Types of Taiko Drums (Part I)

Taiko drums come in a wide variety of shapes, each made to suit a particular playing style. As most taiko playing styles have origins in local Japanese festivals, of which there are thousands, the types of drums also vary greatly. There are, however, a few common types of taiko drums that are recognized and used by most taiko groups.

kodo odaiko
-Photo by DonFrance-photos
The biggest, loudest, and most representative of the taiko drums. The term literally means big taiko, and groups will commonly use odaiko that weigh up to 400kg and more. The odaiko is placed horizontally on top of a stand which allows each of its sides to be played simultaneously.

The main odaiko player will usually play with his/her back facin
g the crowd. The second player stands in the back and is usually not visible to the audience. The second player is responsible for keeping a steady back-rhythm or 'ji' to support the main player. Almost all professional players will wear 'fundoshi' or loincloths when playing the odaiko.

The bachi used for odaiko are particularly large and heavy, and the sheer sound and power of the drum can be overwhelming. To play the typically lengthy odaiko songs require a lot strength and particularly endurance. Check out the professional groups Ondekoza and Kodo for an example of some real odaiko playing.


kodo taiko
-Photo by DonFrance-photos
Chu-daiko (also called miya or nagado daiko) are the most commonly used of the taiko drums. It's big sound and versatility make them an absolutely essential part of any taiko group.

They can be placed vertically on the ground to play standing,
or laid horizontally to be played by two players simultaneously. They can be mounted on various types of stands to be played at different heights.

It's construction is very similar to the odaiko. A traditional chu-daik
o base is hollowed from a single tree trunk, and then skins are nailed onto either side. Because the skins are nailed in they can't be tuned, but by using an assortment of chu-daiko sizes you can create a variety of pitches.


kodo oke taiko
-Photo by DonFrance-photos
“Oke” meaning ‘barrel’, describes the design of okedo base. Unlike chu-daiko and odaiko, the base is not hollowed from a single piece of wood. Instead it's made by connecting a bunch of staves, much like a wine barrel. The skins are also added on with rope stead of nails, which allows okedo drums to be tuned to various pitches. If need be, you can easily take off the drum heads by undoing the rope.

Okedo drums also come in a variety of sizes, and because
they can also be tuned, they're somewhat similar to tom-toms. By surrounding yourself with three or more okedo-drums of various sizes, you can play them in a 'drum-set' like style.

Their light weight also allows them to be very maneuverable.
Using a strap, you can hang it over your shoulder and play while walking. It's one of the few drums that allow for 'mobile' playing styles. Here's an example.

Very large okedo also exist- these are usually placed at an angle or placed horizontally on a stand and are played standing. Check out Ondekoza for an example of big-sized okedo playing.


kodo shime taiko
-Photo by DonFrance-photos
These are the smallest of a taiko ensemble, but may very well be the most important. They're high-pitched sound makes them essential for time-keeping. Typically, you'll see players playing the back-beat ('ji') on shime drums while a chu-daiko piece is being played.

They're almost exclusively played in a sitting position. They're placed on low lying stands and a player will either sit on a small stool or sit on the ground in order to play them.

Shime bachi are usually made of hinoki, a lighter wood. This, in combination with the high-pitch sound of the shime allows for very rapid playing styles. Their speed and high-pitch sound create a great balance with the typically slower and low-pitched chu-daiko and odaiko sounds.

Here are some other taiko related resources you might find helpful:

Taiko Information:
Taiko Playing Styles
Why are Taiko Drums So Expensive?
How to Play Taiko Drums
5 Ways to Get Better at Taiko
Finding and Learning Taiko Music
Getting in Taiko Playing Shape
Taiko Drums vs Other Percussion

Taiko Building:
Where to Get Taiko Drums
How to Make a Happi Coat
How to Make a Taiko Drum
How to Make Handles on a Taiko Drum
How to Make Shime and Oke Taiko Heads
How to Make Taiko Skin (Drum Heads from Cow Hide
How to Make Practice Taiko Drums
How to Paint a Taiko Drum
How to Make Taiko Bachi (Sticks)
How to Make Taiko Sticks 2
How to Make Tire Drums
How to Raise Money

TaikoSkin Podcast
The TaikoSkin podcast covers a whole range of topics related to taiko- building drums, starting groups, getting performances offers, going to grad school. Just about anything really. Download them in the iTunes store, or find all of the episodes here.


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