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Big Drums

About a month and a half ago I began accompanying Kate to Taiko practice. Taiko are big drums, literally. They were brought to Japan as many things were from China early on, and did not become what it is today until the 1950s. Taiko was used previously much like drums in other parts of the world: to relay signals or to set the pace of marching during war. Nowadays though, ensemble Taiko groups are quite common in Japan and have become rather popular. Kate has been doing Taiko for about two years now, and having always had an interest I thought I’d tag along once to see how it was. It’s so much fun! The rhythms come naturally fairly easy to me which is a huge step up, but rhythm is just the tip of the iceberg in Taiko. Not only do you need to focus on the changing rhythms, the way to hit a Taiko drum is not uniform. Depending on the beat your arms are doing entirely different things. Juggling those many components at the same time is what makes Taiko fun, but incredibly challenging.

The group I have been learning with, called 豊前天狗太鼓(Buzen Tengu Daiko) holds its practices just over the border in Fukuoka prefecture. Kate and I bike the 30 minutes or so to get there every Wednesday and Friday without fail, unless it’s raining in which case we take the train. The group members themselves are a ton of fun, and a really good mix of people. They don’t treat you any differently because you are a foreigner (which is a breath of fresh air) and the ages are varied, from high school students to people in their 40s and 50s. This brings out a very nice mix of personalities and experiences.

The group does performances every once in a while, and though obviously I haven’t been a part of any yet, Kate plays in any she can attend. Recently I tagged along to one of their performances in Kokura and using Kate’s super fancy camera and a borrowed tri-pod I filmed their show, a first. Because Taiko is taught purely by instruction and without any kind of sheet music or reference material, it’s incredibly helpful to be able to watch these songs while learning them, so that you are able to study the movements and the rhythm on days other than Wednesday and Friday. I don’t have many pictures of us playing, but I can share these four videos Kate has put up from their performance. You can see the varying sizes and styles of Taiko drum (a repetitive phrase since Taiko already means drum) as well as the varying styles of play. Some drums are sideways, others are higher, and others are lower. I would encourage you to check out these videos and be amazed. Hopefully in the future when I become good enough that will be me towering over everyone else, hitting the big drums with my big sticks!

Here are the videos: I would recommend watching them in HD if you can!

(一閃 – Issen)

(虹 – Niji and Shake)

(彩 – Irodori pt. 1)

(彩 – Irodori pt. 2)

(三宅 – Miyake practice. The sound isn’t great on this one, but this really shows off the amount of movement and flexibility you need to play.)

Hopefully I will be able to share more and more of my experience doing Taiko as I get better!

-Dash

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Categories: Pre-Japan
  1. Kate Brooke
    July 14, 2010 at 6:11 am

    YEAH taiko 🙂

    Hope you like my videos Dash’s friends!

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