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A taiko drum performance in Paris, France

DELALANDE RAYMOND/SIPA/Newscom

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Beats of Art

The secret inner beauty of Japanese taiko drums gives them their rich sound

Don kara, don kara, don don don! That’s the sound of taiko drums.

Taiko drums are traditional Japanese instruments. Musicians usually play them in groups with dance-like choreography. The drums have beautifully painted wood on the outside. But that’s only scratching the surface—some of their most impressive features go entirely unseen.

When crafting a taiko drum, drum makers carve repeated geometric patterns on the inside. Sometimes the drums are hand-carved from a single piece of wood over several weeks. Traditional patterns are often inspired by nature. Designs can look like turtle shells or fish scales. To finish the instrument, drum makers stretch material tightly over its ends, which hides the carvings from view.

Don kara, don kara, don don don! That’s the sound of taiko drums.

Taiko drums are traditional Japanese instruments. Musicians usually play them in groups. The musicians also move with dance-like choreography. The drums have beautifully painted wood on the outside. But that’s only scratching the surface. Some of their most impressive features are never seen.

When making a taiko drum, drum makers carve patterns on the inside of the drum. Sometimes the drums are hand-carved from a single piece of wood. The work is done over several weeks. Traditional patterns are often inspired by nature. Designs can look like turtle shells or fish scales. To finish the instrument, drum makers stretch material tightly over its ends. This hides the carvings from view.

So why do drum makers go through the trouble? It’s all about the sound. The carvings create a deeper, richer sound than a perfectly smooth surface would. “If the interior surface isn’t broken up, you’ll get a high-pitched ringing when the drum is struck,” says Mark Miyoshi. He’s a taiko drum maker in Mount Shasta, California. 

“Each carving has a different purpose to make different sounds,” says Sumiyo Asano,of the Asano Taiko Company. The company has been making taiko drums in Japan since 1609. For example, some customers choose a special pattern for drums used in art performances or festivals.

“I hope that most folks appreciate the sound of the drum,” says Miyoshi. “Perhaps someday they will see the inside and appreciate the attention each drum maker gives to the drum and, ultimately, its sound.”

So why do drum makers go through the trouble? It’s all about the sound. The carvings create a deeper, richer sound than a perfectly smooth surface would. “You need the interior surface to be broken up. Otherwise, you’ll get a high-pitched ringing when the drum is struck,” says Mark Miyoshi. He’s a taiko drum maker in Mount Shasta, California. 

“Each carving has a different purpose. That’s to make different sounds,” says Sumiyo Asano. She works at the Asano Taiko Company. The company has been making taiko drums in Japan since 1609. For example, some customers choose a special pattern. The drums are then used in art performances or festivals.

“I hope that most folks appreciate the sound of the drum,” says Miyoshi. “Perhaps someday they will see the inside. Then they can appreciate the attention each drum maker gives to the inside. And hopefully they can also appreciate the sound.”

A drum maker carves the inside of a taiko drum with four squares of equal sizes (above). Each side of a small square is 3 cm in length.

What is the perimeter of one small square? 

A drum maker carves the inside of a taiko drum with four squares of equal sizes (above). Each side of a small square is 3 cm in length.

What is the perimeter of one small square? 

What is the area of one small square?

What is the area of one small square?

Four small squares combine to make a larger square (above).

What is the perimeter of the large square? 

Four small squares combine to make a larger square (above). 

What is the perimeter of the large square? 

What is the area of the large square?

What is the area of the large square?

A drum maker carves a taiko drum with a repeated rectangle shape (right). The perimeter of one rectangle is 20 cm.

What is the missing side length? 

A drum maker carves a taiko drum with a repeated rectangle shape (right). The perimeter of one rectangle is 20 cm. 

What is the missing side length? 

What is the area of one rectangle?

What is the area of one rectangle?

A taiko drum has carvings with a pattern of rectangles that look like this:

A taiko drum has carvings with a pattern of rectangles that look like this:

Use the information given to calculate the area of the darker portion.

Use the information given to calculate the area of the darker portion.

The largest taiko drums are more than 2 meters tall! That’s the height of a standard door frame. A drum maker must plan how to carve the inside to make sure the carvings fit properly. On a separate pieceof graph paper, plan how you would carve a pattern using repeating squares.  

Find the area and perimeter of one of the repeating squares of the pattern. 

The largest taiko drums are more than 2 meters tall! That’s the height of a standard door frame. A drum maker must plan how to carve the inside to make sure the carvings fit properly. On a separate pieceof graph paper, plan how you would carve a pattern using repeating squares.  

Find the area and perimeter of one of the repeating squares of the pattern. 

Find the total area and perimeter of your repeating square design.

Find the total area and perimeter of your repeating square design.

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