Taiko Games: Whack-a-Don

Fun for students of all ages and easily adapted to different experience levels, Whack-a-Don is one of my favorite ways to energize/warm-up a group while practicing internalizing the pulse, good strike technique, and balancing group and individual attention.

I originally created this game for 8 people, but you can play with any number. It’s most successful if you play 8 or 16 don total. If you have a number other than 8 or 16, put people in teams of 2, or assign the drums more than one number.

The challenge is that each player must play their don exactly when it should happen no matter what. For example, the person at Drum #4 should their don exactly on the fourth beat even if the person at Drum #3 played late, or missed their don entirely.

The video shows the basic game and all variations. (Shout out to Taiko SOBA for appearing in the video!)

WHACK-A-DON, Basic version

  1. Arrange the drums in a row.

  2. Assign each drum a number, 1-8.

  3. Have players play 8 don in unison.

  4. Have them play 8 don again, but this time, each person only plays the number that corresponds to their drum. For example, the person at Drum #1 plays the first don, but none of the others. The person at Drum #2 plays the second don, but none of the others.

  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as long as you like.


After Step 4 above, count an “Ichi-ni-so-re.” Players rotate drums during this count. The person at Drum #1 moves to Drum #2; the person at Drum #2 moves to Drum #3, etc. The person at Drum #8 moves to Drum #1. At the end of your count, repeat the 8 unison don and the 8 individual don, each person playing their new number.


Rather than arranging the drums in a row, spread them around the room. Have players change drums during “Ichi-ni-so-re.” In this variation, players keep the same number when they move. Doing this at a brisk tempo is a fun challenge for more advanced players.

You can see it on the faces of the SOBA members at the end of the video- this game is FUN! Let me know if you try it. Happy teaching! 

Taiko Game: Hey hey, look at me (K-3)

Goofing around is integral to learning improvisation. A kid (or adult) who’s goofing around, making funny faces, talking in a silly voice, is learning to take risks and trust their creative instincts; with just a little bit of structure, goofing around becomes a precise educational tool.

“Hey Hey, Look at Me,” a game from my Orff training, is structured goofing around at its finest. Here’s how it works. 

1. Echo teach this song (see video for tune, or invent your own):

Hey hey, look at me

Make yourself look just like me.

2. Arrange students in 2 rows facing each other. Designate one row as #1 and the other as #2. Have row #2 turn their backs to row #1.

3. Have all students sing the song. When they finish, clap twice. At the first clap, students in row #1 strike a pose. At the second clap, students in row #2 turn around to face their partner and copy them. 

4. Repeat with row #2 striking the pose and row #1 copying. 

K-3 students LOVE this game. In the video, I’m keeping the pulse of the song with rhythm sticks, and giving the Pose/Copy cues in time with that pulse. This is slightly more advanced. Introduce the game as described above and work your way up to how I’m doing it in the video.

Bonus: once kids have learned it, this works great as an attention-getter. All you have to do is sing the first few notes and all eyes in the room will be glued to you. 

High school students and adults have fun with this game as well. The only age where it doesn’t work is pre-teen and early teen. It’s far too goofy for that age. In the future I’ll share activities that work better for those ages. Happy teaching!

Teaching Beginners to Solo: Wipe Out!

You should always have more than one activity for skills you’re helping students build. A few weeks ago I wrote about teaching adults to solo using the kuchishoka deck.

Wipe Out Easy.jpg

Wipe Out! is another great activity that 1) reduces the intimidation factor around soloing 2) shows how powerful ma can be and 3) builds a feel for an 8-beat phrase. Don’t let the fact that it’s a game make you think it’s only for kids! I’ve done this with kids and adults and it’s always a hit.

Here’s how Wipe Out! works. You’ll need a white board.

  1. Write the numbers 1-8 on the board.

  2. Have the students choose straight ji or swing ji and start that ji on the shime. (For true beginners, just go with straight ji.)

  3. Count the students in and have them play 8 don, one for every number on the board.

  4. Erase a number from the board.

  5. Count the students in and have them play 7 don and 1 su, placing the su on whatever number you wiped out.

    • For example; if you erased the 5, they’d play: don don don don su don don don.

  6. Repeat steps 4-5 as many times as you want.

Wipe Out Variation.jpg

As people get more comfortable, challenge them by inviting a student to come up and do the wiping out, or by eliminating the pause/count in between the wiping out and playing the revised phrase, or by letting them change a number to ka by underlining instead of wiping out, or to doko by underlining twice (seen in the photo on the left).

It’s a little silly, it’s a lot of fun, it’s challenging but not impossible, and all of that generates an learning environment where students are more willing and able to take risks (like soloing!). Have fun with it, and happy teaching!

Taiko Games: Taiko Tag

You can never have too many games! They can be a sanity-saving brain break (for students and teacher alike!) in longer classes, and closing class with a game is a great way to reward good behavior.

taiko tag 2.jpg

I found Dance Tag when I was first looking for activities for taiko residencies and adapted it for my classes. I used it for years in Tucson and still use it today. It’s a huge hit with grades 1-4, and students never realize how much they’re reinforcing rhythm and pulse. If you have a mixed age group, older students will enjoy the musician role described under “Adaptations.” Try it in your next class and let me know how it goes!


  1. This is a dancing game, not a running game. If a student runs, they’re out.

  2. If a student peeks while the “Its” are being chosen, they’re out.

  3. (Optional): If the room you’re playing in is very large, designate a portion of it as out of bounds. If students go out of bounds, they’re out. (For example, if you’re playing on a full-size basketball court, restrict game play to one half of the court or less.)


  1. Have the students stand in a circle. The teacher stands in the middle of the circle.

  2. Once students are in a circle, have them turn to face the outside of the circle (so they can’t see the teacher). Then, have them close their eyes and put their hands over their eyes.

  3. The teacher chooses two students to be “It” by laying a hand on the chosen student’s shoulders. Only the teacher and these students know who’s been chosen.

  4. Once the “It” students have been chosen, the teacher moves outside the circle and tells students to open their eyes and spread out.

  5. The teacher begins playing a song on a taiko and students - including those chosen to be “It” - begin dancing to the song. They can move freely around the play space while they dance.

  6. Students who are “It” tag classmates while dancing. If a student gets tagged, they’re out, and they go sit down at the edge of the play space.

  7. The game continues until 4 students are still dancing - the 2 who were “It” and 2 students who haven’t been tagged. The 2 who weren’t tagged are the winners of that round!


  1. If you have a large group of kids or older students, have some act as musicians, joining the teacher in playing the song.

  2. When students get out, have them become musicians, playing taiko, narimono, clicking a pair of bachi, etc.