Understanding the History Behind Native American Drums

Understanding the History Behind Native American Drums

  • October 16,2020
  • tachini
Native American Indians have been playing drums for thousands of years; today, the instrument continues to play a large role in Native American culture. These percussion instruments also have a rich and fascinating past. We hope the information provided below helps you grow closer to understanding the history behind Native American drums.

The Drum’s Significance

Native Indian tribes have been playing drums for centuries in powwows, or celebratory gatherings, as well as religious ceremonies and spiritual festivals. While tribes play other instruments during these events, the drums are essential. These instruments acted as a way for Native Americans to stay in touch with their people and connect to the spiritual world. Tribes believed that the sound compares to a human’s heartbeat and resembles the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Truly, to the Native American people, when you beat a drum, you do more than make music. The rhythm created from your drum is the foundation of song and prayer. Additionally, you accompany the circles’ dancers and singers, who are communicating with the spirits to promote healing, war preparation, or thanks for a harvest. They will feel the beat and transcend into their desired state of mind with you, whether it be honor or pure joy. Ultimately, it brings people together—this speaks volumes about the instrument’s power. In fact, many indigenous tribes even thought that thunder and lightning lived within the drums. Today, Native American Indian reservations all over the country still play drums to stay in touch with their culture. For Native American people, the drums are still a means of communicating with the gods (most notably, the Great Spirit) and promoting a vibrant social life. And, certainly, these tribes will continue to pass on drumming rituals for generations to come.

Native American Drum Sizes and Types

Because Native Indian tribes may follow different traditions, each tribe will choose its own drums for its specific rituals. Of course, drums range in sizes. As an example, tribe members commonly reach for hand drums; however, drums may even measure to be a couple of feet wide in diameter! These larger drums are more traditional and are typically struck at drum circles or powwows. There are also numerous types of drums for people to play. Over the year, Native American Indians played both one-sided and double-sided drums. Foot drums were once popular, too, but hand drums—such as hoop drums and shaman drums—tend to be more prominent in tribes today. An unusual but captivating drum is the water drum; the Iroquois and Yaqui tribes are commonly known for playing water drums. Tribe members would fill or place gourds with water and hit them with sticks. This type of drum produces a distinct and resonant sound.

Crafting Native American Drums

As we mentioned above, although different tribes play different drums, the drum construction process remains the same. Years ago, Native Indians would construct their drums by creating a base from a wooden frame or a carved and hollowed-out log. Some drum makers would also carve images into the wood. Then, they would search for hide or skin from animals native to the area in which they reside; the animals’ skin brings an element of life to the instrument. Often, tribe members would use hide from buffalo, deer, elk, or other nearby creatures that they would hunt for food. Once they retrieved this soft hide, the Native Indians would soak the hide and remove any hair from it. Afterward, they would tightly stretch and secure the hide over the base with sinew thongs. As a result, they would create a drum. The beauty of the drum-making process is that the instruments’ sounds would change depending on the natural materials used. Furthermore, as they crafted these drums, the Native Indians would prioritize the shape. The drum’s shape is symbolic; tribe members would ensure their instruments were circular to represent the circle of earth and life. Additionally, many Native Americans would personalize their drums after constructing them, too. In the past, tribe members wished to connect with their drums by painting them. Tribes would use berries and dye created from red rocks crushed into water to provide color to the drums. The images on the drums would reflect their interests in certain animals, plants, or shapes. And, similarly, tribe members would decorate the drums with flowers, herbs, and tree bark. Some tribes would even place personal items inside their drums to feel more unified with their instruments.

Playing the Drums

To beat any of the drums we referenced above, the players would either strike the instruments with their hands or with sticks. Multiple people could strike the larger drums simultaneously. When it came to playing drums in groups, most tribes would select a drum keeper for each drum. This individual was typically the oldest son in a chosen family. He would watch over the drum as it was being struck, and they would ensure the drum received respect. In Native American culture, this responsibility is an honor. We hope you enjoyed learning more about the history behind Native American drums. As you can see, drums are—and will continue to be—incredibly sacred to tribes. If you’re currently searching for this wonderful instrument, Tachini Drums offers an online storefront that showcases Native American drums for sale. For over two decades, we’ve masterfully crafted drums using traditional methods passed down from our ancestors. While there are many drum crafters out there, we’re proud to be one of few who are Native American. Thus, our products aren’t “Native American style”—they are authentic. In addition to drums, we also carry drum accessories, including beaters and stands as well as the supplies required to craft drums yourself. Plus, if you’re looking for more instruments, we also carry hand rattles. We construct our rattles by shaping rawhide “balls” onto handles crafted from tree branches and wood, resulting in truly magnificent instruments. Whether you plan to purchase these pieces for musical or even decorative purposes, you can trust that we prioritize bringing unique and quality products to you.
History Behind Native American Drums

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