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How To Start A Taiko Group 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: Jeff Davidson, Roy Hirabayashi, Scot Kamimae.

Version 0.13. Last updated on Oct 15, 1999.

  1. Membership
    1. Raison d' etre
    2. Finding members
    3. Member dues
    4. Leadership (vs. instruction)

  2. Obtaining Instruments
    1. Buying taiko
    2. Making taiko
    3. Renting taiko

  3. Instruction
    1. Finding instructors/workshops
    2. Affiliation/networking with existing groups
    3. Self instruction
    4. Learning cultural basis, etiquette, history, responsibility, ethics etc.
    5. Finding a practice space

  4. Repertoire
    1. Learning basics
    2. Learning material from instructors
    3. Learning material on your own
    4. Traditional material vs. copyrighted compositions

  5. Performing
    1. Finding performance opportunities
    2. Staging
    3. Costume
    4. Creating an indentity
    5. Performance fees
    6. Shipping Taiko

  6. Promotion
    1. Word of mouth
    2. Print
    3. Web
    4. Radio
    5. TV

  7. Administrative/organizational
    1. Fundraising and/or sponsorship
    2. Non-profit vs. For-profit
    3. Group organization (hierarchy vs. communal, etc)
    4. Community based vs. "pro" performing group
    5. Insurance
    6. Waiver of Liability

  8. Additional Sources of Information
    1. San Jose Taiko

1.Membership

a. Raison d' etre

Perhaps the first question that needs to be asked if "why are you doing this?" At least one person needs to know the answer to keep things moving forward. Naturally, it is nice to have the entire group unified behind that answer. It may help a new group to write up a "Charter" with their beliefs and vision that would state their reasons for being. One such charter could include "a desire to learn and develop taiko skill, advance and develop taiko music, promote an appreciation of Japanese culture". A charter will help ensure that the original vision will be kept in better focus as the membership changes. Keep in mind that new members will not always agree with the original vision and can split off and form new groups, which "is fine and beautiful," as one group leader put it.

b. Finding Members

Taiko is a very dynamic art form, and it many people express an interest in learning to play after seeing a performance. Usually a minimum of publicity such as announcements or flyers in churches, Asian organizations or colleges will attract potential students. Free performances by the leaders or teachers of the groups is perhaps the best way of attracting attention - be sure to announce that you are accepting students and make a mailing list available. Be aware that you will not necessarily attract talented students, however. Finding people with both the skill level and the dedication takes time.

c. Member Dues

In the beginning, member dues are likely to be the only source of income a group will have. The amount per month varies widely: some groups charge an average of $10 per month for students, other groups charge at least $50, and some have an additional surcharge for buying drums.

In addition to the financial support, many groups find that having monthly dues insures that peole stay serious about their training. Naturally, not everyone can afford even modest monthly dues, so some groups allow payment "in kind" which can be any sort of donated labor. Some people have accounting or graphic art/web skills, etc., which can be offered in place of dues. A certain balance is neccesary, and a general rule of thumb seems to be to allow no more than one or two payments in kind at any given time. Your group will have to find it's own balance.

d. leadership (vs. instruction)

2. Obtaining Instruments

a. Buying taiko

Shannon writes:

In my previous world of auto racing there was a phrase... "There are no substitues for cubic inches or cubic money!" It works fairly well in Taiko as well. Kaji Yama Taiko was started by one family.... that means family money and family time. Our first year we built 5 drums, built flat-stands / Sukeroku stands / and an O'Daiko stand, sewed six costumes, and bought a truck.... I prefer not to reveal my personal investment but I would not recommend this process to others.

b. Making taiko

Rolling Thunder offers tutorials on making your own taiko drums. The tutorials include making wine-barrel taiko and shime-daiko. Making your own drums is a great way to start your own group with a minimum of expense. Be aware that it is very labor and time intensive. The taiko_l discussion list is a good place to ask questions about making your own taiko.

c. Renting taiko

While it is not currently not possible to rent taiko for extended periods, several organizations do rent taiko and related percussion instruments for performances or events. The renter is generally liable for the transport costs in addition to the rental fees, and must agree to be liable for any damage the taiko sustain. Due to the expense of the instruments, rental fees can run hundreds of dollars per day.

3. Instruction

Some groups have attempted to learn Taiko by watching videos of world famous performing groups, However most videos do not start by teaching how to position your feet, to hold the stick, to strike the drum so that you do not jam you elbow or strain your knees or back. In addition, there is form to learn, and basic rhythm patterns to learn before you ever play your first song. Someone, maybe 400 years ago, had to start a Taiko group without the help of an experienced teacher, but I wouldn't recommend it in 1999. Find someone to help you get started on the right track.

a. Finding instructors/workshops b. affiliation/networking with existing groups c. self instruction

d. Learning cultural basis, etiquette, history, responsibility, ethics etc.

For some players, the issue of being a non-Asian has been the problem of learning both taiko and the Japanese cultural aspects of the art as well. Many have enjoyed this combination, but some have struggle much with the particular teaching techniques, or cultural traditions. There are many ways to teach Taiko, some oral, some written; some with traditional Japanese discipline, some with western approaches to reinforcement of positive achievement. Spirit is an important part of Taiko, fostering and encouraging that spirit is an art in and unto itself!

It also helps to be aware that being able to perform taiko and to teach it are two very different skills that are not neccesarily linked to each other. Pedagogy is very involved, and should not be taken lightly.

e. Finding a practice space

Many groups start in a garage or someone's home. Some groups have had success at finding free space donated by churches. In return, you can offer them hours of free labor and of course free shows for some of their major events. A common problem is that these facilities often have no storage space, which means loading and unloading drums for every practice just like every show. Certainly the ideal situation is to have a dedicated studio, probably in a light-industrial area, where sound is not a problem.

4. Repertoire

3) Finding/creating music/songs Listen for rhythms in everyday things, like the thumping of cars over the road, the escalators in a department store, anything that has a consistent beat, then add on layers.

3) There are "public domain" songs and old folk-songs.... Kaji Yama Taiko writes almost all their own materials.... because we have some very experienced performers. New groups with inexperienced teachers would do well to stick to the folk-songs or request permission (and maybe some help) from other groups in the area who could teach them the materials they have developed. I see this as a "beginning tool" ...certainly the goal should be to perform unique materials.

a. learning basics b. learning material from instructors c. learning material on your own d. traditional material vs. copyrighted compositions

5. Performing

  1. Finding performance opportunities

    For beginning groups, finding performance opportunities is like finding students. It depends somewhat on the area in which you live and on how much self-promotion you are willing to do. It also depends upon your willingness to do low-fee or even free shows. By offering your services to churches, schools, and other worthwhile causes the group gets experience, publicity, and maybe even a few new students.

    For experienced groups who command a higher fee for their professionalism and artistry, the tactics can be a little different. Some suggestions are to call the Japanese Consulate in your area and let them know you exist. Then contact the local school district as well. The Taiko Resource sometimes lists performance opportunities, and they are sometimes announced to the taiko_l discussion list as well.

  2. Staging
  3. Costume
  4. Creating an indentity
  5. Performance fees
  6. Shipping Taiko

    Shipping taiko drums is prohibitively expensive, and the cost can quickly kill any profit a group make earn on a tour if not managed carefully. The two alternatives most groups explore is renting a truck and driving themselves, or taking the taiko as checked baggage if flying.

    A 14 foot panel van will cost about $100-150 a day to rent, with a weekly charge being slightly cheaper. Typically you will get about 50-100 free miles a day, and any driving over that range will cost you around .25 cents per mile. You are responsible for gas and insurance as well. For those groups with heavy Odaiko, lift-gate trucks are available for slightly more money.

    If you are travelling by air you should look into each person taking one taiko as checked baggage . You will probably have to pay a little extra due to the weight/size, but this is often the best way to go. This will reduce the amount of personal luggage you can bring, so take this into account.

Publicity and Promotion

Advertising is very expensive. Taiko groups often do not have the available resources to mount a advertising campaign, and must learn low/no cost ways to promote their event.

  1. Word of mouth

    The first thing a group should do is utilize the strength of their membership. Word of mouth can be very effective. Have all of your members tell at least ten other people about your upcoming gigs. Ask friends to also put out the word.

  2. Print

    Give flyers to every member and have them pass them out. Print posters or flyers and ask to post them in local businesses. Learning to write a good press release and contacts with the local media will go a long way to promote your event or concert.

  3. Web

    There is not a more cost effective way to reach potentially huge audiences than with a Website. For a minimum in expenses (typically around $25 a month), you can have a homepage that has the potential to reach fans worldwide. With many Website authoring packages, it is just as easy to create a Website as it is to create a letter or form with a word processor.

    A Website allows you to express who your group is, include history and photos of concerts and events, as well as getting out the word about upcoming performances. If you have a website, the address should be on every business card, flyer and poster you produce, and your announcer should give out the address at every show.

  4. Radio

    Learning to write a good press release and contacts with the local media will go a long way to promote your event or concert. Offering free tickets to a radio station for giveaways will can also give good bang for buck advertising.

  5. TV Targeted advertising on TV can be surprisingly affordable, especially on Cable TV. Cable TV also affords you a good way to target potential customers. You may find more success advertising on a music channel, instead of a cooking channel, for instance. Please note the following prices are for information only, your milage will vary.

    Production costs to create a nice TV ad can run around $300 dollars.

    Some sample rates for the Sacramento, CA, area (COMCAST, 254,000 subscribers, current as of 11/1999):

    6am - 6pm rotator (your ads will run sometime in here, it varies): CNN or ESPN is $30 per 30 second spot; DISCOVERY, LIFETIME or A&E is $22 per 30 second spot; BET, TNN, Comedy or FX is $9 per 30 second spot.

    If you want a primetime rotator (6pm - 12 mid): CNN or ESPN is $70; DISCOVERY, LIFETIME or A&E is $40; BET, TNN, Comedy or FX is $22.

    If you want to be specific, i.e. I would like my taiko ad to run during SOUTH PARK, it will cost around $130.

    It is also possible to reach people in a certain ZONE, such as running a special in the GRASS VALLEY area with 10,700 subscribers. CCN would be $8; DISCOVERY, $6; FX, $4.

7. Administrative/organizational

This is dependent upon the group of people you have and the direction they want to go. Each group is so different in thier organization that you need to talk to other groups and take a little from each to form your group organization.

  1. Fundraising and/or sponsorship

    Some groups seek sponsorship. There are often businesses that could use publicity. Payment can range from cash to services. Another common fundraising device include placing ads in your group's concert programs.

  2. Non-profit vs. For-profit

    We are looking into "Non-profit status...It won't solve all our problems but it will help make it easier to sell T-shirts etc (something we have not done yet because of tax-liability).

  3. Group organization (hierarchy vs. communal, etc)
  4. Community based vs. "pro" performing group
  5. Insurance

    A proper insurance policy, while difficult for many groups to afford, is definately something to keep in mind. The two policies most groups will want to look at first are liability and equiptment policies.

    It's generally also necessary to have insurance to rent performance venues and sometimes even rehearsal space. Many "umbrella organizations" (churches, cultural arts organizations, etc.) are willing to cover groups under their policies.

  6. Wavers of Liability

    A Waver of Liability is a legal document that helps protect a taiko group from liability if someone should get injured, or property should get damaged, while practicing with that taiko group. It is Rolling Thunder's suggestion that every taiko group create and use a Waver of Liability, and that everyone in the group should have to sign one before they begin to practice.

    Please note that someone can sue even if he/she has signed a waiver, so it is important to have liability insurance as well. No matter how well a waiver is written, the courts will still allow a lawsuit. However, a signed waver will go a long way towards proving that a taiko group clearly explained potential injury or risk before allowing a student to begin training.

    As a service to the readers of this FAQ, Rolling Thunder presents a Sample Waver of Liability. Feel free to take a look at it to see what one is like.

7. Additional Sources of Information

San Jose Taiko has made a kind offer of assistance to any taiko group - no matter how new or old. They are more than willing to help develop the interest in taiko. They say that their group does not have all the answers, but they have been around for awhile to know the problems.