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Native American Drum Music

Medha Godbole Nov 18, 2018
The traditional tribal music used, created or performed by the First Nations people of Canada and indigenous Americans in the U.S. is known as Native American music. The drum forms a crucial part of this culture. Read on to know about the Native American drum music in detail.
Percussion (an instrument that plays upon being struck/scraped by a beater) and singing form an integral part of the indigenous American civilization. One can now witness the existence of pan-tribal, inter-tribal genres, along with distinct subgenres of popular music like rock, hip hop, classical, and reggae.
Vocalization ranges from solo and choral songs to multipart and unison singing. Drums and rattles are the commonly used accompaniments to keep the rhythm steady. It is a belief of the Native Americans, who are also followers of paganism (pagan religion), that a drum is the heartbeat of mother Earth.
Its music is an intrinsic part of their celebrations, joys, sorrows, and all the possible major events. They also find usage in many ceremonies and rituals.

Basic Construction

The basic make for large drums includes a wooden frame or a carved out log, with rawhide buckskin stretched out across the opening. It is held with the assistance of sinew thongs. The smaller ones use a thinner frame. The large ones are usually two to three feet in diameter, and are played by singers who sit around the audience in a circle.

Prominent Types


These are considered perfect for healing and are used in ceremonial rituals. They are mostly handheld and the bigger their diameters, the deeper are the tones produced. They are usually handmade by using buffalo hide, goat skin, and other natural materials. Thereafter, they are artistically painted.


Shamanism is a practice that involves an interaction with the spirit world. Specific drums are used for rituals performed by shamans (people who practice shamanism). It is believed to help them achieve an altered state of consciousness.
It is crucial to such an extent that it is often called the rainbow bridge to another world. Lakota, a North American tribe, is believed to practice shamanism. A typical shaman drum has a metallic object hanging inside, held into its place by a wooden crosspiece. This crosspiece can also rattle and is played using a special beater.


The pow-wow is basically a gathering of the indegenous Americans. The host drum of this extravaganza is a group chiefly responsible for providing music to the dancers. Usually, two or more drums are employed to be the host drums. Depending on the size of the pow-wow, there can be many drums representing nearly every tribe or community.


It is basically played by striking it with a barefoot or pedal and beater. In the ancient times, Miwok, Maidu, Aztec, and Hopi tribes had used them extensively. Kick or bass drum is the most common type of foot drum. It consists of a deep cylindrical shell with drumheads connected to both ends.


These are referred to as any handheld, small-headed drums which are normally long and narrow. They are not beaten with sticks but are played using hands. Also, they are cylindrical with no snare at all.


They are of two types, namely the Yaqui and the Iroquois type.The Yaqui type is large in size, a half gourd, and floats in a tub of water. A drum stick is used to strike the outer surface of the gourd. The Iroquois type is a small cup-shaped wooden vessel, with water inside it. The top opening is covered with a moistened, stretched tanned hide.
Drum music is also popular amongst the Mohawks, Aztecs, Tarahumara, and many other tribes. They are considered to be the most primitive instruments used for communication with the supernatural world.