Taiko: Beat out the health benefits of these Japanese drums
by Stephanie Colls
TAIKO are traditional Japanese drums that make one helluva noise, give you a great workout and provide heaps of fun. Originally played as part of religious ceremonies and festivals, in the past few decades, they’ve also become performance instruments, with taiko troupes popping up all over the world. So grab your earplugs and get ready for the multitude of benefits.
- ITS A FULL-BODY WORKOUT
You may think banging a drum for a 90-minute class would be a workout for your arms, but playing the taiko takes a lot more than strong biceps. You’ll also use your shoulders, core, legs, glutes and especially your back muscles. And because playing the taiko is as much about the beauty of the movement as it is about the sound you make, you need to develop strength, endurance and flexibility to play well.
- IT MAKES YOU SMARTER
Research has shown that playing a musical instrument (or even just listening to music) can stimulate your brain, increase your memory and even improve your IQ. In fact studies have found that the parts of the brain that control motor skills, hearing and memory are more active in musicians than non-musicians. Say no more.
- YOU GET TO HIT STUFF… HARD
In our society, hitting things is usually pretty frowned upon, especially for girls. We’re glad about that – no-one likes a punchy person. But we have to admit summoning all your strength to whack something hard can feel pretty good. In taiko practice, hitting drums with all your might isn’t just allowed, it’s compulsory.
- IT IMPROVES YOUR INNER BALANCE
Sure, playing the taiko requires physical power, but to play well, you also need to temper that with internal calm. Ian Cleworth, artistic director of taiko group TaikOz, knows the importance of balancing the two. “When I’m fully beating the taiko, I need to be very calm and centred. When I’m playing really loud, fast music, I must be very cool inside, and when it’s slow, quiet music, I must be hot inside. In other words, a fine sense of balance is crucial.”
- IT’S GOOD FOR THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Recent studies have shown that playing music can help boost the immune system by encouraging the body to produce chemicals that help your cells attack germs and bacteria invading the body. So swap your vitamin C supplements for bachi (taiko drumsticks) – drumming is much more fun than taking tablets anyway.
- YOU’LL GAIN LOTS OF RESPECT
Ian (Cleworth of TaikOz) credits taiko with giving him new respect for, well, respect. “There are many aspects of Japanese culture that have had a big influence on me. I guess one of the most important things would be respect – respect for the art form and whole tradition, and respect for the music, the instruments, my colleagues and friends.”
- YOU’LL BE PART OF A COMMUNITY
Taiko playing is generally done in a group, with drums of different sizes producing different sounds. So leaning to listen to your fellow players and work as a team is important if you don’t want to end up banging away in a wall of sound.