Taiko Playing Styles

bon odori taiko drummer
--Photo by marctonysmith
There is no one way of playing taiko. Thus a goal of a taiko player or group should be to find and develop a particular style, or if eclecticism is preferred, then to develop many different ones.

In the beginning, any taiko group is likely going to adapt the style learnt by whoever is teaching or leading the group. But it's important to know that there are infinite other possibilities! Here are some ideas:

Precisely Professional
If you're playing taiko in some capacity, then it's likely you've heard of Ondekoza and Kodo, two of the most renowned taiko groups from Japan.

These drummers are professionals. They don't mess around. If precision is your focus, then look to these guys for inspiration. They are meticulous in maintaining accurate timing and positioning.

They focus on speed, accuracy, endurance and quality of sound. As a result, you'll notice that there are no superfluous movements in their strikes. They are incredibly efficient.

Ondekoza is tough. They are extremely efficient, and have incredible endurance. They tend not to 'decorate' their playing with extra body movements. If you're looking for flashy lights and costumes you won't see much of that from these guys. If you're looking for precision and grit, Ondekoza's for you.

Much of the same things said of Ondekoza can be said of Kodo. Kodo is one of the world's most recognized performance groups because of their professionalism. They continue to innovate new styles whilst always maintaining their focus on accuracy and detail.

Freely Non-Traditional

Many taiko groups freely incorporate a variety of musical styles, both traditional and non-traditional, Eastern and Western. Gocoo is an example of such. Though based in taiko, you can clearly see their incoporation of dance, pop and world music, both through their sound and performance. They've developed a unique style that's enormously fun and catchy.

Collaborative Mix and Match

Collaborative performances with musicians of other genres is becoming particular popular as of late. You'll see taiko players performing alongside percussionists from Africa, Korea, India and many others. Jazz musicians, including saxophonists, trumpet players and pianists have also shared the stage with taiko. Even rock and classical music have been mixed with taiko. Hayashi Eitetsu (formerly of Kodo) is a world-famous taiko master who is particularly known for his collaborative efforts.

Decorative and Fun

Much like there are sports, dance and art clubs in Western high schools and universities, taiko clubs are a common extracurricular amongst Japanese students. Youtube "太鼓" or "taiko" and you'll find find tons fo videos of students and local groups performing taiko. Like the group in the video below, many of these troupes use a variety of arm and body movements and in many ways appear as much of a dance as a drumming performance. They make great use of the fact that taiko is as much a visual experience as it is auditory.

These are only examples of the numerous styles associated with taiko. While developing your own style, it's good idea to research some other groups if you're looking inspiration. It's not something that happens overnight- but after lots of practices, performances, and bonding within your taiko group, something unique is bound to come out of it all. Good luck!

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