Native American Musical Traditions

Native American Musical Traditions

  • February 2,2021
  • Tachini Drums

There are hundreds of Native American communities in America. These communities have their own distinctive histories, languages, and musical cultures. Each of them has developed their own diverse methods for integrating music into everyday living, whether it involves special instruments, performance styles, or dances. Despite the diversity of these musical traditions, you can summarize the general features of Native American musical traditions by looking at their core concepts and values.

The Origin of Traditional Music

Native American music is a gift that comes from a higher power or from something beyond the individual: the community. You can trace traditional Native American music to the time of Creation. The Creator and other spiritual beings granted the people specific songs and musical repertoires. Other sacred narratives describe the origins of musical instruments, songs, dances, and ceremonies. Since these ritual repertoires are considered complete, it’s impossible to compose new music for them. But that doesn’t mean music hasn’t continued to develop. Shamans and other notable individuals might experience dreams or visions in which spirits teach them new songs, dances, or rituals. Some communities will learn new songs and repertoires from their neighbors, and they also have long histories of adopting musical traditions from outsiders.

Musical Events

Another Native American musical tradition is the spiritual, ritual, and community-focused event. Most Native American communities integrate music, dance, spirituality, and social communion into their events. These events are community efforts. Everyone who attends the performance is given a role, whether that’s singing, dancing, playing an instrument, or being an active observer. The lead singers and dancers are normally political or spiritual leaders who play important roles in decision-making and who are influential in the community. Musicians don’t play for applause—their role is to serve the community. Other responsibilities, such as playing the instruments, singing, and shaking rattles, are split among the people.

Music and Language

Traditional music and language go hand in hand. Most Native American songs share certain qualities, such as their structure, style, and expression, with poetry. Songs are often performed as part of traditional storytelling, highlighting a certain character’s feelings, thoughts, or actions. When songs are accompanied with lyrics, they usually refer to local flora and fauna, the landscape, natural resources, aspects of the community, or, in storytelling, a specific character. In ceremonial songs, you might hear archaic words being used. Some communities will even use foreign words or phrases in their music. This obscures the meaning of the text and distinguishes it from everyday language. Most Native American songs will use vocables, which are syllables that don’t have any pertinent meaning. Sometimes, these vocables will take up the entire song text.

Instruments play a huge role in Native American musical traditions. At Tachini Drums, we make authentic, masterfully crafted Native American drums. If you’re looking for a way to connect with the heartbeat of Mother Earth, come check out our selection of Native American shaman drums for sale, along with rattles, drum supplies, and more.

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