Making Taiko Drums from Recycled Materials

I want to learn how to play a taiko drum. I think it would be a completely satisfying experience to fully use your body, to play such a beautiful instrument, and to play with a group to create an enthralling moment.

In Japan, taiko drums are made from oak trees that are aged for 15-20 years so they can dry completely evenly. I watched a Google Hangout from Maker Camp about how people in the United States are making taiko drums from recycled wooden barrels. It takes more than 200 hours to make a drum.

The guest speaker, Terry Eustice from Wadaiko Newark, also demonstrated how to make drums from large PVC pipe. He noted that they often get their PVC pipes from construction sites (after asking permission) because the size they need is often what gets thrown out on the construction site.

In both cases – the barrels and the PVC pipe, the striking surface or the “head” of the drum is made from cowhide, which he says you can buy in sheets. You soak it and then stretch it over the barrel or the pipe.

Finally, he showed how to make a practice barrel using a five gallon barrel (like a white paint barrel) where the head is made from a recycled X-ray vellum that takes only about 30 minutes to build.

Getting Wooden Barrels

A few  years ago, I got wooden barrels that were used for transporting feta cheese, so I have some experience with recycling wooden barrels. Of course I cannot find my notes on where I got the barrels now because it was almost 10 years ago. And feta barrels were not the best, because they were rather stinky! I would love to find olive barrels because I’m hoping they would be less stinky.

Feta barrels

Feta barrels

After I scrubbed the barrels and dried them out, they started to fall apart. That’s because the staves (or the individual wooden pieces) really only fit solidly when there is moisture in the barrel, from the feta brine I suppose. The metal rings started to fall off and I was soon going to have wooden barrels that were useless. I managed to make on for my friend Mona, painting the top like a checkboard. This photo is my mom’s painting that I copied – mine was not nearly as nice:

Checker board painted by Gloria Brown

Checker board painted by Gloria Brown


Local Taiko Classes

I have been researching where I could take a taiko drum class to see if I have any chance of doing this. Here are the locations I’m finding so far:

  • Nen Daiko – They meet at the Ekoji Buddhist Temple in Fairfax Station, Virginia. I contacted them and they said that they do not have classes per se, but they do allow people to become members once they have had training.
  • House of Musical Traditions in Takoma Park, Maryland – Mark Rooney teaches drop-in classes for $35 or $220 for 8 classes – at Dance Exchange – Sundays 5-7pm
  • Chin Hamayo Daiko – They meet every Friday night at 6pm in Waldorf, Maryland and it costs $20 per person.

If you know about other options, and ideally something in northern Virginia, please let me know!

PS – The photo at the top of the blog is by Geomr and has Creative Commons rights from Wikipedia. I didn’t take that one!

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