Taiko: Wikis


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Taiko drummers in Aichi, Japan

Taiko (太鼓?) means "drum" in Japanese (etymologically "great" or "wide drum"). Outside Japan, the word is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums (和太鼓, 'wa-daiko', "Japanese drum", in Japanese) and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming (sometimes called more specifically, "kumi-daiko" (組太鼓)).


Types of taiko

Display of the manufacturing of a Taiko drum

Japanese taiko drums have been developed into a wide range of percussion instruments that are used in both Japanese folk and classical musical traditions.

Taiko, in general, are stick percussion instruments. With the exception of the kotsuzumi and ootsuzumi, all taiko are struck with bachi. They have heads on both sides of the drum body, and a sealed resonating cavity. Taiko are also characterized by a high amount of tension on the drums heads, with a correspondingly high pitch relative to body size. This high tension likely developed in response to Japan's wet and humid summers when most festivals take place. Many taiko are not tunable, and a drum with high head tension would counteract the slacking effects of humidity.

Taiko are categorized into two types of construction. Byou-uchi daiko (鋲撃ち太鼓) taiko have heads nailed to the body. Tsukushime-daiko (付締め太鼓) have heads sewn onto iron rings, which are then laced to each other around the drum body.

Byou-uchi daiko are typically hollowed out of a single piece of wood. The preferred wood is keyaki (欅) due to its density and beautiful grain, but a number of other woods are used, grouped under the generic term meari (目有). Byou-uchi daiko cannot be tuned, and their sizes are limited by the diameter of the tree they are made from.

The typical byou-uchi daiko is the nagado-daiko (長胴太鼓, long-body taiko). The nagado-daiko is an elongated drum, roughly shaped like a wine barrel, that can be shifted in many different ways that affect the sound of the instrument. The drum can also be played by more than one performer at the same time. This style of drum also signifies the family of drums that are made from a single piece of wood. Nakado-daiko are available in a variety of sizes, from 1.0 shaku (12" in head diameter), to 3.0 shaku in 1 sun increments. The chu-daiko is a medium sized nakado-daiko. Nagado-daiko over 3.0 shaku are also available, but they are referred to as ōdaiko (大太鼓 great drum). Smaller byou-uchi daiko such as the sumo-daiko and hayashi-daiko also exist.

The "N" odaiko, with a length of 2.4 m, a maximum diameter of 2.4 m, and a weight of 3 tons. Made out of a single piece of wood from a 1200-year-old tree

One of the most defining drums of any Taiko ensemble is the ōdaiko. The ōdaiko is the largest drum in all of Taiko if not the entire world. The largest ōdaiko are too big to move and permanently reside inside a temple or shrine. Made from a single piece of wood, some ōdaiko come from trees that are hundreds of years old.

Tsukeshime-daiko (付締め太鼓) are available in a wide variety of styles, and are tunable. This style of taiko is typically tensioned before each performance. The tensioning system is usually rope, but bolt systems and turnbuckles have been used as well. Tsukeshime-daiko can either have stitched heads placed on bodies carved from single piece of wood, such as the shime-daiko and tsuzumi, or stitched heads placed on a stave-construction body such as the okedo-daiko.

The shime-daiko is roughly snare-drum sized, and is generally available in five sizes - Namizuke, or number 1 size, is the lightest and is used in classical theater such as noh and kabuki. Nichougakke, or number 2, are usually used by amateur players for its light and yet sturdy frame. sanchou - gochou; number 3 to number 5 are used by semi-professional to world class performance groups.

An ornately painted tsuri-daiko, used in gagaku music

Other Japanese taiko include the uchiwa-daiko (団扇太鼓、fan taiko), hira-daiko (平太鼓, flat taiko), o-daiko (大太鼓, big taiko), and a host of percussion instruments used in Japan's traditional noh, gagaku, and kabuki ensembles.

The Aomori region is famous for the Nebuta festival where huge okedo are played by many people while carted through the streets. The Okedo has its own upright stand which was invented by Asano Taiko Drum Company.

Again, like the nagado-daiko, the okedo has a rim sound, called "ka". When playing the rim of an okedo, however, it is important to only hit the outermost metal ring and not the actual rim of the drum body. The thin, light wood of the okedo is particularly susceptible to denting and will quickly deteriorate if hit.

The early history of taiko

The Taiko is of Chinese origin and was brought to Japan between the Yayoi period (500 BC - 300 AD) via the Korean peninsula. Along with the martial use of the Taiko drums, they also held a strong foundation in the court style music called Gagaku. You would expect to find this style of music held in the castles and shrines across ancient Japan. Gagaku alone is one of the oldest styles of court music that is still being played in the world today. The very old taiko are made with a tree trunk body and the Japanese chopped both ends off. These ends are carved carefully in flat plates and the tree body is hollowed out. They fit the plates on both ends and tie it with strong and thick grass and seal it with resin. The sticks are carved into smooth surfaces and they are used for the bachi (drum sticks). Then they are tested. If the sound is not right the grass is tightened until the sound is well tuned.

Modern taiko



Modern taiko was established in 1951 by Daihachi Oguchi. He is credited with forming the first actual Taiko ensemble referred to as kumi-daiko and starting the modern popularity of Taiko performances. Daihachi Oguchi was originally known for his jazz drumming performances. As the story goes, he was going to play a drumming piece for one of the local shrines and decided to add somewhat of a jazz style flare to the piece. Coming from a jazz background, Daihachi Oguchi speculated why the Taiko drums had never previously been played as an ensemble before. From this simple idea Daihachi Oguchi put together various Taiko of all different shapes, sizes, and pitches to be included in his ensemble. The drums were also arranged in the same type of manner that a jazz drum set would be expected to look like. Since an actual Taiko ensemble had never really performed together and the people he had playing with him were in no way professional musicians, he based the rhythms of their performance on the simplistic arrangement of the shrine music that had been previously played; which allowed for nearly any person with the interest in Taiko could play along. It was from the foundation of the first Taiko ensemble that Daihachi Oguchi continued on to lead the successful Taiko group named Osuwa Daiko. At 84 years old, Daihachi Oguchi died on June 27, 2008, after being hit by a car across from his home in Nagano, Japan. Oguchi is widely attributed as the GrandMaster of modern Taiko. He formed or helped to form nearly 200 taiko groups in Japan, Singapore, Canada and the U.S.

Around the same time as Daihachi Oguchi’s Taiko ensemble's name was spreading around Japan via radio and television broadcasts, another pioneer in the field called, Sukeroku Daiko, emerged. Their performances consisted of speed, fluidity, and power. They also brought flashy choreography and solos. Despite the group’s eventual break up, one of its members, Seido Kobayashi, went on to form the group Oedo Sukeroku Daiko, which is credited for being the very first professional Taiko group.

Another Taiko ensemble that set the framework for one of the most popular groups began on Sado Island. The group, Za Ondekoza, was founded in 1969 by a man named Tagayasu Den. He set out to make Taiko more than just entertainment but a way of life. He collected a group of youths from rural areas across Japan so that they would be uninfluenced by the big city way of life. With this mindset, the students practiced a very rigorous training regime that typically consisted of marathon running and communal living. Due to complications, the group members and Tagayasu Den split, with Mr. Den leaving to continue Za Ondekoza back on mainland Japan Sado Island. The remaining members, with the help of drums from Asano Taiko, went on to form the Taiko group Kodo.

Kodo has gone on to be one of the world's most popular and recognized performance ensembles. Since 1988, the group has also hosted Earth Celebration, which brings artists and enthusiasts from all over the world to Sado Island.

Tao, formed in 1993 by Ikuo Fujitaka, follows a similar model, with a communal-living training facility separate from the rest of the world, an exhausting physical training program, and international tours.

The United States of America

Taiko has grown in the United States since coming over from Japan in the late 1960s. The first American taiko group, San Francisco Taiko Dojo, was formed in 1968 by Seiichi Tanaka, a postwar immigrant who studied taiko in Japan and brought the styles and teachings to America. A year later, a few members of Senshin Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles were putting away a drum after an obon festival and decided to just have a jam session and after several hours of playing, they decided to form a group. Shortly after, Kinnara taiko was formed. In 1973, the third American taiko group, San Jose Taiko, was formed by a group of young Japanese Americans in the San Jose Japantown.

In the 1990s, there was a new development in taiko in the United States. In 1990, students at UCLA formed the first intercollegiate taiko group, Kyodo Taiko. It's estimated that about 36 collegiate taiko groups and about 200 taiko groups in general exist in the United States today. From these student groups have proceeded several American professional groups, such as On Ensemble and TAIKOPROJECT.


Hachijo taiko 2007-03-21.jpg

Hachijodaiko (alternatively spelled Hachijo taiko, Hichijotaiko, or Hachijo daiko) is a unique style of Japanese drumming originating on Japan's Hachijo Island (Hachijojima), a Pacific atoll located some 287 kilometers south of Tokyo. Hachijodaiko is an improvisational style of drumming in which the drum is positioned vertically to allow two players to hit either side at the same time. One player provides the underlying beat, or shitabyoushi, while the other builds on this rhythmical foundation with a unique and typically improvised musical composition (uebyoushi). While there are specific types of underlying bass rhythms (shitabyoushi), the accompanying player is free to express an original musical beat.

Hachijojima was once the final destination for political enemies of the ruling government, petty thieves and others banished from the mainland during the 19th century. Home to a diverse population hailing from across the Japanese archipelago the island witnessed the birth of a unique culture with the drum at the center of it all. Among the various Hachijodaiko rhythms, perhaps the most unusual is the intoxicating honbataki rhythm which is most often sung to by one of the two drummers. These songs of longing and romance once served as a courtship ritual and still do today to some extent on this island where the drum is an integral part of the culture.

One of the most notable and oldest living adherents of Hachijodaiko is the nonagenarian Kumao Okuyama.[1] Serving as a bridge to 19th century life on Hachijojima, Okuyama is regarded as a wellspring of information by ethnomusicologists and historians alike. Popular performers of Hachijodaiko include the group, Rokuninkai,[2] who regularly appear in concerts and festivals throughout the Japanese archipelago. Today Hachijodaiko is no longer confined to Hachijojima but can be heard all over Japan as well as the U.S. and elsewhere due to a growing musical diaspora that stretches around the globe.

Taiko performance

There are four different styles of Taiko performance.

Multi-drum, multi-player (複式複打法)
Two or more drummers play more than one type of Taiko. This style of performance is popular nowadays. It is also referred to as Kumidaiko (組太鼓).
Multi-drum, one player (複式単打法)
One drummer plays more than one type of Taiko.
One drum, multi-player (単式複打法)
Two or more drummers play only one type of Taiko.
One drum, one player (単式単打法)
One drummer plays only one type of Taiko.

Taiko ensembles

Taiko ensembles are groups that are nearly completely drum instruments, with a couple of exceptions. Each of the drums plays a very specific role to the overall aspect of the ensemble. Of the many different styles and shapes of Taiko drums, the most common drum found in an ensemble would likely be the nagado-daiko.

Drums are not the only instruments played in the ensemble. They also incorporate a wide variety of other Japanese instruments to their ensembles. Common string instruments found with many different Taiko groups would be the biwa, koto, and the shamisen. Of the woodwinds used, the bamboo flutes known as the shakuhachi and the shinobue are popular items.

Uses of the taiko in warfare

In feudal Japan, taiko were often used to motivate troops, to help set a marching pace, and to call out orders or announcements. Approaching or entering a battle, the taiko yaku (drummer) was responsible for setting the marching pace, usually with six paces per beat of the drum (beat-2-3-4-5-6, beat-2-3-4-5-6).

According to one of the historical chronicles (the Gunji Yoshu), nine sets of five beats would summon an ally to battle, while nine sets of three beats, sped up three or four times is the call to advance and pursue an enemy.

Famous Groups

Related terms

Straight wooden sticks used to play taiko drums.
Also called Jiuchi, is a basic rhythm used to support the main rhythm, or the O-uchi. It can also be described as the meter or feel of a piece (being in a straight duple meter or having a swing feel). Some of the more common rhythms for ji are don doko, don ko, or don go (swing pattern). A Jikata is a performer who plays the ji rhythm.
Straight simple meter.
"Swung" compound meter.
A Japanese term that can mean "interval" or "space" (i.e., 'a' tto iu ma; the space it takes to say 'a'; compare to the English saying "in the blink of an eye"). It is used in music to describe a period of silence. In taiko music, ma is the period between hits on the drum. It is important to appreciate this silence when playing taiko, just as you would appreciate the sound of a hit on the drum. Since ensemble taiko is focused on rhythm, the ma of a piece is critical to adding drama, excitement, and tension. Ma can be a rhythmic rest, or an extended silence, to be broken at the player's discretion. If the player concentrates on hearing the ma between each hit, in addition to the hits themselves, he or she will create a much more effective and satisfying sound. A good example of how ma is used is in oroshi.
Oroshi is characterized by a series of hits on the taiko. The player starts out slowly with lots of 'ma'(spacing). Gradually the 'ma' between each hit becomes shorter and shorter, until the drummer is playing a rapid roll of hits. In other words, a gradual increase in tempo.
A high pitched instrument meant to establish a common tempo. It is held by hand

See also


  1. ^ "Drum Songs: The Intoxicating Music of Hachijojima" "Wingspan" January, 2006.
  2. ^ "Rokuninkai: Japanese Traditional Percussion Taiko" CD Recording. AISN:B0009OASQ8

Further reading

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External links

Simple English

, Japan.]] Taiko (太鼓?) means simply "drum" in Japanese. Outside Japan, the word is used to call to any of the different kinds of Japanese drums (和太鼓, wa-daiko, "Japanese drum", in Japanese) and to the more or less new art of taiko drumming bands (sometimes better called, "kumi-daiko", 組太鼓).

Other websites

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