I completed a 5 day intensive drumming workshop with Uzume Taiko, in Vancouver, Canada. It was exhausting, but really good for me and for my musicianship. Why? Because so many classically-trained musicians – definitely including me – are trapped in the box of sheet music, order, and reason.  When someone asks us to play a piece of music, our first reaction is sometimes, “Great…  got any sheet music for that?”

Uzume Taiko teaches drums using oral traditions. There’s no sheet music — there’s only the oral call of the leaders that is repeated by the students until learnt.  Sure, I did rhythmic dictations in university, but that was 15 years ago and still had me notating on sheet music the rhythms I heard. This was completely different!

The two ladies in this video were my teachers – they are very professional and very dedicated. 


1. Kodaly Be Gone!
You know those lovely Kodaly rhythms? When you sing them, you can automatically play them because each rhythm sung relates to a rhythm duration. Not so with Taiko drumming. Here, the sung syllables refer to how hard you are supposed to hit the drums. Very hard strikes are called ‘Don.’  Two very soft strikes are called ‘Tsuku.’ So when you hear the caller singing the syllables, get it out of your heads that you are being told the rhythms!

2. Feel the rhythms and stop thinking about them!
We know that ‘Don’ is a loud strike and two very soft strikes are called ‘Tsuku.” Now, two loud strikes are called ‘Doro.’  So a caller could yell, “Don tsuku Don Doro!” and this would result in:

See? It’s the exact same rhythm, but played differently according to how the caller speaks. So you can’t try to cheat and think, “Right… all eighth notes are Tsuku,” because they aren’t. (sigh…)

3. Think about the exact opposites. 
There are times in life when you just have to unlearn what you know. Hands are cupped in piano, but closed on the harp. Hands are high, V-shaped, and fluid on the snare drum, but held like straight clubs on the Taiko drums. I literally spent the first three days trying to train myself not to hold the drum sticks like a concert drummer. It was only on the fourth day when the instructor started to feel calmer about my sound quality and sticking techniques.

4. All dance moves are prepared.
Yes. Dance moves. I asked my instructor what the difference was between Chinese and Japanese drumming and she told me it essentially came down to the dance moves. Each movement setups up the next.  For example, if you have ‘Don Don,’ with alternating sticks, then your right hand has to be straight at 45 degrees while your left hand has to be 90 degrees beside your ear. The best advice I can give you is to watch the tapes at 15% speed and to really analyse how they are setting up each individual dance step.

How to Succeed: 
– let go of your inhibitions
– unlearn what you know
– FEEL the beats wash over you
– let your kinetic / muscle memory take over

Kids love Taiko Drumming.  Uzume told me they regularly do workshops in schools, and even bring all their own drums. So if you are interested in this really cool activity, please visit Uzume Taiko for more information.