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Learning Taiko

Taiko is a dynamic art form that appeals to many people. For experienced musicians, there is also some taiko sheet music available at no charge.

Learning Taiko

Kuchi Showa

Finding Instruction

Online Tutorial

Taiko Sheet Music

Cheap Practice Drums

Learning Taiko

Coming soon.


Kuchi-showa (also kuchi-shoga or kuchi-shoka depending on the area of Japan or tradition you come from) is a phonetic system used to teach most Japanese instruments. Each note or sound that an instrument produces is assigned a different syllable. The student is then taught the verbal pattern corresponding to notes to be played on the instrument. While there are completely adaquate written notation for most, if not all, instruments, many traditional Japanese instructors firmly believe that the oral method of instruction is the best. It is often said, "if you can sing the kuchi-showa, then you will have no problem playing the passage on a taiko, even if you haven't touched a drum before."

In the case of taiko, each of the different syllables tells the student how to hit the drum, along with the timing for each drum beat. For example, the syllable "don" refers to striking the middle of the drum (the hara), while "ka" refers to striking the edge of the drum (the fuchi).

The following chart summarizes the syllables typically used for most taiko. The first section gives the kuchi-showa that is used for most drums. The second section lists any kuchi-showa that applies to a particular instrument. Since there are regional differences of kuchi-showa, all variations are given where known. All notes are played with alternate hands unless otherwise noted.

Syllable Meaning
Don A beat to the hara (center of drumskin) of large taiko. For the purposes of this chart, "Don" can be considered to be a quarter note.
Two alternating beats to the hara, starting with the strong hand, played twice as quickly as a single "Don". If a Don is a quarter note, Do-kon is two eighth notes.
Don-go Two alternating beats to the hara, starting with the strong hand, played twice with a swing beat.
Do-Kon Two beats to the hara, emphasizing the second beat. Same time value as Do-Ko.
Do-don Two beats to the hara with the strong hand, emphasizing the second beat. Same time value as Do-Ko.
Ko-Don Two alternating beats to the hara starting with the weak hand, emphasizing the second beat. Same time value as Do-Ko.
Ka A beat on the fuchi (edge of the drum). Same time value as Don.
Two beats on the fuchi. Same time value as Do-Kon.
I-Ya (pronounced "ee-yah") A rest, a pause. Same time value as Don.
Su A rest, a pause. Half the time value as Don.
Tsu A note played lightly. Same time value as Don.
Tsu-Ku Two notes played lightly. Same time value as Do-Ko.
Zu A note where the bachi is left on the drum head after impact, to muffle and deaden the sound. Same time value as Don.
Zu-Ku Two notes played where the bachi is left on the drum head after impact to muffle and deaden the sound. Same time value as Do-Ko.
Shime-daiko specific kuchi-showa
Ten A beat to the hara of a shime-daiko. For the purposes of this chart, "Ten" can be considered to be a quarter note.
Two beats to the hara of a shime-daiko. If a Ten is a quarter note, Te-Re is two eighth notes.
Kozutsumi specific kuchi-showa
Atarigane (Chan-chiki) specific kuchi-showa
Chan A beat to the center of an atarigane.
Two beats to the edges of an atarigane. This is played with and up-down or side to side motion of the shumoku (mallet), and each edge of the atarigane is struck once.

Listening Exercises

Click on the following examples to hear them played on a taiko. These sound files are in the .aiff format and range from 44k to 88k in size. If you need help configuring your browser to listen to these files, try the Underground Internet Music Archive, a wonderful source of great music. They have excellent help pages dedicated to the following machines: Mac, Unix, Windows.

Finding Taiko Instruction

One of the most frequently asked questions on The Rolling Thunder Taiko Resource is "where can I find a teacher in my area?" While both the West and East coasts of North America have many fine Taiko groups and instructors, it is difficult to find a taiko instructor in many parts of the US. It can be even more difficult in other parts of the world. The Taiko Instructon Database and The Taiko Group Database have been set up to help you find Taiko instruction in your area.

The Taiko Group Database is a comprehensive listing of taiko group contact information worldwide. By finding and contacting the closest taiko group to you directly, you can learn about their admissions policy.

Online Tutorial

Learning taiko is an process best carried out with a competent instructor. To look for an instructor in your area, please try the Instruction and Taiko Group databases. While there is no substitute for learning taiko from an experienced teacher, many people do not have access to instruction. For people in this situation, there is a Online Tutorial to allow people to learn on their own.

Taiko Sheet Music

The growing interest in taiko among university music departments and professional musicians has led to an increasing amount of requests for taiko sheet music. Rolling Thunder is pleased to be able to offer several freely distributable compositions at no charge.

The Sansa-daiko rhythm is also notated in the Online Tutorial

Cheap Practice Drums

There are several practice drums that can be made inexpensively while you are a beginner. These drums will allow you to practice at home, and they have the added advantage of being relatively quiet so you won't disturb your neighbors.

The most common practice drum is to take a used automobile tire (they can be obtained for free from most tire shops) and set it on edge on a folding chair. The tire is then strapped in place with twine or a bungie cord. People will then play the tread (edge) of the tire in place of a real drum. While cheap and easy to set up and store, practice tires are heavy, ugly and sound awful. Another downside is that they turn your bachi black as you hit on them. Some groups use packing tape (the kind that is 2 inches wide) to cover the tire, creating a membrane of tape over the hole on both sides. This allow the center of the tire as well as the edge to be played.

Another method is to use packing tape to cover the mouth of a 35 gallon plastic garbage can. The many layers of tape forms a drum head that is surprisingly durable.

Rolling Thunder, working with Asano Taiko Co., now offers a small hira-daiko suitable for practice use. This drum is made from keyaki, the traditional wood most desirable for taiko, and will is offered at a special price.