Taiko

Yamato Drummers of Japan performing taiko drumming

Some of the most exciting drumming you’ll ever see comes from the traditional Japanese style of taiko. In Japanese, “taiko” refers to any kind of drum, but outside of Japan, it is used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums called “wadaiko” and to the form of ensemble drumming more specifically called “kumi-daiko.” According to the definition: “Taiko has a mythological origin in Japanese folklore, but historical records suggest that taiko was introduced to Japan through Korean and Chinese cultural influence as early as the 6th century.”

The style of “kumaoji-daiko” is named after its creator Okuyama Kumaoji, a central performer of the discipline. The process for playing this style begins with two players on a single drum, one of whom is called the “shita-byōshi” (lower beat). Shita-byōshi drummers provide the underlying beat. The other player, called the “uwa-byōshi” (upper beat), builds on this rhythmical foundation with unique patterns. While there are specific types of underlying rhythms, the accompanying player is free to improvise.

The contemporary style of hachijo-daiko is called “shin-daiko” (new taiko) which differs from hachijo-daiko. While the lead and accompanying roles are still present, shin-daiko performances use larger drums that are mounted on stands. Shin-daiko emphasizes a more powerful sound necessitating larger drums. Kumaoji-daiko drummers also wear looser clothing to adopt more open stances and larger movements with the legs and arms. This creates a dance style that incorporates tribal-like drumming with exaggerated movements.

Below: Four examples of a set of named patterns for the taiko stick drum, used only in dance sections. Placement of the dots shows right- and left-hand strokes; black dots indicate the softer—and light dots the louder—strokes. The patterns (tetsuke) shown here are from a set of 59 found in a taiko instruction book. The patterns are organized into families (tegumi; in the example, the kizami family in lines A and B and the uchi dashi group in lines C and D):

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