Music Psychology

Taiko drumming and wellbeing

I am fortunate to receive messages from talented musicians on a regular basis, with anecdotes about supporting wellbeing in their communities. In an era when positivity can be in short supply, these stories brighten my spirit, reminding me that our artists never give up on making a better world for us all.

One such artist is Jack Painting, a music psychology MSc student, who reached out to introduce me to Taiko Drumming. Having studied kit drums and music performance at the London Centre of Contemporary Music, Jack completed Taiko Meantime’s apprenticeship program in 2011. He is a former kickboxer, a member of the London Beefeaters Military drum corps and continues to work as a kit drummer.

Jack Painting recording at Abbey Road studios

Once I had watched a video from Jack I realised I had seen footage of Taiko Drumming, most memorably in Howard Goodall’s excellent Channel 4 series ‘How Music Works’. But I knew virtually nothing about the art form. I was glad to have Jack guide me through its history, form, and his hopes that it will have a role in supporting wellbeing, in particular from his work with children.


Jack provided me with a detailed history on this form of musical ensemble. I paraphrase him here:

Taiko drums are an instrument indigenous to Japan, although they share characteristics in construction and appearance to drums historically found in Korea and China. Archaeological records show evidence of Taiko playing in Japan as early as the 6th century AD

Taiko Drummers at Fairford RIAT 2017
from Wikimedia Commons by
Ronnie Macdonald
 from Chelmsford, United Kingdom

Taiko drums can be separated into two basic categories; the ‘okedo’, or the ‘barrell drum’, constructed from staves of wood, with the skins tied together at each end of the drum with rope, and the ‘nagado’ which is made from one solid piece of hollowed wood, with the skin stretched over the top and then nailed to the body of the drum.

‘Nagado Taiko’ were traditionally the drums found in shrines, theatre and  within the royal courts, with the okedo often being considered the ‘drum of the people’ and was played in villages by the ‘burakamin’. By tying a strap to each end, these drums could become mobile once slung over a players’ shoulder with the strap running across the torso and allowing for use in parade and festivals.

Taiko Drummers in Mashima from Pintrest and

Taiko Drumming is a blend of music and various martial arts that either originated in Japan or have been imported from China. It is physical in nature, the shapes created by the large sticks, or ‘bachi’, often taking as central a role as the rhythms that they create on the skin, rim or body of the drum. These movements pay homage to the occupations of rural Japan, from throwing fishing nets, to wood cutting and the low squatting posture of rice planters.

Many modern Taiko Drumming groups (e.g. Ondekoza, Kodo) base their repertoire on collaborations from western composers, such as the signature piece Monochrome that was written for the group by American-Japanese composer Maki Ishii, along with rhythms adapted from Japanese folk music. Although roots in Japanese folk culture still form the artistic and musical basis of shows, modern Taiko performance remains a fluid, dynamic medium, undergoing constant reinvention and hybridization, and as such can be expected to continually change and adapt.


Having completed his apprenticeship in Taiko Drumming, Jack is pursuing his education in music psychology, following his dream to conduct quantitative research on the positive anecdotal feedback he has received from Taiko drumming workshop participants, particularly sessions aimed at more vulnerable and deprived communities, and in schools. 

Drumming workshops are a wonderful addition to any school timetable with Taiko Drumming being no exception. Children are not fazed by the size of some of the instruments in Taiko Drumming or the physicality required – as a mother of two children under 4 years old, this doesn’t surprise me at all! Jack’s group have produced a 5 minute video on their workshop experiences that you can watch here:

When I spoke to Jack he was clear that the multimodal nature of Taiko drumming is what appeals to children; the integration of music, movement, and strong human spirit.

Taiko can be a powerful, emotional and inspiring experience when performed by solo musicians, but it is intended, predominantly, to be a shared experience, performed as part of a group, connected to a collective pulse, united in movement, rhythm and spirit. More specifically, to characterize this somewhat broad term ‘spirit’, two Japanese words that offer a richer translation are ‘Seishin’, of which the Kanji character translations are ‘mind’, ‘soul’, ‘heart’ and ‘intention’, along with  ‘Yamato’, which translates as ‘great harmony’

Jack Painting

Whether children have developmental difficulties, special educational needs or are part of mainstream education, the experience of Taiko Drumming builds physical skills, challenges memory and fortifies self esteem. It provides a point of singular focus, a hands-on experience, and a form of expression that covers the full range and breadth of emotion.

Jack believes that Taiko Drumming workshops work best when they lead up to a formal performance. This process and journey helps to drive the learning timetable and to maximise the sense of achievement and group bonding that can be experienced by children. It helps to build communication skills too as the performers learn how to use the instruments to send messages to their audience, messages that they may struggle to put across with words.

The ability to communicate musically through Taiko Drumming presents fewer barriers for many children, helping to boost their confidence and allowing them to feel that they are making a connection with those around them.

My children in late 2020 on the beaches of Spain (where we live)

A fond hope of mine is that music ensembles such as Taiko Drumming will soon be able to visit schools once again. The multiple beneficial outcomes I have read about and noted here make for powerful positive impacts for all those involved. Children will need time and space to both understand and integrate the experiences from recent times. Artists like Jack stand ready to help them explore and process their feelings for the betterment of their wellbeing.

If you would like to know more about Jack and his work in drumming then please visit his website:

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