What Is Taiko?

The word “taiko” is used a lot in what we do.  Translated literally, taiko means “big drum.”

It is used to refer generally to the drums that we use as well as the type of music that we play.  Another word for the style of music is “kumi-daiko”, which essentially means “ensemble drumming.”

Taiko, the drums themselves, have been around for centuries in Japan, but kumi-daiko is a relatively recent development.  Before kumi-daiko, taiko drums were used as accompaniment for kabuki and noh performances, as well as in religious ceremonies.  In the 1950s, a man named Daihachi Oguchi, a jazz drummer, had the idea to try something new.  He created a drum ensemble of various types of taiko, each playing a part to create a rhythmic melody.  From his example, kumi-daiko began to spread and popularize, gaining world-wide attention.  Today, there are over 200 taiko groups in the United States alone!

As much as taiko is an experience for your ears, it is also an experience for your eyes.  Audience members of taiko performances often will describe it as “almost like dancing” or looking “like a martial art.”  The movements in taiko are as structured as the rhythms.  The way drummers stand (or crouch, or even lay!) at the drums, the way they strike the drums, and the way they move when they are not hitting beats, are all crafted as a part of taiko performances.  This aspect can make taiko physically demanding to play, but also enhances the experience of a live performance, elevating it to a form of art.