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Taiko (太鼓, Taiko) - Means simply "drum" in Japanese (etymologically "great" or "wide drum"). Outside Japan, the word is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums (和太鼓, 'wa-daiko', "Japanese drum", in Japanese) and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming (sometimes called more specifically, "kumi-daiko" (組太鼓).

Japanese taiko drums, while having antecedents in Chinese and Korean Janggu drums, have been developed into a wide range of percussion instruments that are used in both Japanese folk and classical musical traditions.

Taiko, in general, are stick percussion instruments. With the exception of the kotsuzumi and ootsuzumi, all taiko are struck with bachi. They have heads on both sides of the drum body, and a sealed resonating cavity. Taiko are also characterized by a high amount of tension on the drums heads, with a correspondingly high pitch relative to body size. This high tension likely developed in response to Japan's wet and humid summers when most festivals take place. Many taiko are not tunable, and a drum with high head tension would counteract the slacking effects of humidity.

Taiko are categorized into two types of construction. Byou-uchi daiko (鋲撃ち太鼓) taiko have heads nailed to the body. Tsukushime-daiko (付締め太鼓) have heads sewn onto iron rings, which are then laced to each other around the drum body.

Byou-uchi daiko are typically hollowed out of a single piece of wood. The preferred wood is keyaki (欅) due to its density and beautiful grain, but a number of other woods are used, grouped under the generic term meari (目有). Byou-uchi daiko cannot be tuned, and their sizes are limited by the diameter of the tree they are made from.

The typical byou-uchi daiko is the nagado-daiko (長胴太鼓, long-body taiko). The nagado-daiko is an elongated drum, roughly shaped like a wine barrel, that can be shifted in many different ways that affect the sound of the instrument. The drum can also be played by more than one performer at the same time. This style of drum also signifies the family of drums that are made from a single piece of wood. Nakado-daiko are available in a variety of sizes, from 1.0 shaku (12" in head diameter), to 3.0 shaku in 1 sun increments. The chu-daiko is a medium sized nakado-daiko. Nagado-daiko over 3.0 shaku are also available, but they are referred to as ōdaiko (大太鼓 great drum). Smaller byou-uchi daiko such as the sumo-daiko and hayashi-daiko also exist.

One of the most defining drums of any Taiko ensemble would be the ōdaiko. The ōdaiko is the biggest drum in all of Taiko if not the entire world. Some of the drums are so large that they cannot even be moved so they’ve taken up residence inside of a temple or shrine. Made from a single piece of wood, some ōdaiko can come from trees that are hundreds of years old.

Tsukeshime-daiko (付締め太鼓) are available in a wide variety of styles, and are tunable. This style of taiko is typically tensioned before each performance. The tensioning system is usually rope, but bolt systems and turnbuckles have been used as well. Tsukeshime-daiko can either have stitched heads placed on bodies carved from single piece of wood, such as the shime-daiko and tsuzumi, or stitched heads placed on a stave-construction body such as the okedo-daiko.

The shime-daiko is roughly snare-drum sized, and is generally available in five sizes - Namizuke, or number 1 size, is the lightest and is used in classical theater such as noh and kabuki. Nichougakke, or number 2, are usually used by amateur players for its light and yet sturdy frame. sanchou - gochou; number 3 to number 5 are used by semi-professional to world class performance groups.

Not all of the drums in Taiko come from a single piece of wood. The materials to make such drums can be overly expensive or hard to find all together. So many Taiko players have created drums out of barrels or a variety of other cylindrical objects. The practice of making Taiko drums from barrels is especially more wide spread in North America, where Taiko is increasing in popularity. Most of the barrel made drums comes from one of two categories: okedo-daiko (桶胴太鼓, barrel-body taiko, often shortened to "okedo" or "oke") and taru.

Oke is used to describe the typical Japanese barrel drum. The drum is constructed from narrow staves and has roughly a cylindrical shape. It is available in the same size ranges as the nagado-daiko, and a taiko of okedo style is currently Japan's largest taiko. Depending on size, they can be set on a stand and played like other taiko, but they are also strapped to the body so the drummer can move and play at the same time. The taru, on the other hand, has a slightly different shape that the oke. It has a more tapered body, and is constructed with much wider staves than the oke. They come typically from wine and whiskey barrels.

Other Japanese taiko include the uchiwa-daiko (団扇太鼓、fan taiko), hira-daiko (平太鼓, flat taiko), o-daiko (大太鼓, big taiko), and a host of percussion instruments used in Japan's traditional noh, gagaku, and kabuki ensembles.

The Aomori region is famous for the Nebuta festival where huge okedo are played by many people while carted through the streets. The Okedo has its own upright stand which was invented by Asano Taiko Drum Company.

Again, like the nagado-daiko, the okedo has a rim sound, called "ka." When playing the rim of an okedo, however, it is important to only hit the outermost metal ring and not the actual rim of the drum body. The thin, light wood of the okedo is particularly susceptible to denting and will quickly deteriorate if hit.

Information source: “Taiko.” Article date: 24 Jan. 2008. Retrieved: Wikipedia. 2 Feb. 2008 <Taiko>.





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