Decorative Knots for Atarigane and Shumoku

Angled kane and shumoku.jpg

I recently started a serious study of knots and quickly found out how bottomless this world of knot-tying really is. During my Tokyo Edo Bayashi intensive (read about it here) last June, Suzuki sensei showed me his method of tightening shimedaiko including all of the knots. But for the atarigane and shumoku, sensei simply showed me his instruments and advised me to look up some decorative knots and experiment after I got home. While this was a fun activity, I realized the challenges of not only learning how to tie them, but to find the correct knots in the first place. The internet usually makes information searches fast and easy but my lack prior knowledge made it frustrating to comb through hundreds of tutorial photos, videos, and useless web links. For knots, it turns out that you need to know the exact name of the knot before any good search results will show up. This was even more difficult when I was trying to find the English name of Japanese knots, or trying to reverse engineer knots from photos. Fortunately there are a lot of great tutorials online when you start with the correct knot names, and I list all of the ones I use here.

My research is knot done yet, but these labeled photos will provide a good starting point for anyone looking to add some color and style to their atarigane and shumoku. I don’t believe that there is a single correct way to approach this, and I would encourage everyone to experiment with different combinations of these and other knots. Much like the study of the Edo Bayashi music, there is no end once you start going deeper and deeper down this path. It would be fun to see everyone’s versions so please send me a photo if you try this yourself.

The left-side photo below shows a 5.5 Betsubiki atarigane with some decorative string I repurposed from a pair of chappa. The shumoku (Marukuma Edo Bayashi) string was originally on one of my other kane, and at 93cm it’s probably too long. I might go with something like 60 - 70cm for the shumoku string (length before tying). The common colors I see are purple, red, orange, and white, but it might be interesting to try other colors or combinations. The right-side photo (orange string) shows my experimentation with locking loop knots so that the string length is easily adjusted for different playing styles. Of the two, I prefer the adjustable grip hitch for its ability to hold more firmly. I added a variation so that the end of the string points down rather than out to the side. This photo also shows the proper orientation of the kane where the string holes are toward the bottom.

There are some bonus photos at the end showing two knots: the cowboy bowline and the snake knot. I used an old piece of string from my vibraphone to practice these knots before trying it on the real material. I would highly recommend doing this to get more familiar with the many different techniques. The cowboy bowline is typically used as the starting knot for shimedaiko and is called moyai musubi もやい結び in Japanese. Although I considered similarly breaking down all of the knots I list here, I decided knot to because doing your own research is invaluable, and I wanted to keep the length of this blog entry reasonable. Feel free to send me any follow-up questions. Good luck and happy tying!

Purple kane with shumoku.jpg
Orange kane and shumoku.jpg

Poacher’s knot

Adjustable grip hitch
(variation of passing the string through the last loop down)

Snake knot
Tsuyu musubi つゆ結び

Shamrock knot (sailor’s cross)
Agemaki musubi あげまき結び

Japanese square knot
Kanou musubi かのう結び

Purple close up copy.jpg
Orange close up copy.jpg

Snake knot

Japanese square knot

Triangle lanyard knot

Double connection knot

Overhand knot

shumoku top copy.jpg
shumoku bottom copy.jpg

Snake Knot

snake knot loose copy.jpg
snake knot tight copy.jpg

Cowboy Bowline Knot

Cowboy bowline loose copy.jpg
Cowboy bowline tight copy.jpg
green string.jpg

My most important bachi & sticks for taiko

My most important taiko sticks

My most important taiko sticks

I am constantly on the search for new bachi and drumsticks at local drum shops, big music stores, Asano Taiko US in Torrance, Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten in Asakusa, or the marketplace vendors at the North American Taiko Conference. Japan is my favorite place to go shopping because it's very common to see a digital scale in the drumstick section for picky people like me to precisely match a pair of sticks by weight. There are many different materials used to make sticks, including bamboo, kashi (oak), hickory, maple, birch, hou (magnolia), and hinoki (cypress). In addition, you can find a wide variety of mallets, brushes, and other alternative sticks made by a number of different companies. Considering the enormous variety of drums, cymbals, and percussion instruments available to us, it might be easy to understand my obsessive search for the best stick for each application.

What are some of the factors involved with stick selection? This can be a deeply personal topic and each musician will have their own hierarchy of criteria. Here are mine:

1. Sound – the most important consideration. Sometimes it's a simple decision and other times it's necessary to compromise and make it work for a number of dissimilar instruments.

2. Feel – the stick needs to feel comfortable and work for my playing style. I check out the length, diameter, weight, finish, and balance to narrow down my choices.

3. Wear and tear – I make sure the sticks will not cause damage to the instruments. I also match the sticks to the instrument so that I don't have to replace broken sticks constantly.

4. Tradition and uniformity – there are times when it makes sense for an ensemble to use the same sticks in striving for uniformity of sound and visuals. I also consider traditional sticks with historical significance.

One of the workshop topics I have taught is called Taiko Sounds and Sticks, where I introduce ways to get many sounds out of one drum as well as discuss and demonstrate the common materials and dimensions of taiko sticks. My goal is to convey the depth of this topic and share my knowledge so that the participants leave with a foundation in stick selection details. It's a fun moment when someone hears the subtle difference between two similar sticks when I play them side-by-side on a drum.

This photo shows the collection of sticks I currently use. It is very close to the stick recommendations in my article called Ten Useful Sticks For Taiko Players. There are additional sticks I use depending on the situation, but these are my most important ones. The sticks labeled VF RH 36cm is a marching snare drum stick (Vic Firth Ralph Hardiman) that I cut off and sanded. This hickory stick works well in a mixed-taiko set up and has good sound and durability on rims and cymbals.

Taiko sticks labeled

Taiko sticks labeled

Old bachi from my childhood

Old bachi from my childhood

This other photo shows two pairs of sticks from my childhood. The smaller kashi bachi were given to me by my first taiko teacher Saburo Mochizuki, and I used them to play the Sukeroku Daiko repertoire he taught to our youth group in Saitama. The larger hou bachi are from a Miyake Taiko summer intensive I took on Sado Island at age 11, taught by Kodo members.


Ten Useful Sticks for Taiko Players

Asano Taiko US

Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten

Japan Percussion Center