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!

Introducing a jiuchi: 4th and 5th grade

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The hardest part about teaching by yourself is holding the jiuchi. If you play it, students will try to copy you; if you don’t play it, then the group as a whole will have trouble staying on the same pulse.

Below is my method for introducing a jiuchi to 4th and 5th graders (here’s the post about doing this with younger students). The alphabet/ostinato activity is from my original Orff training, and I developed the taiko extension.

This activity takes 20-30 minutes, longer if you have to do Step 9. The three parts are written out here for reference.

  1. Teach the alphabet body percussion exercise described here.

  2. Point out that you have two elements going: a melody and an ostinato.
    NOTE: “melody” isn’t exactly the right word, since clapping isn’t pitched, but it’s close, and it’s a word they’re likely to recognize, so I go with it.

  3. Have students do the alphabet body percussion with the ostinato again.

  4. There is a 99.9999% chance that they will speed up. Point out that they did. (If they didn’t, congratulate them on that, and say that groups usually do.)

  5. Define tempo. Discuss how faster isn’t always better, and that what you’re usually going for in music is a steady tempo and a shared pulse.

  6. Explain that in taiko, we use a jiuchi to help keep a steady tempo and shared pulse and that this rhythm pattern usually happens on a shime.

  7. Demonstrate the pulse for the body percussion exercise they just did.

  8. Have them do the exercise again using body percussion while you play a jiuchi on a shime.

  9. If students haven’t yet played drums in your class yet, spend some time describing how to play the drum safely, respectfully, and musically.

  10. Have students transfer the body percussion to the drums as outlined in the pdf.

In my experience most 4th and 5th graders do well with this method. A few get confused, but they usually figure it out by watching their classmates. Notice, there’s more talking/explaining with students this age than with younger kids.

Let me know if you try this method and how it works for you. Happy teaching!

Introducing a jiuchi: K-3

A big challenge when teaching by yourself is the jiuchi. If you play it, many students will copy you rather than playing their part; if you don’t play it, then the group as a whole will have trouble staying on the same pulse.

I’ve developed two methods for introducing the jiuchi, teaching students how to pay attention to it without copying it exactly. The method varies from K-3 to 4th/5th; here’s how I do it with the little ones.

  1. Introduce a Play 4 Step 4 pattern.

  2. Gradually build in more Play 4 Step 4 patterns until they can do 4-5 in a row.

  3. Have them to do Play 4 Step 4 the whole way around (i.e., each student plays every drum and winds up back at their original drum).

  4. Introduce bachi (covered in a later post).

  5. Repeat steps 1-3 with bachi.

  6. Gradually introduce jiuchi.

Basically, I play in unison with them for several rounds of a simple pattern they’re comfortable with, and then phase in the jiuchi. When they stop, I ask them if I was playing the same thing as them the whole time. Most of them have noticed that I wasn’t (but stayed with their pattern even when I switched).

This takes place in Week 2, and I return to it in Week 4. With those two introductions, students usually have the understanding they need to listen to and be on beat with the jiuchi without copying it exactly.

Send me an email if you have questions, and happy teaching!

The Critical First Day: Taiko Fundamentals Gr 4-5

With older students, the taiko fundamental I start with is staying together as an ensemble on a shared pulse. Again, it’s easier to scaffold this using voices and bodies before drums. Two music vocabulary words come up in this activity: ostinato (a repeating pattern) and polyrhythm (combining two or more different rhythms simultaneously).

My current 4/5 residency is 8 weeks of 30 minute classes - only 4 hours of instructional time! - so I move through things FAST. Here’s what I did on the first day to get them started on this skill:

  1. Have students clap and sing the alphabet with you. Clap on every syllable.

  2. Clap without singing.

  3. Teach the ostinato.

  4. Define ostinato.

  5. Split them into two groups and have each group do one of the parts.

  6. Define polyrhythm.

The students in the video speed up, which is pretty normal. In the second class, we return to this activity and I add a straight beat jiuchi to help them keep a steady tempo. The week after that, students translate the beats to drums. They play “don” instead of clapping the alphabet and the ostinato becomes “don don ka su.” Students learn kuchishoka in Week 4,  use the kuchishoka deck to create solos or duets (their choice) in Week 5, learn a song structure in Week 6 and voilà- a polyrhythmic taiko song with solos, all from the clapping alphabet! I first got this activity from my Orff training and have adapted it over the years.

Questions? Hit me up. Until next time, happy teaching!

The Critical First Day: Taiko Fundamentals Gr 1-3

The first taiko fundamental I address is an awareness of pulse and the ability to play from that awareness. This skill (also known as a sense of rhythm) CAN be taught! I’ve found it works best when you scaffold it using voices and bodies before using drums, no matter what age you’re working with. The ability to follow a pulse is woven throughout most Music Ed standards, so spending time on it is a great way to teach taiko and helps kids meet state standards.

To build this skill in 1st-3rd grade, I echo teach a simple introduction chant that includes an experiential understanding of pulse. The steps are below and illustrated in the video. The whole thing takes 10-20 minutes, depending on how many kids get a turn in Step 5.

  1. Preview the full chant while finger tapping on the pulse.

  2. Echo teach the chant. Keep the finger taps.

  3. Demonstrate call and answer at the end of the chant.

  4. Choose a few kids to do their name as a call and answer at the end of the chant.

  5. Have as many kids do this as time allows.

  6. Explain how the finger taps show pulse, and how tapping pulse isn’t the same as tapping every note. (NOTE: the audio quality on the video drops here - my mic died - so you might have to turn it up to hear me.)

Since the kids are copying me exactly while I teach the chant, they’re showing the pulse with finger taps the whole time. With this experiential understanding, they’re ready for the term “pulse” when I cover it in Step 6. That, by the way, is an essential element of the Orff method: build experiential understanding before introducing terminology.

This great activity is from my original Orff training and I’ve used it for years. It’s written out here in western notation. Along with experiential understanding of pulse, it also addresses foundational skills for improvisation and call and answer. Lastly, it helps kids practice copying, which is a key skill in my classes for this age.

Students won’t build a perfect understanding of pulse this first day. Include some pulse practice in every session, though, and they’ll really be getting it by the end of your classes.

Questions? Let me know! Until next time, happy teaching!

Taiko Games: Read My Mind

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I first encountered this game in my Orff training and adapted it for taiko. It’s an excellent way to review songs, but can also be adapted to give students low-risk practice in making up 8-beat rhythm patterns. It’s great for students in grades 1-5 (roughly ages 6-11). Adults and playful high schoolers can have fun with it too, but it’s not a good fit for the middle school set (roughly ages 12-14).

The set-up

Choose a piece of a song you’re working on in class, but don’t tell the students what it is. For example, if your students are learning Matsuri, choose a line from that song (i.e., don don don kara ka ka).

Ask the students if any of them can read minds. (A few will raise their hands.) Tell them you’re thinking of a part of a taiko song and you want to see if they can read your mind. For beginning or younger students (1st-3rd grade), tell them which song. For more advanced or older students (4th grade and older), don’t tell them which song. For all ages, DO tell them how many beats long the part is.

How to play

  1. Arrange the taiko in a circle so all students can see each other. Include a shime.

  2. Teacher begins playing a jiuchi on the shime.The students begin playing phrases, trying to guess what phrase the Teacher is thinking of.

  3. When a student plays the phrase the Teacher is thinking of, Teacher says “1 person is reading my mind!”

  4. The other students then use deductive reasoning to figure out who’s “reading the Teacher’s mind.”

  5. As more and more kids figure out the correct pattern, the Teacher keeps giving updates. “Now 2 people are reading my mind! Now 3!”

The game continues until everyone is “reading the Teacher’s mind.”


  1. Instead of a phrase from a song, think of an original 8-beat rhythm pattern and see if any of the students can figure it out. (Sometimes I start a round with no particular pattern in mind. When a kid plays one I like, I decide that’s the one.)

  2. Let a student lead this activity. Advanced/older students can try playing shime while they have their mind read.

  3. If your kids need to get some wiggles out, play this as a movement game. You play a song or rhythmically regular pattern on the taiko and think of a SIMPLE movement that could be used to show the pulse of that pattern. (Tapping head, patting knees, jumping jacks, the floss, etc.) The class tries to figure out that movement.

Try this in your class next time you’re working on a new song and the students need a brain break. It gives them a rest AND reinforces the patterns. Happy teaching!

Basic Beats: Three drills for beginners

When players are first starting out, they need drills with simple patterns. The video on the right features three drills I created to help students practice basic beats (don, doko, ka, kara, tsu, and tsuku). These drills work for both kids and adults.

It’s important to get people vocalizing from the get-go, to prepare them for kiai later on. I also like to get people playing both right and left hand lead from the very first class.

The drills are written out here (in kuchishoka and western notation, thanks once again to Kristin). I don’t recommend giving written materials to students before introducing a drill or song, because it reinforces learning through intellect rather than learning through experience. But giving written materials AFTER introducing a drill or song is great! It helps students practice patterns correctly and can be critical to the success of your visual learners.

Happy teaching!

P.S. A shout out to my current community class students, who are demonstrating the drills in the video!

If you fail to plan.…

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Planning your lessons in advance takes time, but it’s time well spent. It’s the difference between mediocre classes and students liking taiko more than recess. (TL;DR? Here’s a template you can use, and see you next post.)

There are lots of different ways to approach planning lessons. Here are two tips I’ve found helpful over the years.

  1. Plan your objective first.

You need to have a clear idea of what you want your students to understand or be able to do at the end of your class. Is this session about kuchishoka? Form? Learning a song? Building fundamentals for soloing? It doesn’t have to be just one thing, but it needs to be spelled out clearly. Begin with “By the end of this class, students will…” and then complete the sentence. (You can leave out the “by the end of this class” if it feels too wordy - I usually do).

2. Keep your students active.

When I was teaching in Japan, I was introduced to this format for lesson planning. I loved it, and still turn to it today. (Here’s an example of a lesson I planned using this format. Both “teacher” and “teaching artist” refer to the instructor leading the class.)

Try using this format to plan your next class. If you see a lot of “listening” or “watching” and fewer active verbs (i.e., drumming, chanting, moving, etc.) change up the lesson so students are more active.

A general rule of thumb: for K-1 students, you need to change activities at least every 5 minutes, or even more frequently. For 2nd and 3rd graders, change every 7 (ish) minutes; for 4th-5th graders, change every 10-15 minutes. Gr. 6 and up can easily spend 45 minutes and more on an activity, as long as they’re actively involved in their learning.

This means you have to have a lot of activities ready for lower grades and that it will take you several classes in a row to complete an extended activity. This is a great approach! It gives students a week to absorb information and experiences before moving on to more complex steps, which greatly increases success.

If you have any questions about a specific lesson you’re working on, feel free to email me. Happy teaching!

Practicing Kuchishoka: Kuchishoka Cards

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When they’re first learning, students need steady practice with kuchishoka to build fluency. The more fun that practice is, the more likely they are to fully engage with it, which results in better understanding, which makes the practice more fun, making them more likely to engage fully, which results in better understanding, which makes it more fun, making them more likely to engage...you get the idea.

My wonderful life and business partner Kristin helped me create this set of kuchishoka cards, and below are 2 games that use the cards. The cards incorporate western notation and Japanese lettering, allowing for easy and natural connections to general music classes and lessons on Japanese language and culture. There are lots of ways to use these in support of your state and national standards while also building skills for taiko.

Students love these games! They’re good for kids ages 7 and up - even adults get into them. Download and print the deck and try these out. The composition extension is a fun challenge for more advanced students. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Kuchishoka Karuta

I first encountered Karuta in my Japanese language classes, where teachers used it as a way of practicing hiragana and katakana. For Kuchishoka Karuta, the teacher breaks students into groups of 2-3 and gives each group one set of kuchishoka cards. Students sit on the floor and spread the full deck of cards face up on the floor in between them. The teacher plays a single note and students look for the card with that note. When they find it, they slap it. Whoever slaps it first gets to keep it.

For example, if you play don, students search for a don card. When they find one, they slap their hand down on it. The deck has multiples of each card, so it’s possible for everyone playing to wind up with a card. You can make it harder by removing duplicates, or make the game last longer by giving each group two sets of cards.

Continue until all cards have been picked up.

Composition Extension: Guide students in creating a short pattern using the cards they won during the game. Have students rotate to other groups and try playing the patterns other students created. If time allows, have the class work together to put all patterns together into a song.

Kuchishoka Go Fish

Just like regular Go Fish, the goal is to make a book (a complete set) of a type of note (i.e., all of the don, all of the doko, etc.)

Divide students into pairs and give each pair a deck of kuchishoka cards. Students deal out 2 hands of 7 cards each, with the remaining cards going face down in a pile in the middle. Students play Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who goes first.

The first student plays a note on their drum of a card they’re seeking. They must have at least one of that type of card in their hand to ask for it. For example, if Michelle has two don and wants to know if her partner Mia has any, she plays a don on her drum. If Mia has any don cards, she gives those cards to Michelle. If Mia doesn’t have any don, she says “Go fish!” and Michelle draws the top card from the pile. If she draws a “don,” she gets to go again. If she doesn’t, it becomes Mia’s turn to ask.

Once a student has collected all of the cards of one type, they put those cards together in a small pile face up in front of them.

The game continues until all cards have been collected into books.

You can play the game in groups of 3 as well; in that case, only deal out 4 cards to each student.


Kuchishoka Cards (PDF)

Want to discuss how to incorporate these in your classroom or integrate lessons with your state/national standards? I can help! Email me to set up a video or in-person session.

Interested in ordering the fancy version of Kuchishoka Cards (seen in the picture with this post) for yourself or your classroom? They’re available at our South Bay Beat Institute Store.

Introducing Kuchishoka to Kids

The power of the Orff method comes from the way it fires up imagination and encourages experience. For kids between the ages of 4-8, hearing a story that includes kuchishoka primes their minds to understand how syllables relate to drumming.

“The Squirrel Village” introduces Kindergarten through 3rd grade students to don and doko. Nearly every time I’ve told it, the students join me in chanting and playing their laps by the time I finish. That even happened in the video below, where I’m telling the story to a group of adults as part of a training! (Bonus points if you spot the math integration in the story.)

I recommend using this story with grades K-3. As with any storytelling, delivery is much more important than getting the text exactly right. Try this in your next kids’ class and let me know how it goes!

(And yes, the story requires great suspension of disbelief, which is easy for most students in this age range.)