Why I’m glad Taiko-sensei corrected me

In four years of taking wadaiko lessons, I can say that I’m pretty decent at picking up on what my Sensei is teaching us at any given moment. Granted, the teachers I’ve worked with have all been incredible and vivid in their imagery (many times humorously so). I will never forget the Ichigo Miruku rhythm one Sensei taught me, or how another taught me to compare a particular beat (dokko) to how a horse trots.

One thing I’ve noticed, however, is how rarely I’m singled out for correction.

Let me say that doesn’t mean I’m not making mistakes- because I am! And that’s not to say I’ve never been corrected for anything in, say, a group. The Senseis I’ve worked with are kind enough not to single someone out unless they’re making an egregious error… or, if they’re trying to be ambitious and the Sensei wants to help them out. Either or, but generally the former.

“A-chan, let’s practice the rhythm together,” Sensei will say, going to tap the rhythm out on the wooden side of the drum.

Or perhaps, “G-kun, can you show me how you position the drumsticks while resting?”

And once everyone’s gotten a particular thing, we tend to give “mini-demonstrations” of a rhythm we’ve just learned, one by one. In a big group like mine (16 people) that takes a while! Generally this involves each of us doing the thing, Sensei saying, “Yep, you’re good,” and moving on.. unless someone messes up, as above.

But whenever it’s my turn, I usually get a slightly awkward, “Yes!” or “Good job!” or “Nice… desu.” (In English, mind you.)

And in many cases if I mess up so badly everyone in the room winces, the Sensei has been known to wander over with a thoughtful frown, and I’ll think, Ah finally, I’m going to learn a thing…

Only for Sensei to say, “I think your drum is positioned wrong,” or, “Let’s change your drum”, or even, “Let’s change drumsticks, maybe yours need replacing.”

Um, no, Sensei, I need to learn the rhythm, not fiddle with my instrument. The instrument is great. The drumsticks are great. Teach me!

Now, back to the most recent lesson I had.

I was not doing well. After a prolonged break (thank you, New Year’s vacation) I could only remember the first half of the song we’re currently learning… and boy did it show. I was wincing, pausing, and figuring it out while trying not to accidentally mess up anyone else’s groove.

Things came to a head when we were practicing a particular rhythm: “Ut-doro-do-KON-ko-DON.”

Sensei called my name and wandered over, tilting his head at me. “Can you do that again?” he asked me.

I felt a swell of excitement and did the rhythm.

He hummed. “You’re pausing between the rhythm cycles. Can you bring the drumsticks up and back, like in a circle, during the ‘Ut’ part?”

“I can try,” I said, and attempted it with marginal success.

“That’s a bit better… oh! I know what’s wrong. The DON is coming out less like a ‘donnnn‘ and more like a fast, abrupt ‘ko‘. Do that one beat a few times.”

I did, and he nodded. “Better. Now, implement that into the cycle.”

There were several attempts made, but after a minute, I started to get it, and Sensei started going “Yoi-sssha!” Which is a sound that you might hear in festivals, especially while playing the drums, because it’s a sound of excitement, to build up tension. And I kept going.

When I finally stopped, Sensei nodded and said, “That’s what I’m talking about. Everybody, do it again.”

And we did, and I couldn’t stop beaming the whole lesson.

We don’t really need to go into the reasons for why, potentially, my Senseis have been reticent about singling me out to correct me- I think we know at least some of them. (My foreignness being the most obvious one). But to have him do that is super encouraging because it means I’m learning.

And if I’m learning, I can go up.

Maybe to advanced elementary class?

We’ll see.

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