Monday, August 24, 2009

Question Everything: Bachi

I'm going to try something out - I did a pretty long post on my "What is taiko?" topic where I posed several questions on the identity of taiko, the art, the drum, everything. In that same spirit, I'm going to start a series on my blog called "Question Everything".

I do this kind of questioning in my own group - which doesn't endear me to a lot of people, but I feel that taking things for granted leads to ignorance, less appreciation, and hampers growth. No one wants someone who's always playing Devil's Advocate, but it doesn't have to be that...ornery. Let me get into my first in this series and you'll see what I mean.


In taiko, we play with large drumsticks, called bachi. The average length is 17-18" inches, give or take. The average circumference is 1".

If you play taiko, take out your bachi. It's ok, I'll wait. Got them? Great. Now look at them and ask yourself, "why am I using these?" I'm serious, ask yourself that! No, not out loud, people will think you're losing it...oh no, too late! :)

Ok, kidding aside, I really want you to question why you use those bachi. Were they given to you? Did you buy them at Conference or somewhere else? Are they the right height? Weight? Density? What are they made of? ...are they the right bachi for you?

It's been a while since I first heard this idea, and no one can tell me who it came from, but the philosophy that made my taiko path sooooo much easier was this: your regular bachi should be the length of your elbow to your middle fingertip. I say "regular" to differentiate from say, Odaiko bachi. On me, that's actually too long, but I added an inch to what I was using and the results were remarkable. I could hit powerfully without using as much strength, and they looked right on me. I'm a tall guy; I was using short-people drumsticks!

Think about it - in a group of taiko players, someone six feet tall and someone five feet tall should not be using the same size bachi, right? I'd bet a majority of taiko players use the same size, however. That's insane!

I like that we can support the people who make bachi - all the ones I've seen are of good quality! But I'm a firm believer in making your own. Go to a lumber yard and look at the dowels/staves. Take a pair of bachi you like with you and see if they can match the wood for you. Have them cut it to pairs of different lengths. Sand them down yourself. Try them out! You may wind up with the same size and composition that you have now, but at least you'll know those are the right ones for you.

For me, I wound up with a pair of maple bachi, 19 inches long. I had been playing with bachi shorter than that for YEARS. The problem for me now are the bachi we use for shime and okedo; if we all have our own bachi for each drum, we'll need a backpack to wear while we play to carry them all! Still, at least I have my main pair that fit me. It's a good start.

Questioning the little things that you hardly think about can lead to some great insights! Answers may not always come easy or quickly, but the alternative is doing things simply because others do them or tell you to do them.

That's the first Question Everything post; I have a lot more in mind! If you have a subject you'd like me to tackle, let me know! I love this stuff.


  1. My chu bachi are too long according to your post... but if they were shorter, my hand would hit the drum even more than they do now. :/

  2. Well remember, there are going to be different-sized bachi for different drums - I mentioned shime and okedo, right? My point is to find the right size *for you*, and if it's larger than you'd like because a smaller size winds up causing pain, at least you have a reason, right?

    Still, it makes me wonder how you're standing to the drum so that you keep hitting your hands. Are the drums that high for you when they're sitting upright?

  3. Our "chudaiko's" are huge and tall... much too tall for someone who's 5 feet tall. They're the size of what people usually have as their odaiko's. We had to adjust the betta stand and angle it, cuz we have so many short people in our group. That helped a lot, actually. Don't worry, I'm not standing close to the drum. :p

  4. I changed the wording in my post to specify that I was talking about "regular" bachi - if you're playing a giant drum, you're going to need bigger bachi, naturally. But even then, it's still good to make sure those bachi are sized right for you.

  5. OK, I'll play devil's advocate. :-)

    "Think about it - in a group of taiko players, someone six feet tall and someone five feet tall should not be using the same size bachi, right?"

    Why not? In my martial arts dojo, someone 5' tall and someone 6' tall use the same size sword. Nobody thinks that's crazy. Do you have a larger goban for 6' go players? Do you have a larger teapot for taller guests at tea ceremony? Being able to adjust to your equipment or partner is an important part of training.

    In the spirit of "question everything": the people are different sizes, but the drums (if we're talking about chus in kumidaiko) are the same size, so why do you choose to size the sticks to the person and not to the drum? Isn't that just as arbitrary?

    At a gross scale, people use very different bachi on shime or odaiko. So why not match the drum on a fine scale, as well? If you can play with shime bachi, and you can play with odaiko bachi, I don't see why you'd have any trouble playing with any size chu bachi, within reason.

    Sure, every taiko player has 20 pairs of bachi, but isn't that just because we're gearheads? :-)

    (In fact, I don't have strong feelings on this. It seems completely arbitrary any way you cut it. No taiko group will ever have all players the same size, so something is always going to be mismatched.)

  6. Good points, so let me dig in...

    I can compare weapons in martial arts directly to taiko in...well, taiko. The weapons will be the same size no matter who wields them, and the taiko will be the same size no matter who plays them.

    However, the "equipment" (i.e., uniforms, belts, hand gear, mouthguards, etc.), are going to be different sizes depending on the person. Therefore, it makes just as much sense that different bachi sizes would be valid as well.

    As for having to play with bachi that are too short or too long for a player, it's all about quality of sound. When someone smaller plays with *my* bachi, their wrists have to deal with a lot more torque and centrifugal force right off the bat. It may not seem like a big deal, but depending on your style and how much movement or fast notes they have to play, it can be impossible or even hazardous.

    If someone like me plays with bachi that are much shorter, say, by 3 inches or more, I have to get in a lot closer to the drum and the fulcrum that my fingers create in holding the bachi becomes less efficient. Probably not as bad of a case as the above one, but short enough and I'm basically playing with stubs.

    A lot of it comes down to quality of sound. I can play the right sized shime bachi on Odaiko, but I'm going to lose almost all of the bass sound and only get a tinny attack. If I use odaiko bachi on shime, I'm going to have to hold back my strike or damage the bachi - and even then, the sound won't have the piercing that using a smaller bachi would.

    The instrument isn't going to change, and most people aren't going to change height. All a player can do is take a look at their bachi and figure out what's going to give *them* the best sound.