Taiko Philosophy: Ma = Clave, Swing, Duende, Etc.

There’s this thing in taiko and traditional Japanese music called “ma” that is typically described as “the space between the notes,” but it’s really much more than that. Much like “clave” in Latin music, “swing” in Jazz, or “duende” in Flamenco, we’re actually talking about an aesthetic.

For example, you’ll hear people say – He has great technique but… he doesn’t have clave, doesn’t swing, or has bad ma. It means the person is playing all the correct notes, but lacks a greater aesthetic required to make the music whole (at least in the speaker’s mind).

Clave, swing, and ma are all things the performers are feeling on stage. It’s always there, and it’s the strongest force behind the music. You can feel clave, swing, or ma, even if it’s not explicitly being played.

The way people often talk about and perceive “ma” would make one think it’s a technique that we’re supposed to practice, like paradiddles on a drum pad. But it’s actually more about studying the great players that came before us, and trying to align ourselves with their greater aesthetic.

Please feel free to write in and share your taiko philosophy – or any interesting observations you might have come across. It’s always great to hear from people in the taiko community, and I look forward to connecting with you!