Taiko - Drum - Japanese percussion instruments

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Have you heard of Taiko (太鼓)? This word can be literally translated as drum, it is composed with an ideogram (太) which means big, fat, thick and the ideogram (鼓) which means drum, beat and wake up. In Japan the term taiko refers to any type of drum, while around the world this word refers to drums and percussion instruments of Japanese origin which in Japan are called wadaiko (和太鼓).

It is believed that taiko appeared around 300-900 with Korean and Chinese cultural influence. There is evidence to suggest their existence in the kofun period (250–538). A mythological story about the origin of taiko appears in Nihon Shoki. According to the myth, the taiko originated from the Shinto goddess Ame no Uzume, the goddess of the sunbeam, Amaterasu, and his brother Susanoo, the god of the seas and storms.

These drums had different functions during its history, such as military action, communication, theatrical accompaniment, religious ceremony and festival presentations. In feudal Japan, taikos were often used to motivate troops, to set a pace of march and to send orders or announcements. The drums were incorporated into the Japanese theater for rhythmic needs, traditional atmosphere and even decoration.

Taiko – tambor – instrumentos japoneses de percussão

Kumi-Daiko - Drum Collection

Something quite popular involving taiko is kumi-daiko (組太鼓) which literally means drum collection. They are presentations made by groups with different types of drums that are dated 1951 and became popular around the world through festivals and winds of Japanese culture. Taiko presentations consist of many components, such as technical rhythm, shape, stick grip, clothing and instrumentation. In addition to drums, many groups use voices and string or wind instruments as an accompaniment.

The kumi-daiko groups consist mainly of percussive instruments in which each of the drums plays a specific role. Of the different types of taiko, the drum most used in groups is the nagado-daiko.

In the past, the taiko had become a sacred instrument and few could play it, until groups that could play it soon appeared. The groups used to perform at festivals and religious events. Until soon some groups made several changes and created non-religious presentations, some even started to travel the world in a professional way. It is estimated that in Japan there are about 5000 Kumi-daiko, formed by both young people and adults.

These groups are dated 1951 through the works of Daihachi Oguchi. The most popular are Gocoo, Kodo, Oedo Sukeroku Taiko, Ondekoza and Osuwa Daiko. In Brazil there are more than 100 taiko groups, the most popular of which are Tangue Setsuko Taiko Dojo, Godaiko, Vitória, Byakko and Setsuo Kinoshita Taiko Group.

Taiko – tambor – instrumentos japoneses de percussão

The 4 principles of Taiko

The beat is loud and fast, and sometimes resembles the japanese martial arts. Artists are not just people beating the drum and dancing the way people think. In taiko, artists strive to feel a deeper connection with their drums by practicing 4 principles that are attitude, technique, Kata (form) and Ki (energy).

  • Attitude - It means a full attention and characterized by humility and respect;
  • Ki (気) - Energy - The energy of your body and the energy that flows through everything. This principle is also linked to martial arts, it involves connecting with the energy that is being received when playing a taiko;
  • Kata (型) - Form, involves the position of your body takes and the posture that can express your wishes and intentions. The form involves strength, which is necessary to achieve precision, expressiveness and its connection with music;
  • Technician - The final principle of taiko is musical technique. The technique involves controlling the drum, to hit the drum correctly. It also refers to the methods of learning new music;

Of course, these 4 principles involve many more things not mentioned ...

Taiko - tambor - instrumentos japoneses de percussão - okinawa instrumentos

Different types of Taiko drums

There are several types of Japanese drums, we will list some below:

  • Shime Daiko: With only 15 cm in diameter it emits a higher pitch ;;
  • Okedo Daiko: Medium size with 50cm in diameter;
  • Odaiko: The largest existing with 84 cm in diameter, emits low sound;
  • Hira-Daiko: The diameter is much larger than the height of the drum;
  • Nagado-Daiko: With 2 layers of animal skin attached to the drum rates;
  • Naname: This taiko is in the diagonal position;
  • Tekkan: Metal percussion instrument with three tone variations;
  • Byou daiko: Bodies sculpted in a single piece of wood;

There are some other instruments and drum models that could be mentioned in the list, but end up falling into some of the categories mentioned.

Taiko – tambor – instrumentos japoneses de percussão

Curiosities involving Taiko

  • The Japanese group Kodo sometimes used fundshi for their performances;
  • A very popular rhythmic game in Japan involving these drums is called Taiko no Tatsujin;
  • Jiuchi (地うち) - A basic rhythm to support the main rhythm;
  • The wooden sticks used to play the taiko are called bachi;
  • Kuchi shoga is the name of a spoken rhythm system for taiko;
  • Many pieces developed by Ondekoza and Kodo are considered standards in many groups;

There are many other curiosities involving these Japanese drums, but my knowledge is somewhat limited in this area. Have you ever watched a presentation? What is your experience? Do you know more curiosities to add? We appreciate the shares and comments. To finish we will leave some videos below: