Native American Drumming

Whenever we talk about Native American Music, the first thing that comes to our mind is the sounds made from their drums. Residents are very enthusiastic about the instruments because, besides being musical instruments, they are also spiritual guardians, a reference to their past, and a living custom.

Native Americans are drumbeat lovers. The chants and the songs that go along with drumming bring people together, creating an ideal environment for passing stories. Indigenous people played drums in powwows (celebratory gatherings), religious ceremonies, and spiritual events for thousands of years.

Native American Drumming
Native American Drumming

Residents believed that the drums’ sounds resembled the heartbeat of humans and Mother Earth. It’s clear to us that to Native American people, drum-beating is more than playing music.

This article helps you explore the history behind Native American drumming, their sizes and types, the music they accompany, and address some of the related frequently asked questions.

Native American Drums History

Native American Drums History
native american drums history

Different tribes play various instruments during celebratory gatherings and religious functions. Even so, drums beat them all!

In Native American history, music has played a significant part in tribes’ socialization, storytelling, and spiritual meditation engagements.

Low beats are an essential feature within these practices, helping to accompany the communication, and Native American drums are ideal for this purpose.

The history of the use of drums by Native Americans is so vast that one can’t pinpoint when they were made or used for the first time—even the archaeological evidence talks of thousands of years.

In history, Native American drums involve various indigenous people and tribes with different traditions. For decades, natives have employed drums in sharing their stories, entertainment, trance induction, and medication.

Furthermore, the custom of healing ceremonies has been there for decades, and they are among the most exciting drumming practices in Native American communities. These tribes that beat drums would ease communication with their gods, and consequently, their healing requests and prayers would have an instant answer.

The famous Native American instrument, struck idiophone, is a teponaztli log drum consisting of a wooden frame or a hollowed-out log (carved) and hides from buffalo, elk, horse, or deer. The animal skin is tightly stretched by sinew thongs across the opening. The diameter of these drums is usually 2-3 feet. Their hollow and carved parts produce different tones. While the hides are soaked in water, the hollowed-out logs are cut into suitable sizes to form the drum’s frame or base. They are played using sticks or hands. Eight men handle the construction of a Native American drum.

These instruments are played in a gathering where participants sit or stand in circular formations known as Native American drumming circles. They could be a few or thousands.

Native American Drums Sizes and Types

Native American Drums Sizes And Types
Native American Drums Sizes And Types

After learning about the history behind the important Native American instrument, it’s essential to understand it has unique qualities and uses. Let’s look at the different types and sizes of drums.

Water Drums

A water drum is one of the different drums in Native American society. As its name suggests, the instrument is characterized by water presence in the drum chambers.

The making process of a Native American drum is simply filling a pot or bowl (clay made) with water and stretching an animal hide at the top drum. Different water-level drums produce different sounds.

Frame Drums

This Native American drum is also known as heart, spirit, or shaman drum. it’s small, one-sided, and played using hands.

The unique trait of these drums is that the drum head width is greater than the wooden frame depth. Among the various Native American drums, the frame drum is the oldest and among all other instruments.

Hoop Drums

A hoop drum is relatively small, and the players can use hands like the frame drums. The most significant difference between the two is that hoop drums are double-sided as they have hides on both sides of the frame or the base.

Powwow Drums

The powwow drum is one of the renowned Native American drums. Powwow refers to an event where participants meet to play music, dancing, and sing. Here, drums playing takes center stage – played simultaneously by many drummers. The powwow drum has a vast size and a large base.

Native American Drumming Music

Native American Drumming Music
Native American Drumming Music

Drumming music in Native Americans lies in the spirit of Indian culture. For several decades, music entangles all events in plain Indians lives. These occasions include secular and sacred, tribal and personal festivities.

In traditional Indian culture, music plays various roles, including healing and religious ceremonies, work and game songs, success-conveying during hunting, storytelling, courtship, war, social songs and dances, agriculture. The plains music is the Native American’s most popular music to non-Indian residents. That results from its use in televisions and action pictures. The vocables, descending melodic pattern, the high tense vocal styles, and the rhythmic plains drumming are known as Native American music worldwide. Musicians may have lyrics in a tribal language, English, vocables, or a combination.

Drums used in Native American music have diverse shapes and sizes and different materials. The small ones have a circumference of 12-18 inches, are covered with rawhide on one or both sides, and are played by one person. The larger powwow drums (matching marching band bass drums) are played simultaneously by multiple musicians.

Over time, there has been the continuous evolution and thriving of Native American drumming music. Modern musicians explore non-Indian and traditional music combinations to build new styles and types that retain the uniqueness of songs in Native American cultures. Consequently, artists have successfully adapted non-Indian popular music (jazz, country, and rock) into contemporary Native American collections.

The new tribal fairs and powwows are Native American cultural celebrations, including the exhibition of traditional Native foods, tribal arts and crafts, political and social discussions.

Most Frequently Asked Questions

What are Native American drummers called?

Customarily, drums were the soul, heartbeat of the Native American community. They accompanied rituals, religious rites, and the calling of ancestral spirits.

 The famous Native American log drum is referred to as struck idiophone. The instrument consists of a hollow tree shaft and a slit with an H-shaped carve. Its opening creates two tongues that give different tones.

The drums produce musical sound when struck using hands or sticks. Drum beating is by multiplayer, depending on the size of drums. In Native America, these musical instruments have diverse shapes and sizes. Makers also use various extraordinary materials to construct these drums.

What do the drums represent in Native American culture?

For the indigenous people, drums symbolize the worldwide goddess and mother of all, the universal heartbeat of Mother Earth–the world’s first drumbeat sound was the Mother Earth heartbeat. The heartbeat manifestation by the first nation people happens when they play the drum’s particular rhythm.

Such a Rhythm enhances healing and the four human existence realms, as the people believe the Creator dwells in the rhythm. These refer to the physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional spheres. The combination of drums and the voices (hum) creates a resting place for ancestral spirits. Indigenous people consider the drums female due to earth attachment.

Did Native Americans use war drums?

For the thousands of years that Native Americans have been playing drums, the instruments secure a significant part of society’s events. That is in regards to celebrations, spiritual festivals, tribal celebrations, and calls to battle.

Many Native Americans believed drums include lightning and thunder helps get the attention of the Creator when beaten, resulting in great victory.

While the powwow was open to all, it was an opportune moment to educate soldiers about the native culture. The event gave these warriors a break from their usual activities by letting them get in touch with the Native American culture.

What is indigenous drumming?

Many indigenous tribes interweave drumming, dancing, and singing into the social and political fabric of their societies. The use of the same musical instrument by indigenous people has made many Native Americans think that native singing and drumming are similar.

Nonetheless, this isn’t the case. If one is keen Innu drum dance songs and Iroquois social dance songs are different. Similarly, the Siksika songs differ from Coast Salish or Cree. These musical expressions vary like Russian folk, Irish, and Italian music.

Each indigenous community constructed rattles, drums, and other instruments that produce sound using unique local materials and were keen on the environment’s soundscape.


Native American Drums are symbolic– their circular shapes characterize a circle of life, while the natural materials used to build these drums unite them with the environment. Since there are various drums in Native American society, they have different playing styles, and each drum produces a unique sound.

However, despite their differences, Native American drums are used during celebrations, communicating with the spirits, and making sacrifices to the Creator. The instruments date back thousands of years and are incredibly essential to the natives for their social, cultural, and spiritual gains. Players can use hands or sticks to strike Native American drums.

Gradually, these drumming instruments have become popular over time. In other parts of the world, people test different Native American drums and their exceptional sounds as they get inspired by their cultural music. Among the diverse types of these drums, frame drums and pow wow drums are the most popular worldwide.

What do you think?

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Written by Andrea

Andrea is a music lover and an experienced drummer with more than 15 years of drumming with different bands and music projects, such as Seditius and Hermano & the Marines.

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