Also:       t'ao-ku      

Contextual Associations

The taogu is a double-headed membranophone of China. It is a pellet drum that dates back millennia in Chinese history and was, and still is in Taiwan, associated with Confucian ritual practices. Of the two taogu in this collection, the double drum one is most likely to have been used in a religious setting while the other, with a single drum, is basically a novelty noisemaker.


In regard to the single taogu, its two membranes are tacked (and possibly also glued) over the openings of a small barrel-shaped shell. A handle is attached to the middle of the shell. Strings with beads at their ends are attached to the sides of the drum shell (see detail photo). The length of each string is set so that the bead can reach both heads when the drum is rotated. The double taogu shares the same basic design features, but differs in having two differently shaped and sized drum components. The square drum is made from four slats glued end to end. The handle does not run through the interior of the square drum, but the dowel that connects the two drums together does pass through the center of the cylindrical shell.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

To sound the taogu the handle is placed in the palms of the player's hands, which are then rubbed back and forth. The resulting rotating motion of the drum shell centrifugally propels the beads in such a way as to strike the heads in rapid succession. A rattle-like sound is thus produced.


Thrasher (1984) reports that the taogu dates back to the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BCE). However, given that the extant versions of this instrument that are still used in Confucian rituals in China and Korea are a good deal larger than the drums pictured here and are painted symbolically meaningful colors, perhaps it is safest to say that the pellet drum as a design idea dates back 3,000 plus years, but not these smaller noise makers themselves.

Bibliographic Citations

Thrasher, Alan R. 1984. "Taogu." NGDMI v.3: 525.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: East Asia

Nation: China

Formation: Han

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

212.221 membranophone--individual barrel-shaped rattle drum (the drum is shaken; percussion is by impact of pendant or enclosed pellets, or similar objects)

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - barrel

Number and function of membranes: two, both for sounding

Membrane design: unframed

Membrane attachment: unframed membrane nailed to shell

Membrane tension control: none, tension set at time of manufacture

Sounding for membranophone: striking indirectly with pellet beaters

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


9.5 in. length including handle (first drum) 3.3 in greatest diameter of shell (first drum) 21.4 in. length including handle (second drum) 5.1 in. length of sides of square drum (second drum) 3.2 in. diameter of shell openings of round drum (second drum)

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin
string - cotton

Entry Author

Roger Vetter