Shimedaiko Rope Types and How to Choose One

Shimedaiko rope used for testing

Shimedaiko rope used for testing

This guide is for anyone looking for information about shimedaiko rope. I prefer using the traditional rope-tightened style of shimedaiko over the bolted kind for several reasons:

  1. They sound better to my ears.

  2. They look better to my eyes.

  3. They feel better to my arms when I carry them.

  4. They are kinder on my stands, floors, limbs, and any surface that comes in contact with the drum.

  5. They are still the only type used by professionals in many traditional arts such as kagura, noh, kabuki, and Edo Bayashi.

Obviously, the bolt-style drums are legitimate and have many fans, mainly due to the ease of tightening and loosening the drum quickly and evenly. To tighten properly, both drum styles require lots of practice and careful attention to detail to get the best sound and longevity of the instruments. I believe that rope shimedaiko can be more fun, rewarding, and beneficial to your growth as a player once you gain the knowledge and develop the skills required to care for it correctly. This blog entry is only about rope types, so send me an email if you are interested in learning more about the advantages of the wooden mallet tightening technique described here:

https://www.eienhunterishikawa.com/blog/my-favorite-shimedaiko-tightening-met

Kuremona (9mm)

Kuremona (9mm)

Vintage 3 strand (10mm)

Vintage 3 strand (10mm)

When I started my research about rope options for shimedaiko, I was surprised at how little information I could find online. There is a huge variety of rope types out there and this overabundance of choice is confusing when you are trying to compare materials, pricing, diameter, color, stretch, and the ability to hold knots. Hopefully this guide will help you narrow down the sea of choices and focus your own quest for the best rope. A special thanks to Chris Huynh for helping with my research.

The two most important characteristics for shimedaiko rope performance are: not stretching and not slipping. The rope needs to hold knots during tightening, and then hold the tension after the drum is tightened. With these requirements in mind, here are the ropes I eliminated from my list of acceptable materials:

Nylon - too stretchy, too slippery
Cotton - too weak, too stretchy
Sisal - too hard, brittle, and rough
Kevlar - no good options available
Dyneema - too slippery
Spectra - too slippery
Hempex & Unmanilla/Promanilla - these are said to stretch and slip, but I haven’t tried it
Any braided rope - too smooth, and therefore too slippery

Below are the ropes that work, with pros and cons for each. They are all 3-strand twist because of their ability to hold knots better. Some of these ropes can tend to unravel, so I would recommend always keeping a tight twist for better durability and limiting the stretchiness. The first two are natural ropes - the texture is rougher so it’s a good idea to use gloves when working with them. The other synthetic ropes are generally easier on the hands.

  1. Hemp - the traditional rope, best for not stretching and holding knots. The main disadvantages: the rope is rough on your hands, they ‘shed’ material on the floor, your clothes, and into the air. Depending on the supplier, some hemp rope (like the one I bought, even after days of sun exposure and spraying with vinegar solution) smells so bad that I don’t want to handle it. Although I haven’t personally used them yet, the hemp rope sold at Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten and Asano Taiko are of high quality and don’t seem to have any offensive smell. They also seem to only carry the natural rope, with no dyed-color options. Asa is the Japanese word for hemp. I have been told that hemp shrinks over time, so that’s something to keep in mind.

  2. Manila - a very inexpensive and easy-to-find alternative to hemp, it performs very well by holding knots and not stretching. Depending on the supplier, it can be rougher on the hands and shed even more than hemp. But it’s cheap and available everywhere. If there are higher-quality manila ropes out there, I would be interested in trying them out.

  3. Kuremona - a synthetic rope that both Miyamoto and Asano carry. I would think that there are different types of kuremona, but my only experience with this rope is on the Edo Bayashi taiko made by Miyamoto. It stretches and slips more than the natural rope mentioned above, but it is within the acceptable range of performance. The advantages: the variety of colors available, and the rope feels nice in the hands.

  4. POSH - a synthetic rope I recently became aware of and decided to try out. It stretches less and holds knots better than kuremona, but the main disadvantage is its stiffness. I would think that the rope will eventually soften, but I have only used it once. The lack of suppleness make it hard to get the slack out of knots before you tighten, and this doesn’t allow you full control of how much tension the rope creates on the drum heads. If this rope softens, it would be my top choice. I purchased this rope online at R & W Rope. It has been suggested that perhaps putting the rope through a wash cycle might soften it. The photo below shows the impressive array of POSH color options at R & W Rope. This photo was emailed to me by Ray, who was very helpful in helping me narrow down the choices. The online store shows less color selection, so you might need send them an email to order a specific color.

  5. Vintage 3 Strand - another synthetic rope I recently learned about and purchased to try. This is softer and easier to handle than POSH, but with slightly less knot-holding ability. It also only comes in one color, a natural beige. Because it’s cheaper and easier to work with, I would place this rope slightly ahead of POSH in terms of performance. This was also purchased at R & W Rope.

The 4 ropes I tried back-to-back to compare

The 4 ropes I tried back-to-back to compare

Rope samples from Miyamoto - five kuremona colors and hemp (far right)

Rope samples from Miyamoto - five kuremona colors and hemp (far right)

POSH colors available at R & W Rope

POSH colors available at R & W Rope

Rope Diameter and Length

It makes sense to use the appropriate diameter rope for the size of shimedaiko you use. For the typical medium sized (2 or 3 chogake) drum, I think 10 - 12mm works well. A smaller drum might take 8 - 9mm and the biggest drums (4 or 5 chogake) could use 12 - 13mm, depending on the drum maker and rope type. In the US, 3/8 inch (9.5mm) rope is very common and easy to find. Thicker diameter is better for durability and less stretch but a rope too thick can be hard to work with. Take into consideration the depth of the body, how stretched the skins are already, and how large the holes near the rings are. For example, the Edo Bayashi taiko pictured below has a 9mm kuremona rope - it works fine, but I would prefer something slightly thicker for this drum. You can see that the holes are definitely wide enough for a bigger rope. I have learned that both Miyamoto and Asano sell a preset diameter rope for each shimedaiko size, which makes it simpler to order the appropriate rope for each drum size. However, you might want to ask for more detail about the material and diameter of the ropes so that you can choose one that best fits your needs. It’s common in Japan to use the traditional unit ‘bu’ (3mm) for rope, and for our purposes we would look for 3 or 4 bu (9mm or 12mm). But I’m pretty sure that other diameter ropes would be available in 1mm increments, and will continue my research to learn more about our options.

Miyamoto Edo Bayashi shimedaiko with 9mm kuremona

Miyamoto Edo Bayashi shimedaiko with 9mm kuremona

The taiko companies also seem to provide a set length for each shimedaiko size, but I think it would be possible to place a custom order. After the drum is tightened, I prefer to follow the common practice of winding the rope 3 times around before tying off. I have noticed that Kodo and Hayashi Eitetsu both wind the rope 2 times, so I can understand people using this method as well. For me, it’s like the martini olives rule - you should have an odd number, and 1 is too few (and 5 won’t fit). Because each drum will have differences in the length of rope required, I ordered 36 feet (11 meters) of rope for my testing and cut off the excess after tightening the drum for the first time. I feel more at ease knowing that I will have plenty of rope to work with, but you can certainly order less than this. If you are ordering from Miyamoto or Asano, it might be a good idea to ask about the set rope length and see if you can purchase your preferred length in addition to the diameter.

Whipping on the end of the rope

Whipping on the end of the rope

General Tips

1. It’s worth learning how to tie a proper whipping knot on the end of the rope to prevent it from fraying or unraveling. Tape can do the job, but it’s less aesthetically pleasing and it can come off with some pressure. A quick online search will give you many photo and video tutorials on how to whip the end of a rope.

2. Prioritize function over appearance. I have seen many drums with beautiful ropes that don’t work well at all, resulting in less than ideal sound and tightening performance. Instead of trying to find a rope that takes dye well (such as cotton) at the expense of function, search for rope that is already the color you are looking for within the category of acceptable performance.

3. Experiment to learn your individual preferences on material, diameter, length, and price. Then ask questions so that the supplier is sending you exactly what you are looking for. For example, I should have asked the salesperson about the smell of their hemp rope before ordering. Ask other taiko players, makers, and stores for detailed information so that you can build your base knowledge and find the best rope for you. I also found it interesting to learn about the wide the variation in pricing, so don’t forget to make note of the differences carefully. Let me know if you have any recommendations and I will add them to my list.

4. Learn proper tightening technique so that you value the performance of the rope. There are several different tightening methods that are commonly used. Choose one that works best for you and practice a lot. And boosting your ability to play the drum will increase your appreciation of the sound and condition of the skins over time.

5. Understand that your treatment of your shimedaiko can impact not just the sound, but also the longevity. A clamshelled shimedaiko will not last as long as a more evenly tightened one. And keeping a drum tightened all the time will result in a shorter lifespan than one that is loosened between uses. Of course, other factors like stick selection, playing technique, stand design, weather, and general handling practices will all affect how long your heads will last.

6. Links to suppliers:

Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten

Asano Taiko US

R & W Rope

Partially tightened Edo Bayashi shimedaiko by Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten

Partially tightened Edo Bayashi shimedaiko by Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten

Complete set of Edo Bayashi instruments and accessories

Complete set of Edo Bayashi instruments and accessories

Interview: Abe Lagrimas, Jr. talks music, working with taiko players, and his new album

Abe Lagrimas, Jr. (photo by Greg Hatton)

Abe Lagrimas, Jr. (photo by Greg Hatton)

I recently had a fun conversation with Abe Lagrimas, Jr., a Los Angeles-based musician, composer, educator, and author. Abe and I have been working for the past several years as members of On Ensemble and it's always a pleasure to share the stage together. He is an outstanding musician who plays drums, vibraphone, and ukulele, and consistently adds color and spark to elevate the music. Audiences love his technical flair, yet as a bandmate I truly appreciate Abe's fine-tuned ear and his flexibility to instantly adapt to any situation. He makes any band sound better and it's no surprise to learn that he is very much in high demand. In addition to On Ensemble, Abe and I have worked extensively with the preeminent taiko artist Kenny Endo. It's always interesting for me to chat with musicians with similar points of view, and as a jazz musician, Abe had some very insightful observations about working with taiko players. It would be wonderful if everyone shared such an open and forward-thinking mindset about art, culture, and everyday life. This conversation also contains more humorous bits than usual, reflecting Abe's easygoing personality.

The interview features music from Abe's fantastic new self-titled album. The excerpted tracks are: Alternate Route, Sunday Dance, Nu'uanu Mist, End Of The Road, and Tanimoto. The album features a great group of musicians playing Abe's jazz-leaning original compositions, expressing a nice balance of varying feels, tempos, and moods. The links for the CD and digital download are below, and I highly recommend you check them out. Abe's website is also worth visiting to learn about upcoming shows, find his previous albums, and sign up for his newsletter. 


Abe Lagrimas, Jr. is a musician, composer, educator, and author who plays the drums, vibraphone, ukulele, and studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. In 2012, he competed in the highly prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Drums Competition and has worked with many artists such as Eric Marienthal, Eric Reed, Kamasi Washington, Dontae Winslow, Barbara Morrison, Michelle Coltrane, Jake Shimabukuro, Kenny Endo, and continues to be an in-demand session musician in Los Angeles. 

As a solo ukulele artist, Abe is a Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award recipient and has released multiple albums in the United States, Japan, and South Korea. Abe has been featured at ukulele festivals in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Palm Springs, Reno, Chicago, New York, and Hawaii. His international performances include Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Great Britain, and toured extensively throughout China having performed in twelve cities. 

Abe is also an educator and has authored the first ever ukulele curriculum for instrumental music programs in schools titled “Ukulele Ensemble, Beginning Ukulele - Level 1”published by Consonus Music Institute. His latest book "Jazz Ukulele: Comping, Soloing, Chord Melodies" (Berklee Press & Hal Leonard) is available in stores worldwide and on Amazon.

Interview: Kenny Endo talks Edo Bayashi and Wakayama Shachu

Photo credit: Toyo Miyatake Studio

Photo credit: Toyo Miyatake Studio

Recently I had the pleasure of talking with Kenny Endo about Edo Bayashi and Wakayama Shachu. Kenny needs no introduction among taiko players, as he is one of the most important artists and teachers in the development of the North American taiko scene. I could have asked him about so many different topics, but this interview was focused on Kenny's experiences while living in Japan and his insights into the growing interest in Edo Bayashi (traditional festival music of Tokyo) and Kotobuki Jishi (traditional lion dance of Tokyo) outside of Japan. 

I had known Kenny as a kid growing up near Tokyo in Saitama. He was studying hogaku hayashi (classical Japanese music, such as noh and kabuki) with Saburo Mochizuki, and I was part of a youth taiko ensemble taught by Saburo sensei. In the interview, we talk about one memorable performance at the Maruki Bijutsukan (museum of internationally acclaimed artists Iri and Toshi Maruki) where my youth group shared the stage with Sukeroku Daiko's Saburo sensei, his wife, Kenny, and Yukihiro Miyauchi in a presentation of Edo Bayashi and other pieces. Many years later, I moved to Honolulu to study with Kenny and perform as a member of his ensemble. When I mention to someone that I also got a master of music degree from the University of Hawaii on the side, it sounds like a funny joke but it's true. Kenny was my reason for being there, and I was lucky that the UH music program had a no-thesis degree option where I could present a one-hour recital instead.

It was especially interesting to hear Kenny's stories about Wakayama sensei, Maru sensei, Suzuki sensei, and the early days of introducing this music to North America. Whether you are into Edo Bayashi or not, hearing Kenny's thoughts about taiko, traditional music, and learning perpetually is invaluable. Our conversation was on a specific and narrow topic so some readers may want to do some additional research to fill in the contextual holes. A good place to start would be my content relating to Suzuki sensei at the links below. Kenny kindly provided some of his music to be included in the interview. The tracks are Forest Festival, Spirit of Rice, and Symmetrical Soundscapes, which are on his albums Jugoya, Hibiki, and Eternal Energy. We chose these excerpts because they highlight the influence of Edo Bayashi on Kenny's compositions. I have always noticed a distinct and unique quality in all of Kenny's albums. It's hard to describe in words, but I hear a combination of an exceptional concept of sound and an artistic vision expressed purely from the inner self.


Photo credit: Kenji Yamazaki

Photo credit: Kenji Yamazaki

About Kenny

Photo credit: Shuzo Uemoto

Photo credit: Shuzo Uemoto

One of the leading personas in contemporary percussion and rhythm, KENNY ENDO is at the vanguard of the taiko genre, continuing to carve new territory in this Japanese style of drumming.  A performer, composer, and teacher of taiko, he has received numerous awards and accolades, including very special recognition in Japan—he was the first foreigner to be honored with a “natori,” a stage name, in Japanese classical drumming. Kenny Endo was a featured artist on the PBS special “Spirit of Taiko” in 2005.  He has performed for such musicians as the late Michael Jackson and Prince, opened for The Who, performed a duet with singer Bobby McFerrin, and is featured on the soundtracks for Kayo Hatta’s film “Picture Bride”, Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”, and worked on James Cameron’s “Avatar”.  He has had a day named for him in by the Mayor of Honolulu “Kenny Endo Day”, and was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts for American Masterpieces. He has released 10 CDs of original music. Kenny is a consummate artist, blending Japanese taiko with rhythms influenced by his jazz background and by collaborations with artists from around the world.  Kenny's taiko are provided courtesy of Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten. 

www.kennyendo.com

Interview: Kiyoshi Nagata talks Daihachi Oguchi, Kodo, and the taiko artist life

Kiyoshi Nagata

Kiyoshi Nagata

I had a fun time talking with Kiyoshi Nagata, the founder and leader of Nagata Shachu based in Toronto. We first met in Vancouver at the 2008 Regional Taiko Gathering, and I remember how his workshops and concert performance were all great. In this conversation, I learned a lot about Kiyoshi's interesting background which included training from Osuwa Daiko's Daihachi Oguchi as well as Kodo's apprenticeship program. Nagata Shachu, his professional taiko ensemble, keeps a busy schedule with tours, recordings, and an impressive array of artistic collaborations. One of the most interesting aspects of Kiyoshi's group is the large number original compositions they have created and performed. His website lists this repertoire along with many other informative resources so I would encourage everyone to check it out at the link below. Another topic Kiyoshi discussed in depth was his teaching philosophy. I wanted to hear his perspective because he has taught taiko classes for credit at the University of Toronto and public classes at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

Kiyoshi kindly sent me his newest CD/DVD set called Toronto Taiko Tales, and I have included some music from the album in the interview. I enjoyed it for the original compositions as well as the quality of the audio recording. The pieces are Hana, Enya Totto, Taichi no Sakebi, Tokiwa, Zare Shamisen, and Araumi. His youtube channel is full of concert footage so you can get a glimpse into the work of Nagata Shachu.


Kiyoshi Nagata

Kiyoshi Nagata

Kiyoshi Nagata, founder and artistic director of Nagata Shachu, has been performing in a career that spans 35 years. His principal studies were with Daihachi Oguchi (as artistic director and performer of the Toronto-based, Suwa Daiko from 1982 to 1992) and with Kodo (as an apprentice from 1993 to 1994). With the assistance of a Chalmers Performing Arts Training Grant in 1999, Kiyoshi studied classical percussion with Paul Houle at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

Since 1998 Kiyoshi has taught a credit course in taiko at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. From 2003 to 2011, he established a public taiko course at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. For eight years, he instructed two community groups, Isshin Daiko in Toronto and Do-Kon Daiko in Burlington, which he helped establish in 1995. Kiyoshi is also regularly invited by universities and taiko groups to conduct workshops and present lectures.

In 1994, Kiyoshi founded the cross-cultural percussion ensemble, Humdrum, whose debut Toronto performance was ranked fourth in Now Magazine’s “Top Ten Concerts of 1995”. He has composed and performed taiko music for dance, theatre, film and radio and continues to collaborate with artists from all genres of music including traditional Japanese instrumentalists.

Interview: Iris Shiraishi talks Midwest taiko, composing, teaching, and learning from Suzuki sensei

Iris Shiraishi of ensemble-MA

Iris Shiraishi of ensemble-MA

Recently I had a wonderful conversation with Iris Shiraishi of ensemble-MA. Iris kindly organized my Minneapolis workshops during my February Midwest teaching tour. It was a visit I was eagerly anticipating because of the opportunity to conduct a masterclass for Iris’s Edo Bayashi class. We have known each other for many years, and I feel like the rapport comes from our parallel experiences - the coalescence of Hawaii culture, music school, learning from Kenny Endo, and our ongoing study of Edo Bayashi and Edo Kotobuki Jishi with Kyosuke Suzuki sensei of Wakayama Shachu. In the interview, Iris talks about her musical start in Hawaii, earning degrees in composition and music therapy, and discovering taiko with Rick Shiomi and Mu Daiko. She also describes her own group concept with ensemble-MA, the transition of Mu Daiko under the new organization TaikoArts Midwest, and working with older adults through her outreach program TaikoAlive.

Iris provided two of her compositions for me to intersperse into the conversation: Soaring and In My Dreams. There are more videos of her original work on the ensemble-MA website so I would recommend checking them out. I also included a link to Iris’s feature in the PBS art series MN Original as well as the Mu Daiko 20th Anniversary concert and festival.


Iris Shiraishi of ensemble-MA

Iris Shiraishi of ensemble-MA

Iris Shiraishi is a musician and taiko player, a teacher, music therapist and arts administrator. She has degrees in composition (BM, MA), arts administration (MFA) and music therapy (PhD) from the Universities of Hawai'i, Iowa and Minnesota, and has been studying and performing taiko since 1997. A founding member of Mu Daiko under the direction of Rick Shiomi, she left a thriving music therapy practice to pursue a full-time career as a performer, composer, residency artist/instructor and administrator for Mu Daiko in 2002, eventually becoming its Artistic Director in 2010. She has received grants to study with Kenny Endo and Suzuki Kyosuke and in addition counts PJ Hirabayashi and Chieko Kojima as her most influential role models and teachers. Iris left Mu Daiko and formed ensemble-MA in 2014, a group of taiko players and musicians which is dedicated to learning the music of Edo Bayashi and original, taiko-based work. She has composed and premiered over 20 compositions for both e-MA and Mu Daiko and has taught literally thousands of taiko enthusiasts ages 3-103. 

Links
ensemble-MA website
MN Original featuring Iris Shiraishi (PBS arts series)
Minnesota Taiko Festival