Native American Drums

Native American Drums

Throughout its history, the drum has connected the heartbeat of the American Indian to Mother Earth and to Creator.  Drums can be heard from quite a distance and are the call to community and ceremony when American Indian Tribes join for powwows, festivals, and ceremonies.

In this article, we explore various Native American Drum types, their history, and cultural importance.

Let's dig in!

History of Native American Drums

Native American Drums have been around for hundreds of years now. It's integral to Native tribe's celebrations, spiritual festivals, etc. Native people dance and sing on these drum beats and consider it their way to connect with their creator. Many tribes have a belief in the idea that Native American Drum music is like thunder and lighting that helps them get the attention of their creator. 

To keep the drum protected, tribes even have a person to watch over the sacred instrument. The person was usually the eldest son of a selected family. They were known as the “drum keepers” and were honored by the tribal people. 

2023 Grayhorse Drumkeeper George Shaw, Paying for the Drum

The reason behind the sacredness is the belief that there are living spirits inside them. They believe that the spirits of the animal and tree – used to make the drum – are present inside the instrument. 

Different animals were present in tribes, so drums were either made from deer or buffalo skin. These drums are still considered very sacred, and you can see it through this statement of a lead singer, Red Hoop Singers Joaquin Rojas:

When we're hitting that drum, we're making the heartbeat. When we're singing, we're lifting prayers, positive thoughts, and our energy to who needs it. Long before we ever had Western medicine, our music and our dance is what healed our people, kept us well and got us through hard times.” – Joaquin Rojas, lead singer, Red Hoop Singers

Types of Native American Drums

The following are the types of Native American Drum music sound and structure:

Hand Drums 

Native American Drumming Basics NMNA

Hand Drums are most common among tribes. They are available in different shapes and styles and produce a beautiful Native American Drum music sound. 

Hand Drum - 2018 Gathering of Nations Pow Wow

Pow Wow Drums 

Maswade Drum Group - Singing for the People Pow Wow Music

Pow Wow Drums are also referred to as dance drums and produce the loudest Native American Drum music sound. People use it mostly for celebrations and dance. They are bigger than all the available drums and are considered very sacred. Their base and heads are very large, usually made from cow and elk skin. 

Show Time Overall Singing Champions - 2023 Choctaw Pow Wow

The overall structure of Powwow Drums is very durable and withstands harsh weather conditions. I love the fact that they are very wide, two to three feet in diameter. You can invite as many drummers as the drum accommodates and level up the enjoyment.

The men sit at the drum while the women stand or sit behind.  When there are more singers than can fit, you may see multiple drums set up to accommodate all the singers.

Saturday Night Grand Entry - 2023 Gathering of Nations -

Water Drums 

Water Drums are unique due to their small base or water-filled chamber. Animal skin is stretched over the base, and the sturdy structure helps produce a unique and melodious sound. The best thing about these drums is that by changing the water level, you can enjoy a different Native American Drum music sound. 

They hold significant cultural importance and are part of many ceremonies. 

Native American Drum Lyrics

Many of the songs have vocables like Fa La La in Deck The Halls.  

However, many songs also have words with meaning.  At Pow Wows songs are composed with words from different tribes including Ponca, Osage, Cree, and others.

Warrior Song Translated - Maswade Singers

What Materials Are Used in Native American Drums Construction?

The following are the materials used in the construction of Native American Drums:


Wood is a common material used in the construction of a drum. It usually makes the frame of the drum. Natives use tree wood or logs to make the frame. The length and diameters of the wood can vary from a few inches to a few feet, as per the Native American Drum music sound you want to produce. Cedar is the wood type that's frequently used to make the frame of the drum.


Rahiwde is the material that makes the head of the dream. Drummers beat this part to produce the Native American Drum music sound. Rahiwde is usually the untanned hide or animal skin that stretches over the drum. The most common rawhide used are deer, elk, buffalo, and horse.

Other Materials 

A few other materials are also used in drum making. For instance, the water drum has a chamber that's filled with water. The water level determines the type of Native American Drum music sound the instrument will produce. 

Besides, the decorations of a drum are done using various materials. Paints give the drum a unique character and beads and feathers enhance the beauty of the drums. 

American Indian Drum Care

Excessive heat and moisture can easily damage any drum. Caution must be taken when transporting drums so they do not rip on sharp metals, or drop onto pointed rocks. In very cold temperatures the hide may get loose, but it will tighten when placed in a warm car or if the owner gently uses a blow dryer to warm it.

Overheating can cause the head to crack. Leaving a drum in a vehicle is unwise, especially on a hot summer day. And taking it out into the rain will pose a different set of problems. Sometimes a drum might be lightly oiled to restore its original beauty to both the wood and the hide.  Store drums in cool, dry places that are out of harm's way.

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