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Taiko Drums and Traumatic Brain Injury: A Personal Perspective


Taiko Drums

The world of percussion music is a realm of rhythm, energy, and cultural expression. Taiko drums, originating from Japan, are prominent in this landscape, known for their powerful beats and mesmerizing performances. Beneath the surface of this art form, however, lies a connection with a lesser-known health concern: traumatic brain injury (TBI). 


Taiko, which directly translates to "drum" in Japanese, includes various drumming styles and techniques deeply rooted in Japanese tradition and culture. Historically, Taiko drums were used in religious ceremonies, festivals, and battlefield communications. Today, Taiko has evolved into a vibrant performing art, blending traditional rhythms with contemporary interpretations. Performances often feature intense physical movements, synchronized choreography, and thunderous drumming, captivating audiences worldwide.


A primary mechanism of Taiko drumming is repetitive impact. Drummers, using sticks called bachi, strike the drumheads with significant force and frequency. Over time, these impacts may lead to micro-injuries, and other forms of TBI. In addition, the powerful resonance of Taiko drums generate sound pressure levels well above safe thresholds.                                               


As a person who already has TBI, taiko performances were something I did not enjoy and would rather avoid. The loud repetitive sound put my nerves on edge and made my head feel like it would explode.


During my TBI journey/recovery, I became extremely sensitive to sounds.  I suffered post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was unable to filter sounds, especially in crowds, taiko drum and musical performances. When sounds became unbearable, I would have to leave because it hurt my head and ears, sometimes bringing me to tears.  Being of Samurai lineage, I fought this battle with Samurai determination and would not quit!  I sought therapy through the medical profession, my physical therapist being especially helpful.  


 Over time, I have been able to push through this challenge. As a result, I was able to enjoy a full Taiko performance in February 2024 just like everyone else!  It was a pleasant surprise and an indication of the progress I have made!   


As our understanding of TBI continues to improve, so too must our approach to safeguarding the well-being of those who are experiencing it. By balancing the preservation of cultural heritage with the promotion of safety and health, the Taiko community can continue to thrive while minimizing the risks associated with this dynamic art form.


The connection between Taiko drums and TBI underscores the complexity of balancing artistic expression with physical health and well-being. While Taiko remains a vibrant and cherished cultural tradition, it is essential to recognize and address the potential risks posed by repetitive impact and loud sound exposure. Through education, awareness, and proactive measures, the Taiko community can continue to celebrate its rich heritage while prioritizing the safety and health of its performers.


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