Taiko Drums Aren't Bongo Drums

--Photo by Rafael Kage

Having experience in other forms of percussion, be it drum sets, jembe, congos or marching drums, is definitely a plus when playing taiko as you already have a developed sense of rhythm. If you can knock out a beat on a snare, chances are you'll be quick to learn music for taiko.

But beware! No matter how much of a master bongo-ist you might be, and as similar as one type of drum might be to another, they are still different instruments. If learning the proper way to play an instrument is your goal, then you can't directly translate the skills from another instrument. Here's why:

1. Timing's not the same

Traditional taiko rhythms aren't always the 4/4, 3/4 rhythms you're used to hearing in popular music. The same song can go through various changes in time phrases and tempo. Accents on beats you're used to hearing in, for example, rock music, don't apply to most taiko songs. Because there's a snare on the 3rd beat in 4/4 rock rhythm doesn't mean there's an accent in the same place of a taiko piece. Accents are often erratically placed in taiko and their location may have no correlation with those of Western beats.

2. Striking techniques

Wrists snaps are used when playing on a drum set but this will grow to be a bad habit if you try to use them on taiko. Taiko strikes start from the shoulders, not the wrists. And although your experience on a snare may help you play a speedy rhythm on a shime-daiko, it won't look or sound as good without using your whole arm.

There are of course styles that do use wrists snaps in taiko. In fact, there are styles that use similar striking techniques to a variety of other percussion instruments. But be sure to know where the commonalities start, and where they end. They're never exactly the same.

3. More body than arm

Taiko makes use of the whole body more so than any other types of drumming I've experienced. In taiko you may not use your feet to strike a beat as you would on a drum set, but the feet and legs are crucial in supporting the movements of your arms.

An experienced percussionists who tries taiko for the first time will often looked cramped and tense. Their body movements are confined to a small amount of space, and are usually focused on the hands and arms.

Taiko needs the whole body, particularly the legs and core, to maximize energy and regulate sound quality. Good posture, therefore, is essential. You can't get away with any slouching without sacrificing the quality of your sound and movements. Play with your body and you'll play big and look big.

At the end of the day, any drum experience will always be a plus if used appropriately. The key is to know where it is and isn't translatable. Careful attention will help you avoid the very common danger of transfering bad playing habits from other instruments.

Approaching taiko with a clean slate and an open mind is probably the best idea. As with anything, getting the fundamentals right early will set the foundation for excellent playing in the future.


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