Drumdojo is provided and maintained by bingbangbong
- Japanese drumming
by Paul Marshall
taiko playing is perhaps thousands of years old, contemporary taiko playing
has built rapidly on that foundation
- tone generation
taiko is closer to drum kit drumming than the other forms of percussion
that its 'world music' label may indicate. This is by virtue of
the fact that the instruments are played almost exclusively with sticks
(bachi), furthermore many of the sticking patterns and rudiments are common
to the two. Generally one taiko drum is played by one person for a song.
however It is becoming increasingly common to see 'kumi-daiko' which sets
up several drums around a central playing position. This is similar
to a drum kit's toms, although kumi-daiko are not normally ordered by
Style of drumming
To me (and
this is purely my own opinion) the taiko style is best characterised by
an approach and an attitude. This is comprised of highly stylised
and disciplined elements, executed by one or more players with extreme
accuracy and control. The emphasis is not on speed or chops but
on making deliberate and definite patterns that either provide,
support or weave through base rhythms. Because rhythmically each
piece is comprised of several interlocking parts the drum melodies are
complex and synergistic and the listener cannot help but be engaged.
If there was one key requirement for taiko playing, focus would probably
be there for me.
The drums are by far the most recognisable element of
any Taiko performance. Most people think of the giant O-daiko when
they think of taiko drumming. O-daiko means literally 'big drum'
and is a term given to any drum with a batter / playable head in excess
of 3ft. I have seen pictures of these drums where a grown man is
able to stand upright inside the shell. The shells are traditionally
made by carving a huge trunk of Japanese Oak (zelkova) into one single
barrel-shaped piece however contemporary woods include ash & American
oak and it is common to see groups in the west playing taiko made out
of winebarrels. Some manufacturers have started to manufacture drums
out of synthetic materials. The heads on the drums are made out
of rawhide, the O-daiko uses the full hide of a Holstein Bull for each
head. The heads are stretched very very tightly over the drum and
are tacked into position. A Taiko head can last years of beating
before requiring replacement.There are many different types and sizes
of taiko drums, however the 4 main variations are.
Playing positions There
are a number of different playing approaches each of which gives a different
sound and requires different posture and 'attitude' from the drummer. Some
of the positions are common amongst drums.O-Daiko This
drum is positioned with the lowest part of the playing surface at chest
height and is struck with oak bachi (sticks) that are approx. 2" in
diameter and 18" or so in length. The physical exertion involved
in swinging these huge sticks is immense however the stick has to match
the drum to get the correct sound out of it. The drummer stands facing
the drum with one leg bent at the knee (usually the left) and the other
stretched out behind him. This gives the leverage to be able to hit
the drum and maintain balance. The drum can be played by one person
or by two, however one player will almost always be the lead player and
the other has a supportive role.Chu-daiko: I have
seen at least five positions for playing this drum
as described above. Any large barrel shaped drum with a head size
in excess of 3ft. carved from one solid piece of wood. The inside
of the drum is shaped during the carving process with the purpose of
cancelling out the overtones that come from such a large head under
such great tension. An O-daiko may have 4-6 carrying handles,
however I defy 4 people to lift one as they generally weigh about a
half a ton (open to correction on that one)
Medium sized drum. generally 24-28" or so tall with a 20-22"
playing head, carved from one solid piece of wood. As with the
O-Daiko, the interior of the drum is carved for acoustic improvement
smaller lighter drum made from staves, head 14-16" height 18-20",
usually carried and used for dancing Rope tuned .
the baby of the set and a beautiful drum. 10-12" playing area (14"
head), about 10" deep. single piece construction, tuned with thick
ropes (1cm approx.) and placed under immense tension to give the highest
tone possible. It takes 2 men 20minutes to tune this drum using
all their strength and several large pieces of wood for leverage.
There is also a bolt-tuned version which takes much of the strain out
of tuning, however the rope tuned drum looks much better and sits better
aesthetically with the rest of the drums
I have seen three playing styles for this type of drum
The standard 'ensemble' playing position is similar to just having the
drum standing upright on the floor, excepting that it is on a low flat
stand 3-4" tall that angles it slightly toward the player and allows
the bottom head to resonate freely. This position gives a slightly
muted and more attack oriented sound to the drum. The player stands
square-on behind the drum with knees bent to maintain balance as one
would do in marital arts and is struck in a vertical plane. The
sticks used are smaller versions of the o-daiko sticks, approx. 15"
long however they taper from handle to tip from approx. 1"
- 0.75" in diameter. This is the most common way of mounting
and playing the Chu-daiko.
(1 player) this is one of the two most ergonomically demanding positions
for the player. the drum is angled to around 30 degrees with one
end on a support on the floor and the other end is raised about 12".
The player sits on the ground with his legs either side of the raised
head of the drum and plays mid-crunch style for the duration of the
song. The drum is almost totally free to resonate and delivers
quality and fullness of tone that we normally associate with big drums.
I have tried this style and it is a wonderfully responsive way of playing
the drum but you need to work up to having the abdominal strength to
play for more than a few minutes. The sticks used are brutal,
resembling short baseball bats. This is the style best known for its
use in the Kodo piece Yatai Bayashi.
style (1-2 players). This is the other of the two most demanding
playing styles. The drum is set absolutely horizontally about
9-12" off the ground and both sides can be played simultaneously.
The players adopt a similar style to the O-Daiko but much lower and
more side-on. The player stands left side (generally) on to the
drum, left foot in line with and to the side of the drum's head.
The left knee is bent so that the hips are at around knee level.
The right leg is kept straight and extends away from the drum.
When striking, the right stick moves horizontally insofar as is possible
and the left stick swings from either under the right armpit or from
over the right shoulder. This is a beautiful playing style to
watch. The drum is completely free to resonate This is the
style used in Miyake.
- Mid position
(1-2 players) The drum is mounted similarly to the above position but
is raised about 2ft off the ground. the playing methods is similar
to the above but it is much less physically demanding
- High Position
(1-2 players) Played in exactly the same manner as the O-daiko and is
used by many taiko groups who cannot yet afford to buy or make an O-Daiko
I am aware of two positions for this drum
- Low position:
mounted on a three legged stand, with the head about 2'6" off the
floor, similar in height to the standard chu-daiko positioning.
it is played similarly to the chu-daiko in ensemble pieces but has a
The drum is light enough to be worn on a strap around the shoulder and
is usually used in this manner when the drummers are required to dance
or move around the stage. The right stick can be used on its own
in the usual manner or both can be used where the left stick is held
like a pen, allowing the player to alternate left hand strikes between
both heads, sometimes with incredible speed.
- High Position:
Again, I have seen this drum mounted in the shoulder-high position and
played like an O-Daiko. I have also seen this drum played with
a long version of 'hot-rods' a stick made up of many smaller dowels.
Learning Taiko Taiko
is traditionally taught orally using 'Kuchi Showa' which is a systyem of
giving each stroke or combination of strokes a word. The word also indicates
which part of the skin / rim / body is struck as well as giving the rhythmic
elements. The basic premise is that if you can say it, you can play it.
- Low position:
Mounted on a frame formed from a single length of solid wire about 1cm
thick. The playing area sits about 12" off the floor angled
towards the player. The player sits cross-legged in front of the
drum to play it.
in this position the drum is placed on a cradle similar to that used
by the Oki-Daiko. With this mounting the drum can be played from
a standing position as it will be at the same height as both the Chu-daiko
SECTIONS ARE BORROWED FROM TATSUMAKI
TAIKO Sounds, used in teaching taiko by "kuchi showa":
(taken from Tatsumaki
Taiko) The following chart shows the most commonly used
phonetic alphabet used to learn taiko songs.
These phonetic words are used to express both the sound and emphasis of
the beats, as well as the time value of the beats. As a result, the notation
is not exact compared to the western method of music notation. There are
4 columns in the chart: the first shows the taiko player's sound, the
next the shimedaiko player's, then the atarigane & "canon"
sounds, and finally the meaning and value of the sound.
played on a shimedaiko
& Musical Value
single loud beat to the center (hara) of the drum. The left hand on
a taiko is sometimes called "kon." This could be considered
the equivalent of a quarter note; but could also be a half note, etc..
single firm beat to the hara, but with a value 1/2 that of "don"
(the left is sometimes called "ko" or "ke"). This
would be an eighth note, if "don" is a quarter note.
Fast beats of equal sound, and power. This would be the equivalent
of 2 eighth notes.
Fast beats, but with a slight "rolling" feel to the beats.
Played "right, left."
note played softly. The value of the note is variable.
Fast beats played softly (the left hand is "ku").
beat played on the edge of the drum (fuchi), sometimes on the body
Fast beats played on the fuchi, with a slight "rolling"
feel to the beats. Played "right, left."
rest. The value of the rest is variable, but usually it is one beat
of the pulse of the meter.
term for a soft beat, sometimes played with a slight "drag"
to the beat.
Taiko Dictionary (used with thanks to Tatsumaki
- the generic Japanese word for drum, sometimes spelled "daiko"
when combined with another word.
Daiko, Miya Daiko - the most common taiko, these are the drums used
most frequently in festivals. Usually between 18 to 36 inches in diameter,
with the taiko body length equal to, or longer than the diameter. The
name literally means "long drum." Nagadou Daiko are made from
a single log (of zelkova, or "keyaki"), they have a loud booming
sound. They can either be played resting on their end ("flat"),
or on a stand in either a horizontal or diagonal position.
- the largest taiko, some can be 6 feet or more in diameter! These are
the drums made famous by "Kodo" and "Ondekoza,"
Japan's premier taiko groups. Taiko groups will sometimes paint a "mitsudomoe"
(3 sided "ying/yang" symbol) on the O-daiko skins. O-daiko
are played on stands in a horizontal position ("kagami uchi"),
often with a drummer on each side of the same drum.
- Chu Daiko
- a taiko that is larger than a "miya daiko" or "jozuke,"
but smaller than an "O-daiko." Usually about 24 to 40 inches
Miya Daiko, Nagadou Daiko, Jozuke - all are terms used for a taiko
between 18 to 24 inches, that can be played flat ("beta uchi"),
or on a slanted stand ("sukeroku" style). Note: some US taiko
groups refer to a taiko this size as a "jozuke." That term
comes from the taiko group "O-Edo Sukeroku Daiko" of Tokyo,
and is not commonly used by others in Japan.
Daiko and Tsukeshime Daiko - the small high pitched taiko (usually
with a head 14 to 16 inches in diameter) that often plays the "jiuchi"
of a song. The name comes from the word "to tighten," since
the skins are traditionally held with rope (sometimes bolts) and can
Okedo Daiko, Kakko - taiko that look like small Okedaiko, and made
of stave construction. The Eitetsu Okedo is named after Eitetsu Hayashi,
one of the founders of "Ondekoza." Traditionally these
drums were used in festivals, and worn around the player's neck. The
skins on these drums are held with rope, like Shimedaiko, or large Okedo.
Do, Hira Daiko - a taiko cut to a quarter of the height of a standard
taiko. Often hung on a frame in a horizontal position. Hira daiko have
a deep tone, with a sharper attack and quicker decay than Nagadou Daiko.
Taiko, Oke Daiko - a large taiko with 2 hooped heads held with rope
(like a shime, or tsukeshime). Okedo are usually about 36 inches or
more in diameter, and 4 to 6 feet in length, played on a stand ("kagami
uchi"), and have a deep sound. These drums were originally made
from buckets or barrels called "oke."
Daiko - a "fan" drum. Uchiwa are shaped like a fan, with
the skin stretched around a metal hoop. They have no body, just the
hoop with a handle, and come in various sizes. Their sound is similar
to Remo "Roto-tom" drums. Tatsumaki
Parts of a
- the body of the drum.
- the center of the skin.
- the edge of the top and bottom of the drum.
- the skin.
- the excess skin that wraps around the side of the taiko.
- the tacks that hold the skin on a taiko.
or Kan - the ring shaped handles on larger nagadou taiko. ("Kanagu"
literally means metal fixtures, or hardware).
- the rope on a shime or okedo daiko.
- the measurement used for large taiko. 1 shaku = 30 cm/12 inches. A
shaku is made of 10 smaller units called sun. Usually the shaku diameter
of the head is used to categorize a taiko, so drums will be referred
to as 1.5 shaku, or 2 shaku...
- the measurement used for small taiko, and bells and cymbals. 1 sun
= 3 cm, or 1 and 3/16 ths inches. A shimedaiko's skin diameter is measured
in shaku, but the shell is measured in sun. Standard sizes are 5, 6
and 7 sun.
- In addition
the weight & thickness of the skin is used to categorize a shimedaiko:
Namizuke - lightest weight, thinnest skin. Not normally
used for taiko performances.
- also called a "Number 2." Slightly heavier & thicker
than a namizuke.
- also called a "Number 3." Heavier & thicker....one of
the more popular sizes.
- also called a "Number 4." Probably the most popular size
among taiko groups.
- also called a "Number 5." The heaviest and thickest skin.
Can be tightened to a very high pitch.
Types of Wood:
in bold - English equivalent (if any), and use in taiko,
- Zelkovia, used to make single piece taiko and shimedaiko bodies.
- Horse Chestnut, used to make single piece taiko bodies.
- Unknown, used to make single piece taiko and shimedaiko bodies.
- Scrub Oak, used by Kawada Taiko to make their "Hi-Tech Taikos"
which are constructed from staves, also used for Bachi.
- Unknown, used by Kawada Taiko to make their "Hi-Tech Taikos"
which are constructed from staves.
- Cypress, used to make bachi, especially for O-daiko.
- Pine, used for bachi, especially for O-daiko.
- Evergreen Oak, used for bachi (all sizes), and for dai (stands).
- Oak (general term).
- Magnolia, used for bachi, all sizes.
- Beech, used for bachi, all sizes.
- Bamboo, used to make fue (flutes), and for special types of bachi.
- Maple, used for special bachi.
- Paulownia, used for special bachi. Also used in furniture and antiques.
- Cedar, used in furniture and antiques.
- Birch, used in making western drums.
- Alder, used in furniture and antiques.
- taiko sticks.
- a bell, or small gong (see Atarigane).
- a gong.
- also means bell. Usually small round bells. The bells at a Shinto
shrine are referred to as "suzu."
or Chanchiki - a saucer shaped bell, often hung from a cord like
a small gong. Atarigane are played with a "shumoku,"
a single stick that traditionally has a piece of deer antler on the
end. The atarigane often keeps the "jiuchi" of a song.
or Tebyoushi - small hand cymbals that are used in place of an Atarigane,
(or "Canon,") to keephe "jiuchi" or basic rhythm
of a song.
or Tetsu-tsutsu - a set of bells on a stand consisting of high and
low pitched bells with a hollow metallic piece in between of indefinite
pitch. The 2 bells are usually tuned to a 3rd or 4th step, as in Latin
music. The middle piece makes a metallic "ching" sound. The
"canon" (or "tetsu-tsutsu" in Japanese) is used
to play the basic beat.
- the small hourglass shaped drum used in traditional Japanese music,
and Noh theater. Tsutsumi are played with the hands, not with bachi.
- wooden "clapers." Two wooden blocks tied together with rope,
and struck together to produce a clave like sound. Used in old Japan
by street merchants to call their customers.
- the generic term for small percussion instruments.
- means "flute" in Japanese. Fue come in many sizes and pitches,
but they are generally high in pitch and made of bamboo (called shinobue).
- a special Japanese flute made of a long piece of bamboo. Shakuhachi
have a low melancholy sound.
dai - a stand with legs (ashi), usually ashi dai will hold a drum
in a horizontal position so that the middle of the drum is slightly
uchi - playing a taiko that sits flat on the floor with one skin
- The generic word for a stand.
- the Japanese term used for a school, or a group in training.
daiko - a style of playing taiko where the taiko rests horizontally
on a stand at about shoulder height, so the 2 heads are vertical to
the player. Drummers play both sides of the taiko - one side plays the
"O-uchi," while the other plays the "Ji-uchi." This
style originated on Hachijo Island, and is known for its flashy arm
movements, and impressive stick work.
(or Bayashi) - a musical band, or accompaniment. Also refers to
festival music, for example "Matsuri no Bayashi."
- change of rhythm.
- musical time, a rhythm, or a musical time pattern.
- the first beat of a war drum.
or Jikata - the basic feel and meter of a taiko song.
uchi - playing a taiko that rests horizontally on a stand. The 2
heads are vertical to the player. Used for O-Daiko, and Hachijo styles.
Sometimes drummers play both sides of the same taiko.
- Ka kai
e - playing an Okedo held by a strap over the drummer's shoulder.
This style is generally associated with "Kodo" and
Leonard Eto (a former member). Although "ka kai e" originally
comes from festivals, Leonard Eto and "Kodo" popularized
the speedy stick work and cross-over arm movements that are now associated
- the performers' starting position for a taiko song.
- the performers' positioning and movement. This is a term borrowed
from martial arts, and loosely means "form."
- Ki ai,
or Kakegoe - the shouts and verbal cues that taiko players use to
keep time, increase their energy, and encourage one another while playing.
showa - the method of teaching and learning taiko songs by the use
of an "alphabet of sounds." For example, "Don" for
a loud beat to the center of the drum, and "Tsu" for a soft
daiko - the arrangement of many different taiko into a drum set,
as in a western drum kit. This style shows the influence of jazz and
dance band drumming in modern taiko.
- means "festival" in Japanese. Taiko is often played at a
matsuri, for example "O-bon Matsuri". There is even a song
called "Matsuri Daiko," which has many regional variations.
Each version celebrating the uniqueness of the community that performs
daiko - a style of taiko where a large taiko rests "kagami
uchi" (horizontal) on a low stand. Sometimes 2 taiko are used,
with the player in between. This style originated on Miyake Island,
and is unique in the way drummers must position themselves to play the
taiko on low stands.
- the style of playing a nagadou taiko where the drummer is lying on
the floor in a reclining position. The taiko rests on a low stand in
a horizontal position, the drummer's legs straddle the taiko. This style
comes from the piece "Yatai bayashi" and was popularized by
dai - translates as "folding stand." This is the general
term for any folding leg taiko stand, including slant or diagonal stands.
Slanted stands are sometimes called "sukeroku dai" by US taiko
groups. The term "sukeroku" was coined by "O-Edo Sukeroku
Daiko" of Tokyo, and is not generally used by others in Japan.
For example, a taiko catalog would list a slant stand as an "oritatami
dai," not as a "sukeroku dai."
- played at the beginning of a performance or song to focus the player
on the taiko, and bring a group of drummers together. Usually an oroshi
starts with slow beats that gradually increase in speed and intensity
until a fast roll is played.
- the main player, or the "song" part of a taiko piece.
- means "practice." As a warm-up, some groups play a "renshu
daiko" or practice exercise.
- a style of playing where the taiko rests in slanted (diagonal) position.
Popular in the Edo (Tokyo) area, and traditionally played at "matsuri."
This style has been taken to new heights by a group from Tokyo called
"O-Edo Sukeroku Daiko."
- a style of playing where the drummer alternately plays the "hara"
and the "fuchi" of the taiko.
- a taiko drummer.
- interlude; accompaniment; strain of music
- court dance and music
- musical dance; music and dancing.
- dance music.
- major key (music notation).
- a sharp (music notation).
- F sharp major (music notation).
- music performance.
- to blow into; to breathe into; to inspire; to lay down a recording
(music, video, etc.).
- written music.
- music stand.
- old Japanese court music.
- score (written music).
- ancient music.
- staff (music notation).
- a written music score.
- music paper.
- tuning (music instruments).
- military music.
- count of beats in music.
- half tone (music notation).
- chromatic (music scale).
- recital (i.e. of music, by a pupil).
- expression (when referring to music).
- temperament (music).
- flat (music notation).
- B flat minor (music scale).
- variation (music).
- the head of a school (of music, dance).
- a tune (melody, piece of music).
- wind instruments.
- performance (when referring to music).
- ancient Shinto music and dancing.
- music for wind and string instruments.
- orchestral music.
- instrumental music.
- ancient (early) music.
- old music.
- tune; piece of music.
- accent (music notation).
- rest (music notation).
- rest (music); period; full stop.
- to have an ear for music.
- the word "music" spelled phonetically in Japanese.
- type of traditional vocal music.
- College of Music (abbreviation).
- College of Music.
- music history.
- music; notes; notation.
- writing a melody on music paper; recording a tune in musical notes.
- composition (of music).
- triple time (music).
- vocal music.
- study (when referring to music).
- music for wind instruments.
- minor key (music notation).
- rest (music notation, obsolete).
- rest (music notation, obsolete).
- whole tone (music).
- whole rest (music notation).
- popular music; "vulgar" music.
- popular music, world music.
or Hanten - the colorful "short coats" that are usullay
worn with an "obi" (belt). Often the happi bears the name
and logo (called "mon") of the taiko group.
- the cloth that is wrapped around a man's legs and waist (basically
like small jockey pants), and worn when playing the O-daiko or Okedo.
In Japan men still wear fundoshi during summer matsuri, for example
when carrying a "mikoshi" or pulling a "yatai."
- originally used as a carpenter's apron. Haragake look like aprons,
they cover the chest and stomach, and have straps that criss-cross over
- shoes worn by taiko players. They are similar to high-top "kung
fu" shoes, but the big toe is separated like the thumb of a mitten.
- the pants often worn by taiko players. They are like long under pants,
or tights, but tie around the waist.
- the head band worn by many taiko players (and sushi-ya).
- the belt that holds a kimono or happi coat. Tatsumaki