Japanese drums with an Indian touch

Japanese drums with an Indian touch

Japan has a rich history of percussion instruments, especially drums. Of these drums, collectively called taiko, the most interesting one is tsuzumi, owing to its Indian connection. This wooden drum, shaped like an hourglass, is believed to trace its origin to India, while the name itself is derived from Sanskrit. It was introduced to Japan in the 7th Century, and has retained its charm to date.

This hand drum, with two drum heads, has cords that can be tightened or loosened to alter the sound it produces. While the drum body is shaped on a spool, the inner body is carved by hand. If made using the right method, these drums can be played for hundreds of years.

It is also peculiar in that the quality of sound emanating when played depends upon the moisture in the drum heads. The more the moisture, the better the quality of sound. So the players of tsuzumi generally breathe very close to the drum heads while playing it.

The two most commonly used tsuzumis are ko-tsuzumi and o-tsuzumi. Though both are similar in appearance, the manner in which they are played, and the sound they produce, are very different. While ko-tsuzumi is small, its heads are covered with horsehide, produce soft sounds, and is held on the player’s right shoulder, o-tsuzumi is big, its heads are covered with cowhide, produce intense sounds, and is held on the left hip. The resonance of both these drums is altered by the application of paper to the centre of the rear drumhead. While thin paper is covered in the case of ko-tsuzumi, hard paper is applied in the case of o-tsuzumi.

Both these tsuzumis are used in the music of traditional Japanese theatres including Noh and Kabuki, and in Japanese folk music known as min’yo. Both these drums are often played together during musical ensembles. Apart from these two types of tsuzumi, ancient Japanese court orchestra also had another type of tsuzumi drum known as san-no-tsuzumi. And, like all other traditional arts in Japan, there are several schools of tsuzumi.

Tsuzumi, in its original wooden form, is quite expensive. Hence, in an effort to make these drums easily accessible to all, cheaper versions are also being designed, with resin for its body and special polyethylene films for its heads.

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