Dictionary of Taiko Terminology

The Drums:

Taiko - the generic Japanese word for drum, sometimes spelled "daiko" when combined with another word.

Nagadou Daiko, Miya Daiko - the most common taiko, these are the drums used most frequently in festivals. Usually between 18 to 36 inches in diameter, with the taiko body length equal to, or longer than the diameter. The heads are attached with nails called "byou" so they can also be referred to as "byou daiko." The name literally means "long drum." Nagadou daiko are made from a single log (of zelkova, or "keyaki"), they have a loud booming sound. They can either be played resting on their end ("flat"), or on a stand in either a horizontal or diagonal position.

Byou Daiko - taiko made with the drum heads attached to the body with nails, called "byou." Both nagadou taiko and hira daiko can also be referred to as "Byou Daiko" because the heads on those taiko are nailed on.

O-Daiko - the largest nagadou taiko, with a diameter over 36 inches. Some Odaiko can be 6 feet or more in diameter! These are the drums made famous by "Kodo" and "Ondekoza," Japan's premier taiko groups. Taiko groups will sometimes paint a "mitsudomoe" (3 sided "ying/yang" symbol) on the O-daiko skins. O-daiko are played on stands in a horizontal position ("kagami uchi"), often with a drummer on each side of the same drum.

Chu Daiko - a nagadou taiko that is larger than a miya daiko or jozuke, but smaller than an O-daiko. Usually about 24 to 36 inches in diameter.

Ko Daiko - a small nagadou taiko usually about 10 to 17 inches in diameter.

Wadaiko, Miya Daiko, Nagadou Daiko, Jozuke - all are terms used for a taiko between 18 to 24 inches, that can be played flat ("beta uchi"), or on a slanted stand ("sukeroku" style). Note: some US taiko groups refer to a taiko this size as a "jozuke." That term comes from the taiko group "O-Edo Sukeroku Daiko" of Tokyo, and is not commonly used by other groups in Japan.

Shime Daiko and Tsukeshime Daiko - the small high pitched taiko (usually with a head 14 to 16 inches in diameter) that often plays the "jiuchi" of a song. The name comes from the word "to tighten," since the skins are traditionally held with rope (sometimes bolts) and can be tuned.

Eitetsu Okedo Daiko, Kakko - taiko that look like small Okedaiko, and made of stave construction. The Eitetsu Okedo is named after Eitetsu Hayashi, one of the founders of "Ondekoza." Traditionally these drums were used in festivals, and worn around the player's neck. The skins on these drums are held with rope, like shimedaiko, or large okedo.

Hira Do, Hira Daiko - a taiko cut to a quarter of the height of a standard taiko. Often hung on a frame in a horizontal position. They can be made in various diameters, including large sizes over 48 inches. Large hira daiko have a deep tone, with a sharper attack and quicker decay than nagadou daiko.

Okedo Taiko, Oke Daiko - a large taiko with 2 hooped heads held with rope (like a shime, or tsukeshime). Okedo are usually about 36 inches or more in diameter, and 4 to 6 feet in length, played on a stand ("kagami uchi"), and have a deep sound. These drums were originally made from buckets or barrels called "oke."

Uchiwa Daiko - a "fan" drum. Uchiwa are shaped like a fan, with the skin stretched around a metal hoop. They have no body, just the hoop with a handle, and come in various sizes. Their sound is similar to Remo "Roto-tom" drums.

Parts of a Taiko:

Do, or Ko - the body of the drum.
Hara - the center of the skin.
Fuchi - the edge of the top and bottom of the drum.
Kawa - the skin.
Mimi - the excess skin that wraps around the side of the taiko.
Byou - the tacks that hold the skin on a taiko.
Kanagu, or Kan - the ring shaped handles on larger nagadou taiko. ("Kanagu" literally means metal fixtures, or hardware).
Nawa - the rope on a shime or okedo daiko.

Taiko Measurements and Dimensions:

Shaku - the measurement used for large taiko. 1 shaku = 30 cm/12 inches. A shaku is made of 10 smaller units called sun. Usually the shaku diameter of the head is used to categorize a taiko, so drums will be referred to as 1.5 shaku, or 2 shaku...

Sun - the measurement used for small taiko, and bells and cymbals. 1 sun = 3 cm, or 1 and 3/16 ths inches. A shimedaiko's skin diameter is measured in shaku, but the shell is measured in sun. Standard sizes are 5, 6 and 7 sun.

Shimedaiko Sizes
In addition the weight & thickness of the skin is used to categorize a shimedaiko:

Namizuke - lightest weight, thinnest skin. Not normally used for taiko performances.
Nichougake - also called a "Number 2." Slightly heavier & thicker than a namizuke.
Sanchougake - also called a "Number 3." Heavier & thicker....one of the more popular sizes.
Yonchougake - also called a "Number 4." Probably the most popular size among taiko groups.
Gochougake - also called a "Number 5." The heaviest and thickest skin. Can be tightened to a very high pitch.

Types of Wood:

Japanese name in bold - English equivalent (if any), and use in taiko, antiques, etc..

Keyaki - Zelkovia, used to make single piece taiko and shimedaiko bodies.
Tochi - Horse Chestnut, used to make single piece taiko bodies.
Sen - Unknown, used to make single piece taiko and shimedaiko bodies.
Nara - Scrub Oak, used by Kawada Taiko to make their "Hi-Tech Taikos" which are constructed from staves. Also used for bachi.
Tamo - Ash, used by Kawada Taiko to make their "Hi-Tech Taikos" which are constructed from staves.
Hinoki - Cypress, used to make bachi, especially for O-daiko.
Matsu - Pine, used for bachi, especially for O-daiko.
Kashi - Evergreen Oak, used for bachi (all sizes), and for dai (stands).
Haku - Oak (general term).
Hoo - Magnolia, used for bachi, all sizes.
Buna - Beech, used for bachi, all sizes.
Take - Bamboo, used to make fue (flutes), and for special types of bachi.
Kaede - Maple, used for special bachi.
Kiri - Paulownia, used for special bachi. Also used in furniture and antiques.
Sugi - Cedar, used in furniture and antiques.
Kaba - Birch, used in making western drums.
Hannoki - Alder, used in furniture and antiques.

Other Instruments:

Bachi - taiko sticks.

Kane - a bell, or small gong (see Atarigane).

Dora - a gong.

Suzu, or Kagura suzu - also means bell. Usually small round bells. The bells at a Shinto shrine are referred to as "suzu" or "kagura suzu."

Atarigane, or Chanchiki - a saucer shaped bell, often hung from a cord like a small gong. Atarigane are played with a "shumoku," a single stick that traditionally has a piece of deer antler on the end. The atarigane often keeps the "jiuchi" of a song.

Chappa, or Tebyoushi - small hand cymbals that are used in place of an Atarigane, (or "Canon,") to keep the "jiuchi" or basic rhythm of a song.

Canon, or Tetsu-tsutsu - a set of bells on a stand consisting of high and low pitched bells with a hollow metallic piece in between of indefinite pitch. The 2 bells are usually tuned to a 3rd or 4th step, as in Latin music. The middle piece makes a metallic "ching" sound. The "canon" (or "tetsu-tsutsu" in Japanese) is used to play the basic beat.

Tsutsumi - the small hourglass shaped drum used in traditional Japanese music, and Noh theater. Tsutsumi are played with the hands, not with bachi.

Hyoushigi - wooden "clapers." Two wooden blocks tied together with rope, and struck together to produce a clave like sound. Used in old Japan by street merchants to call their customers.

Narimono - the generic term for small percussion instruments.

Fue - means "flute" in Japanese. Fue come in many sizes and pitches, but they are generally high in pitch and made of bamboo (called shinobue).

Shakuhachi - a special Japanese flute made of a long piece of bamboo. Shakuhachi have a low melancholy sound.

Other Taiko terms:

Ashi dai - a stand with legs (ashi), usually ashi dai will hold a drum in a horizontal position so that the middle of the drum is slightly above eye-level.

Beta uchi - playing a taiko that sits flat on the floor with one skin horizontal.

Dai - The generic word for a stand.

Dojo - the Japanese term used for a school, or a group in training.

Hachijo daiko - a style of playing taiko where the taiko rests horizontally on a stand at about shoulder height, so the 2 heads are vertical to the player. Drummers play both sides of the taiko - one side plays the "O-uchi," while the other plays the "Ji-uchi." This style originated on Hachijo Island, and is known for its flashy arm movements, and impressive stick work.

Hayashi (or Bayashi) - a musical band, or accompaniment. Also refers to festival music, for example "Matsuri no Bayashi."

Henbyoushi - change of rhythm.

Hyoushi - musical time, a rhythm, or a musical time pattern.

Ikko - the first beat of a war drum.

Ji-uchi, or Jikata - the basic feel and meter of a taiko song.

Kagami uchi - playing a taiko that rests horizontally on a stand. The 2 heads are vertical to the player. Used for O-Daiko, and Hachijo styles. Sometimes drummers play both sides of the same taiko.

Ka kai e - playing an Okedo held by a strap over the drummer's shoulder. Also referred to as "katsugi" style playing. This style is generally associated with "Kodo" and Leonard Eto (a former member). Although "ka kai e" originally comes from festivals, Leonard Eto and "Kodo" popularized the speedy stick work and cross-over arm movements that are now associated with it.

Kamaete - the performers' starting position for a taiko song.

Kata - the performers' positioning and movement. This is a term borrowed from martial arts, and loosely means "form."

Ki ai, or Kakegoe - the shouts and verbal cues that taiko players use to keep time, increase their energy, and encourage one another while playing.

Kuchi showa - the method of teaching and learning taiko songs by the use of an "alphabet of sounds." For example, "Don" for a loud beat to the center of the drum, and "Tsu" for a soft beat. See below for a more detailed explanation.

Kumi daiko - the term for modern taiko ensemble performance where rhythms and sections of a song are broken down and played by different instruments. May also include the arrangement of many different taiko into a drum set, as in a western drum kit. This style shows the influence of jazz and dance band drumming in modern taiko.

Matsuri - means "festival" in Japanese. Taiko is often played at a matsuri, for example "O-bon Matsuri". There is even a song called "Matsuri Daiko," which has many regional variations. Each version celebrating the uniqueness of the community that performs it.

Miyake daiko - a style of taiko where a large taiko rests "kagami uchi" (horizontal) on a low stand. Sometimes 2 taiko are used, with the player in between. This style originated on Miyake Island, and is unique in the way drummers must position themselves to play the taiko on low stands.

Onbayashi - the style of playing a nagadou taiko where the drummer is lying on the floor in a reclining position. The taiko rests on a low stand in a horizontal position, the drummer's legs straddle the taiko. This style comes from the piece "Yatai bayashi" and was popularized by "Ondekoza."

Oritatami dai - translates as "folding stand." This is the general term for any folding leg taiko stand, including slant or diagonal stands. Slanted stands are sometimes called "sukeroku dai" by US taiko groups. The term "sukeroku" was coined by "O-Edo Sukeroku Daiko" of Tokyo, and is not generally used by others in Japan. For example, a taiko catalog would list a slant stand as an "oritatami dai," not as a "sukeroku dai."

Oroshi - played at the beginning of a performance or song to focus the player on the taiko, and bring a group of drummers together. Usually an oroshi starts with slow beats that gradually increase in speed and intensity until a fast roll is played.

O-uchi - the main player, or the "song" part of a taiko piece.

Renshu - means "practice." As a warm-up, some groups play a "renshu daiko" or practice exercise.

Sukeroku - a style of playing where the taiko rests in slanted (diagonal) position. Popular in the Edo (Tokyo) area, and traditionally played at "matsuri." This style has been taken to new heights by a group from Tokyo called "O-Edo Sukeroku Daiko."

Suwari Dai - the term for the low stand used when playing a shimedaiko in a seated position.

Tachi Dai - the term for the tall shimedaiko stand used when playing in a standing position.

Tekoto - a style of playing where the drummer alternately plays the "hara" and the "fuchi" of the taiko.

Uchite - a taiko drummer.

Other Music terms:

Ainote - interlude; accompaniment; strain of music.

Bugaku - court dance and music.

Bukyoku - musical dance; music and dancing.

Butoukyoku - dance music.

Chouchou - major key (music notation).

Ei - a sharp (music notation).

Eihechouchou - F sharp major (music notation).

Ensou - music performance.

Fukikomu - to blow into; to breathe into; to inspire; to lay down a recording (music, video, etc.).

Fumen - written music.

Fumendai - music stand.

Gagaku - old Japanese court music.

Gakufu - score (written music).

Gigaku - ancient music.

Gosen - staff (music notation).

Gosenfu - a written music score.

Gosenshi - music paper.

Gouchou - tuning (music instruments).

Gungaku - military music.

Hakusuu - count of beats in music.

Han'on - half tone (music notation).

Han'onkai - chromatic (music scale).

Happyoukai - recital (i.e. of music, by a pupil).

Hassou - expression (when referring to music).

Heikinritsu - temperament (music).

Hen - flat (music notation).

Henrotanchou - B flat minor (music scale).

Hensoukyoku - variation (music).

Iemoto - the head of a school (of music, dance).

Ikkyoku - a tune (melody, piece of music).

Jinrai - wind instruments.

Jouen - performance (when referring to music).

Kagura - ancient Shinto music and dancing.

Kangen - music for wind and string instruments.

Kangengaku - orchestral music.

Kigaku - instrumental music.

Kogaku - ancient (early) music.

Kokyoku - old music.

Kyoku - tune; piece of music.

Kyouon - accent (music notation).

Kyuufu - rest (music notation).

Kyuushifu - rest (music); period; full stop.

Mimigakoeteiru - to have an ear for music.

Myuujikku - the word "music" spelled phonetically in Japanese.

Nibyoushi - double time (music).

Okesa - type of traditional vocal music.

Ondai - College of Music (abbreviation).

Ongaku - music.

Ongakudaigaku - College of Music.

Ongakushi - music history.

Onpu - music; notes; notation.

Saifu - writing a melody on music paper; recording a tune in musical notes.

Sakkyoku - composition (of music).

Sanbyoushi - triple time (music).

Seigaku - vocal music.

Shuusaku - study (when referring to music).

Suisougaku - music for wind instruments.

Tanchou - minor key (music notation).

Teion - rest (music notation, obsolete).

Teionpu - rest (music notation, obsolete).

Zen'on - whole tone (music).

Zenkyuushifu - whole rest (music notation).

Zokuchou - popular music; "vulgar" music.

Zokugaku - popular music, world music.


Happi, or Hanten - the colorful "short coats" that are usullay worn with an "obi" (belt). Often the happi bears the name and logo (called "mon") of the taiko group.

Fundoshi - the cloth that is wrapped around a man's legs and waist (basically like small jockey pants), and worn when playing the O-daiko or Okedo. In Japan men still wear fundoshi during summer matsuri, for example when carrying a "mikoshi" or pulling a "yatai."

Haragake - originally used as a carpenter's apron. Haragake look like aprons, they cover the chest and stomach, and have straps that criss-cross over the shoulders.

Tabi - shoes worn by taiko players. They are similar to high-top "kung fu" shoes, but the big toe is separated like the thumb of a mitten.

Momohiki - the pants often worn by taiko players. They are like long under pants, or tights, but tie around the waist.

Hachimaki - the head band worn by many taiko players (and sushi-ya).

Obi - the belt worn with a kimono or happi coat.

Sounds, used in teaching taiko by "kuchi showa":

"Kuchi showa " is the method of teaching and learning taiko songs by the use of an "alphabet of sounds." Since taiko, like many other non-western musical forms, has been taught through a verbal tradition, the student and teacher require a "language" to communicate. The following chart shows the most commonly used phonetic alphabet used to learn taiko songs.

Remember, these phonetic words are used to express both the sound and emphasis of the beats, as well as the time value of the beats. As a result, the notation is not exact compared to the western method of music notation. There are 4 columns in the chart: the first shows the taiko player's sound, the next the shimedaiko player's, then the atarigane & "canon" sounds, and finally the meaning and value of the sound.



Atarigane, Canon

Meaning & Musical Value

Don (Kon)



A single loud beat to the center (hara) of the drum. The left hand on a taiko is sometimes called "kon." This could be considered the equivalent of a quarter note; but could also be a half note, etc..

Do (Ko, Ro)

Te (Ke, Re)

Chi (Ki)

A single firm beat to the hara, but with a value 1/2 that of "don" (i.e.: twice as fast). The left is sometimes called "ko" or "ke." This would be an eighth note, if "don" is a quarter note.




2 Fast beats of equal sound, and power. This would be the equivalent of 2 eighth notes.




2 Fast beats, but with a slight "rolling" feel to the beats. Played "right, left."




A note played softly. The value of the note is variable.




2 Fast beats played softly (the left hand is "ku").

Ka (Ta)



A beat played on the edge of the drum (fuchi), sometimes on the body (ko). The left hand is sometimes notated as "ta."




2 Fast beats played on the fuchi, with a slight "rolling" feel to the beats. Played "right, left."




A rest. The value of the rest is variable, but usually it is one beat of the pulse of the meter.




Another term for a soft beat, sometimes played with a slight "drag" to the beat or used for notating a triplet.

*not normally played on a shimedaiko

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4/11/2000 by Tatsumaki Taiko
Images courtesy of Kawada Taiko Company, Japan