won't give up," I said decisively.
He turned to the person next to him and said, "Man, I hate stubborn people."

Of course it was all in good natured fun, but he was serious when he said that he would teach us more strictly than before. The few times I visited his Juku last year, I was always warmly welcomed and although I was instructed and my technique was often corrected, no matter what I played, I was almost always praised. "Wow, how long have you been learning? That was really good," and other encouragement was often offered.

This time, however, my first lesson after telling Ishikawa sensei about our plans, was a bit different. I played my 2 or 3 minutes and the first thing he said was: "Wow, that really sucked." (more or less). Then he proceeded to break down what I had played, making small corrections here and there. Actually, he wasn't all that harsh in his criticism. Following the "that really sucked" comment, he was actually pretty kind, but perhaps he didn't let me get away with as much as he might of before. There are some other students with whom he is much stricter. Still, he has been holding us to a higher standard than before and we are learning a lot.

As I have mentioned in past posts, Kaga taiko is a very old and traditional form of taiko drumming with a history of over 400 years. In contrast to the more modern styles of taiko, where there are many different styles and a lot of freedom in rhythms and movements, Kaga taiko is filled with all sorts of intricacies and theory. Certain movements are okay, and others are not. Certain rhythms are fine, but there are some rhythms or phrases that should follow other rhythms or phrases. It's all very complicated and every lesson I take, I understand why he calls the modern styles of taiko "Kindergarten" taiko. (Of course, I still love the "Kindergarten" taiko as much as I enjoy Kaga Taiko).

I don't know how proficient we will be able to become at playing Kaga Taiko by the time we return to the US, but it is enjoyable and exciting to be learning a style of taiko drumming that is unique to this area of Japan.

A couple weeks ago, my father accompanied me to the Kaga taiko lessons and recorded the whole thing on video. My mother watched it later and she said that even though she couldn't understand the Japanese, she could tell that Ichikawa sensei was an excellent teacher. In fact, she even said that if Kaga Taiko were an Olympic sport, she imagines that he is what a top coach would teach like.

It was about a 20 minute lesson and I had to split it up into three parts to get it onto YouTube. It is there, though, and hopefully it will give you an idea of what learning and playing Kaga Taiko is like.

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