The nō taiko (literally 'large drum'), is played with sticks and is one of three drums that make up the nō ensemble. It is played in some, but not all, nō performances. which are categorized as "with taiko" and "without taiko". The barrel-shaped wood drum body is usually painted with lacquer. The skins, stretched over iron rings somewhat larger in circumference than the drum body, are stored separately. Before playing, the skins are placed on either end of the body and lashed to each other with hemp cords. Then the drum is suspended on a low frame. The drummer sits with the drum in front of him and strikes it from above with several distinct strokes: low and quiet, medium height, high and loud, plus visually dynamic strokes where the left drumstick is raised to the right shoulder before a diagonal down stroke.
While the two hand drums ō-tsuzumi 大鼓 and ko-tsuzumi 小鼓 play primarily on the beats of the standard eight-beat unit of nō music, the taiko strikes both on the beats and on the half-beats. Alternating striking with the right hand on the beats and the left hand on the half beats creates a regular pace and adds a dynamic element to the music. The tempo accelerates and retards to intensify the mood or mark closures and transitions between sections (dan).
When played, the taiko dominates the drums and is therefore used with discretion. In those nō where it is used, the taiko appears only for certain sections, generally in the latter half of a nō set in a non-human world. For instance, in Takasago, the taiko does not play in the first half of the noh when the shite and tsure perform the roles of an old couple who are deities in human form, but it does enter in the second half when the shite plays the deity of Sumiyoshi.