How To Play Native American Drums

How To Play Native American Drums

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  • April 16,2021
  • Tachini Drums

Native American drums are a sacred instrument with a rich history. They’re believed to contain the power of lightning and thunder, and the sound of the drumbeat, representing the heartbeat of Mother Earth, is used to communicate with the Creator and spirits. Drums are used during certain ceremonies or celebrations, such as the powwow, and as a part of everyday life. They have a special cultural and spiritual significance that makes them wholly unique.

Playing a Native American drum might seem simple. The method is similar to the way you’d play any other drum. With a beater or your hands, you strike the drumhead to produce sound. However, there are certain factors, such as the type of drum, where you are, and how many people you’re working with, that can affect the way you should handle your instrument. Are you wondering how to play Native American drums? In this guide, we’ll explain all the factors that can influence your playing style and why it matters.

Know What Kind of Drum You’re Playing

There’s more than one style of Native American drum. In fact, there are dozens, each with their own unique construction and sound profile. To play your drum correctly, you need to understand what kind it is. Most Native American drums are made from animal hide, most commonly elk, buffalo, moose, or horse, and wood. There are some drums that are smaller in size, and others, such as the powwow drum, that are several feet wide. Let’s go over some of the most common types of Native American drums and what their distinguishing characteristics are.

Hand Drums

Hand drums come in a variety of different types, with the double-sided hoop drum being the most common. A double-sided hoop drum will have rawhide on both sides, while a single-sided hoop drum will only have it on one. The biggest determiners of a hand drum’s sound are the type of rawhide used and the size. A larger drum will produce a loud, booming echo, while smaller drums tend to make softer, higher-pitched sounds.

A newer type of handheld drum is the spinner drum. A spinner drum is a tiny drum, usually only a few inches in diameter, that’s attached to the top of the pole with striker beads surrounding it. When the pole is twirled, the beads hit the drum and produce sound.

Water Drums

Another type of Native American drum is the water drum, which is used by the Iroquois, Navajo, Cherokee, Creek, and Apache, and Yaqui tribes. An Iroquois water drum is made from wood and has a tanned hide stretched over the top of the frame. It will produce different sounds depending on how much water you pour inside the drum and coat the exterior with. The kind of water drum that the Yaqui make is unique in that it doesn’t look much like a drum at all. These drums are made by slicing a gourd in half and placing it in a basin of water. When a shaman or drummer smacks the gourd with a beater, it produces vibrations that cause the water to resonate.

Powwow Drums

If your drum is large and has a loud, deep sound profile, there’s a very good chance that it’s a powwow drum. These drums are used for drum circles, such as the ones commonly seen during powwow ceremonies. They have a large frame, usually made from cedar wood, and a head made from buffalo or deer hide.

The type of drum you have can have a huge impact on the way you play it. A hand drum is usually struck with a hand, while beaters are more commonly used with larger drums. The kind of sound your drum naturally produces will influence the frequency and strength you need to beat the head with to achieve the desired pitch.

Consider Your Surroundings

Another tip for playing Native American drums is to consider your surroundings. Are you playing from the comfort of your own home, or were you asked to participate in a drum circle at a powwow or other event? If you’re playing your Native American drums at home, there aren’t very many rules to follow. As long as you treat your drum with care and respect, you can play however you’d like and freely express your creativity. If you’re playing at a ceremony or event, you may be tasked with playing a particular song or using a certain method of beating the drum, such as the “Hot Five” method.

Because the type of music performed at different events can vary, it’s important to keep the type of ceremony or event you’re attending in mind. The music played at powwow ceremonies tends to be upbeat and lively, while the music performed during sweat lodge ceremonies is meant to encourage introspection and a sense of calmness. There might be specific rules and expectations that you’re expected to follow while you’re playing at these events, as well. The drum is a sacred instrument, which makes treating it with care and playing it correctly very important. The best way to understand what’s expected of you is to communicate with the event organizers and your fellow drummers.

There might also be similar expectations in place for facilitated and conducted drum circles. The facilitator, or leader of the group, will often direct the flow of the music. Instead of going off and doing your own thing, you should play your drum in a way that mimics or complements what the facilitator and the rest of the group is doing.

Work With the People Around You

If you’re playing as part of a drum circle, it’s important to work with the people around you. This is especially true if you’re participating in a free-form event. Just because an event is free form doesn’t mean that you can disregard what everyone else is doing. The purpose of a drum circle is to mesh the individual with the community. It’s important to include your own voice while respecting the voices of everyone else. The way you play your drum should reflect you and your personality, but it shouldn’t interfere with the other participants’ ability to express themselves. Play at the same volume as the rest of the group, so everyone’s voices can be heard equally, and make sure that your own beat contributes to the balance and harmony of the rhythm.

If you’re searching for authentic, masterfully crafted Native American drums, there’s no better place to shop than Tachini Drums. We pride ourselves on our handmade Native American drums and supplies. Let us connect you to the heartbeat of Mother Earth today!

How To Play Native American Drums

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