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Taiko FAQ

This list of Frequently Asked Questions have been derived from questions posted on the taiko_l discussion list as well as questions received from the Taiko Resource website.

This FAQ was written and is maintained by David Leong. Contributors to this faq include: Martha Durham, Greg Clark, Tiffany Tamaribuchi.

Comments, additions and clarifications are welcome. Contact Dave to have your suggestions considered for the FAQ.



  1. How do I find the closest Taiko Group to me?
  2. How do I find and contact a Japanese taiko group?
  3. What taiko recordings are available?
  4. What taiko books/articles are available?
  5. I don't understand Japanese - what does "X" mean?
  6. Does temprature and humidity affect taiko drums?
  7. Which taiko Group did I see at Walt Disney Epcot Center?
  8. Which taiko Group did I see in that movie?
  9. What taiko Group plays in Branson, Missouri?
  10. How do I start a taiko group?
  11. How do I Composing Original Music?
  12. Copyright issues
  13. How do I know if a song is copyrighted or traditional?
  14. Oedo Sukeroku Daiko copyright/patent issues
  15. What is a hozonkai (preservation society)?
  16. Taiko as Therapy
  17. Health and Injury Issues
  18. Hearing Health Issues

Finding Taiko Groups

Rolling Thunder maintains a comprehensive, worldwide list of taiko group contact information. This list, part of the Taiko Group Database, is available at: http://www.taiko.com/database.html.

Finding and contacting a Japanese taiko group

While most Japanese taiko groups are pleased to hear from taiko players in North America (or worldwide), please note that some have established contact points in North America. Some Japanese groups, following accepted Japanese practices, would prefer to have someone introduce you to them.

What Taiko Recordings are Available?

Rolling Thunder maintains a comprehensive taiko discography. This discography, part of the Taiko Group Database, is available at: http://www.taiko.com/database.html. Many of the recordings listed are out of print, imports or otherwise very hard to obtain. Many currently released recordings are available on Rolling Thunder's Online Store.

What Taiko books/articles are available?

Rolling Thunder maintains a comprehensive taiko bibliography. This bibliography, part of the Taiko Group Database, is available at: http://www.taiko.com/database.html.

I don't understand Japanese - what does "X" mean?

Confused by the Japanese terminology? Don't know your bin-sasara from your daibyoshi? Rolling Thunder maintains a growing Taiko Glossary.

Does temprature and humidity affect taiko drums?

Leather head do respond to changes in the temprature and humidity. This is something that you can't control. However, some groups will put the drums under a light bulb for a short time to tighten the head up before playing. This is only a temperary fix, however.

Japan also has a wet, humid climate, and that is the reason taiko drums are stretched with such high tension - to offset the effects of humidity as much as possible.

If you do have to play in the rain, head can be sprayed with silicon to protect them according to the Asano Taiko Co.. This is suggested only if playing in the rain is unavoidable.

Which Taiko Group did I see at Walt Disney Epcot Center Japan Pavilion?

The group that plays at Epcot Center is called Matsuriza. They are a Japanese taiko group from the Tokyo area, and began playing in the Japan Pavilion when Epcot first opened. They took a break for several years, and an American taiko group called One World Taiko took over. When One World Moved on, Matsuriza returned, and have been performing five times a day again since. They have released two CDs. The first is called Hayagake no Taiko, and the second is "Matsuri Daiko." Matsuriza also regularly performs at an Orlando Japanese restaraunt called "Rangetsu".

Which Taiko Group did I see in that movie?

Kodo appeared in, and contributed the soundtrack of The Hunted. They also were featured on the soundtracks of Hard Target and JFK. The San Francisco Taiko Dojo was featured in the movie Rising Sun. Members also appeared in, and were on the soundtrack of the re-release of Return of the Jedi.

What Taiko Group plays in Branson, Missouri?

The Shoji Tabuchi Theater in Branson, Missouri has a taiko segement in the famous violinist's show. The performers are not members of a taiko group, but the dancers from the other segments of the show. The Odaiko used in the show is 4.2 shaku, or about 50" across the head.

Starting your own taiko group

This is deserves a whole FAQ in and of itself. One is currently being prepared, and while it is still a rough work in progress, please feel free to take a look at (and to contribute to!) this FAQ-in-progress.

Composing Original Music

Again, this subject is too deep for a FAQ to begin to scratch the surface, but some of the following ideas may be helpful.

Listen to as much different taiko music, festival music, and Japanese traditional music as you can. Slowly, the meters, base rhythms and constructs will become familiar to you, and this "feel" for the music will help to guide your own compositions.

Some people may start with deciding on a ji (backing rhythm). The three most common ji are straight duple beat (doko doko), swing beat (dongo), and horse rhythm (don doko). Others may start with a riff or rhythmic pattern. Some people may start with a basic idea of the kind of feeling you want to get across to the audience. However you start, you have to add elements that "tell the story".

It helps to remember that with taiko you are often using the dynamics of ma (space) and intensity. To make the song more interesting you want to have parts with complex rhythms contrasted with parts with more space, and parts that are very intense/loud contrasted with soft/quiet things.

Taiko players also have kata to express themselves, so then you also have to think about what movements will compliment the basic theme and the rhythms you are playing without hindering your ability to make a good sound.

Finally there is the consideration of spirit, which means approaching the whole of what you are playing with the attitude or intent of what you are trying to express. One should try to embody the essance of the spirit of the song and approach the playing of that piece with with that essence.

If you create a rhythm you find interesting, it helps to actually record (either kuchishowa or played on the drums) the rhythms. A little tape recorder can be a very useful tool.

What is a hozonkai (preservation society)?

A preservation society (or hozonkai in Japanese) is a Japanese organization dedicated to preserving and handing down a particular tradition (including but not limited to: Chichibu Yatai Bayashi, Miyake-Daiko, Hachijo-Daiko, Gojinjo-Daiko, Kokura-Gion Daiko, etc). Some of them are recognized and organized as intangible cultural properties, others are loosely organized guilds adhering to some formal structure, often within the context of the festival's (Shinto/Buddhist/other) historical roots or related art forms (minyo traditions, for example).

Hozonkai usually do not hold copyrights because the music is typically far too old for a copyright to be valid. However, in Japan, it is standard practice to go the the appropriate Hozonkai to learn the piece in it's original form before changing the arrangement yourself, and also to get the Honzonkai's blessing to perform the piece. This is a matter of respect and tradition, rather than a legal requirement.

Copyright Issues

A copyright is the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, and sell the matter and form of a literary, musical or artistic work. The law which secures this right is called the copyright law. In plain language, if you create an original work of art, no one else can publish, sell or distribute that work without your express permission. In the United States, copyright is automatically granted without applying for it.

It is important to note that only specific works of art can be copyrighted, not a "style". Also, a work can be inspired by a previous work and be considered a original work of art, but they cannot be "derivative" which would be injurious to the original copyright holder. In other words, your work has to be substantially different from the original work.

For more information about copyright, the United States Copyright Office of the Library of Congress is an excellent resource.

In Japan the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC) is the only organization managing musical copyrights that has been approved by the Minister of Culture.

JASRAC
(Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers)
Address: 3-6-12, Uehara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0064, Japan
Phone: (03) 3481-2121 (Switchboard)
Fax: (03) 3481-2146

Since many North American taiko groups are inspired by Japanese taiko groups, international copyright is of particular concern. According to the U.N.T.S. No. 13444, vol. 943, pp. 178-325 UNIVERSAL COPYRIGHT CONVENTION AS REVISED AT PARIS ON 24 JULY 1971

Article II. 1. Published works of nationals of any Contracting State and works first published in that State shall enjoy in each other Contracting State the same protection as that other State accords to works of its nationals first published in its own territory, as well as the protection specially granted by this Convention.

How do I know if a song is copyrighted or traditional?

Rolling Thunder (with the help of others) is currently putting together a list that should help figure out what is what.

Oedo Sukeroku Daiko copyright/patent issues

There are numerous issues regarding the Oedo Sukeroku Daiko copyrights and patents. These are discussed in detail in the Oedo Sukeroku FAQ.

Taiko as Therapy

Taiko has been used as various forms of therapy for at least ten years. In both Japan and America, there have been programs that work with senior citizens and the deaf community. Various theraputic effects have been claimed, although there is no research being done to prove or disprove these claims.

Senior Citizen Physical Therapy

Martha Durham (Demondrum@aol.com) writes:

"My mother joined our group when she was 78. She has osteoporosis and was noticeably stooped at the time she began. The taiko playing has improved her posture and rebuilt her strength to an amazing degree. The "impact" form of exercise (like running) is exactly what is recommended for retaining bone density."

Health and Injury Issues

Kumi-daiko, with its kata, movement and choreography, is by its nature a dynamic and active art form. There are many styles of playing which puts definate stresses on the player's body, notable examples being Miyake-daiko and Oedo Sukeroku style. While the vast majority of players experience no problems, a certain amount of minor injuries such as aches and sprains are to be expected. These infrequent injuries are generally not serious and heal quickly.

A proper warm-up and streching routine should be considered essential for taiko players, and can help prevent injury. A great source of stretching information is the Stretching and Flexablility FAQ by Brad Appleton.

Without proper training, players can form poor ergonomic habits that lead to Repetative Stress Injuries (RSI). RSI tend to be cronic, and thus more serious. Certainly they can impact a player's ability to perform, and often take a long time to heal. Many of these RSI are due to things like overpronation of the wrist or an unbalanced stance. With a focus on good playing technique, the vast majority of players can be relatively pain and injury free.

Several players have developed RSI due to poor technique while playing taiko. Several others have claimed to have improved their condition due to building up muscle groups and stretching the affected area. Either way, it is evident that placing can impact the body. Please exercise due caution.

One issue to keep in mind is that percussionists in general tend to be deficient in vitamin B-6, as the muscle groups they use most burn it up.

Lifting

Taiko, especially nagado-daiko (or wine barrel taiko), can be very heavy and hard to carry. Due to their weight and bulk, a person needs to be very careful when lifting and moving taiko. Two people are always suggested when moving nagado-daiko/wine-barrel taiko. Larger sizes will require even more people. Always lift with your legs, keeping your back straight, to help prevent injury.

Hearing Health Issues

Taiko drums, and related instruments, can produce sounds loud enough to potentially damage your hearing.

Sound levels are measured in decibels (db). 1 db is the smallest increment of change that a human ear can hear. Decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, so a 10 db increase represents 10 times the sound level. Please note that even though a 10db change is a full ten fold increase in power, that same 10db change seems only twice as loud to our ears. Because of this difference in apparent loudness, it is possible for your hearing to be damaged by a sound you may not think is too loud.

Decibels Comparative Loudness Degree Effect
225
194
140
130
120
110
Cannon being fired
Saturn V rocket launch
Jet aircraft
Turboprop aircraft
Thunder, rock concert
Passing train, taiko drum
Deafening

Sound above 130db causes instant, permanent ear damage
100
90
Lawn mower, table saw
Symphony or band, Factory
Very Loud Extended exposure to sound above 90db can cause hearing loss
80
70
Noisy office, alarm clock
Moderate radio, normal street noise
Loud  
60
50
Normal conversation
Normal office
Moderate A sleeping person will usually awake at 45db
40
30
quiet neighborhood,no cars
quiet conversation, recording studio
Soft  
20
10
0
Whisper, inside empty theater
Soundproof room
Absence of sound
Very Soft 10db is about the threshold of hearing

Please note that being exposed to 90db for extended periods runs the risk of damaging your hearing. Taiko drums have been recorded at the 110db range at the drum head, and certain metallic instruments such as kane or cannon are probably higher.

Decibel levels fall off with distance, so the sound level at your ear will be less than at the source. Also, taiko is by it's nature, a periodic sound. In other words, you hear pulses of sound rather than a continual sound. The effect of this is to lessen the the total sound exposure you receive from the taiko. But extended performances or practices run still run the risk of damaging your hearing.

OSHA (the Occupational Saftey and Health Act of 1970) has established recommended exposure levels for various decibel levels.

Decibels Exposure time
in hours
90 8
92 6
95 4
97 3
100 2
102 1.5
105 1
110 0.5
115 0.25

If a typical taiko practice or performance goes on for two hours, the total sound exposure is probably within the OSHA guidelines. However, many think that the OSHA guideline are overly generous, and that you should consider hearing protection while practicing or performing. Considering that hearing damage is cumulative and permanent, caution is well advised.

If you go to sleep after a pratice or a performance with ringing in your ears, it is a sign that you have damaged your hearing. For most people, the ringing will be gone by the next day, but the damage cannot be undone. With repeated exposure to high sound levels, the ringing (tinnitus) will become permanent.

There are several things you can do to protect your hearing. Limit your exposure to loud sounds, or wear earplugs if you cannot avoid it. Be concious that the size and nature of your practice/performance space will effect your sound exposure. Small, enclosed spaces with hard reflective surfaces such as concrete, will be louder than large spaces with high ceilings and carpets surfaces.

Earplugs come in many varieties. Foam earplugs are cheap (often US$0.25), and disposable. They can block up to 29db depending on the brand. The problem with foam earplugs is that they block uneven amounts of the sound spectrum, and sounds are distorted and muffled. Musician's earplugs are much more expensive (about US$150), but attenuate the sound evenly across the frequency spectrum, so the sound is clear and undistorted. These earplugs are molded to fit the wearer's ear, and have interchangable filters (15db or 25db attenuation).

More information and a source or earplugs can be found at the H.E.A.R. (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers)'s website.