Pow Wow Drum & Singing | Importance & Explanation | Native American

Pow Wow Drum & Singing | Importance & Explanation | Native American

One of the most important things in the life of a Native American is the Drum.

Our whole culture centers around the Drum. Without the Drum and the singers around it, the Native Americans could not have pow wows. The Drum brings the heart beat of our Earth Mother to the pow wow for all to feel and hear. Drumming brings everyone back into balance. Whether dancing, singing or just listening, people around the Drum can connect with spirit. It is no wonder the Drum should be treated with great respect.

Pow Wow Singing

Being head singer is a great honor. The man who receives this honor is chosen for his experience.  He has the right to lead all songs unless he chooses other men to lead and help carry the load. The head singer may open the Drum at his discretion. This means anyone may lead songs at any time. Once a singer takes his place at the Drum, he should stay until there is a break. If he has to leave, he should inform the head singer.

While at the Drum, the singers should keep their thoughts on the songs and should keep the beat of the Drum. Generally, singers should not leave the Drum to dance. However, at many contest pow wows, many singers compete. When a head singer is chosen to sing for a dance, he will naturally do his best. Therefore the singers he has chosen should do their best for the head singer.

Host Southern Drum was Southern Express, lead by Tommy Phillips, Jr.
Host Southern Drum was Southern Express, lead by Tommy Phillips, Jr.

Songs are started with a lead line sung by the head singer. This lets the Drum and the dancers know what song is coming. After the lead line, the second (another person at the Drum) will take up the lead line, and everyone will join in with him. At this point, the dancers begin to dance. The loud beats during the songs sometimes called “honor beats” are a time for dancers to honor the Drum. In Northern Singing, these beats are generally during the verses. For Southern Singing, the honor beats are generally between verses.

The head singer has the first and last word and has complete control of what goes on at the Drum. He must know many songs.


A closed Drum means the head singer has chosen the singers he wants to sing with him. The dance arena could be filled with good singers but they should not sit at the drum unless they are asked by the head singer.

Native American Drum Etiquette

Liquor is never permitted at the Drum.

Women, usually do not sit at the Drum and beat the Drum, if women sing, they may sit in the second row behind the men singers–there are some Women Drums emerging now.

If a special song is called, those asking for the song should donate to the Drum.

If money is given to the Drum for a special song, the head singer may divide the money with the singers immediately or wait until after the dance, he divides the money among the singers according to their ability, he knows who carried the load and made his job easier.


Last Updated on November 27, 2023 by Paul G

About Paul G

Paul G is the founder PowWows.com, who wears many hats as a business coach, photographer, and collector of quirky shirts. Paul started PowWows.com in 1996 while pursuing his graduate degree. With a passion for travel, he and his family hav  traveled the world, capturing unforgettable memories and photos. When he's not coaching or clicking, he's indulging in the magic of Disney.

25 Comments on “Pow Wow Drum & Singing | Importance & Explanation | Native American”

  • Avatar for Angeliki Syrkou

    Angeliki Syrkou


    Hello to everyone!!
    Firstly i must say that this music is trully ecstatic and otherworldly!!! The very first cry immediately connects me to my animal nature! I am looking for someone that can teach me how to sing like this! The only problem is that i live in Greece…However there is a chance that i will be coming to the USA in May, so maybe i can come find them, even just for a few days, for the first classes (therefore being able to actually exchange energy and see eachothers movements live), and then (even though i despise classes via internet) maybe we could continue online until we can meet again in person.
    Anyway, if you know anyone, please answer below.
    Also, i am already a professional singer, learning and evolving every day, so we won’t be starting from zero. I sing…well it’s hard to describe because our bands songs are a delicate mix of basically all music types, but it began (32 years ago) and is based on traditional Cretan music, since the creators are Cretan. And the truth is that Cretans and Native Americans have A LOT in common!
    Anyway, i would enormously appreciate any information on the topic!!
    Thank you very very much!!
    Angeliki Syrkou

  • Avatar for Keith



    where can I find information about the structure and words of the songs??

  • Avatar for David Meuse

    David Meuse


    Being a singer and a dancer is an honour. To represent yourself in the circle, there are a lot of teachings that come with singing. My brother Harvey Dreaver has told us that when you sing a song, sing it the way it is made. With this teaching, he showed us that honouring the songs and also the person who made the song needs to be honoured. I sang with Eastern Eagle, Whitefish Jrs, A Tribe Called Mi’kmaq, Sunrise Scoutz and Wabanaki Confederacy. I even had the chance to sing with Blacklodge, which was a big honour with the Scabbyrobe family.
    I have been singing for a long time and I always tell the new singers and the older singers that I know nothing about singing. This is a teaching that shows the Humility to the singer and also shows the Love of what they are really doing at the drum. Praying is singing and I will sing as long as I am here on this earth. Wela’lin

    • Avatar for Miranda Bird

      Miranda Bird


      Hiy hiy, I appreciate you telling this. I do not sing pow-wow, but I do appreciate the teachings. Cree from Alberta

  • Avatar for Louis Garcia

    I have noticed some of the singers holding the head of an upright drumstick,with the handle resting on their leg. Is this symbolizing the beaded / quilled drumsticks that the lead or head singer used as a badge of office?

  • Avatar for Louis Garcia

    The Dakota do not allow women to sit and hit the drum.
    The drum is female and the drumstick is a phallic symbol.
    The women can wicahda (chorus) the men.
    Usually the women sit or stand behind the male singers.
    The women also cehupawicahda (vibrating jaw) “cheer” the dancers or to the words to the song.

    • Avatar for Jade



      Can you explain to me why women can’t sing please? I would like to understand
      Thank you very much

      • Avatar for Paul G

        Paul G


        Women can and do sing. They just don’t sit a the drum in most plains tribes.

  • Avatar for Kevin Kruer

    Kevin Kruer


    The drumming is very powerful. I’m curious why the drummers cover or cup their ears?

    • Avatar for Louis Garcia

      They cup their ears so they can hear their own voice above the drum.
      They place a hand next to their mouth to throw their voice. Today with sound systems this method of throwing the voice is no longer necessary.

  • Avatar for Lioko Sota

    Lioko Sota


    My question is, why do Native Americans scream while singing? Like if someone was singing they would start screaming/shouting. I mean this in no disrespect, Native American culture is amazing!

    • Avatar for Sarah



      Look around the globe for your answer. Look at the ancient times and the people who inhabited them. All share this loud singing sound. This was before any other amplification and mass communication. If you look at it that way, you understand that this singing was the early nations’ way to communicate and get messages across long distances. When you consider it in this light, it is not screaming / shouting, it is beautiful. It is using what the Creator gave us as a gift to connect with one another.

      • Avatar for Loud rocha

        Loud rocha


        Try crazy crow trading post, catalog

  • Avatar for Kristy Morningstar

    Kristy Morningstar


    What types of songs are there? When do the men have to sing them?

  • Avatar for mckenzie



    i was trying to find a new drum with some good bass but i looked around and could not find any drum so could someone help me find a drum with good bass with bull hide and cow straps if anyone has a drum for sale ill buy it just asking around

    • Avatar for Nancy Cook

      Nancy Cook


      I just bought a 10” buffalo hide drum painted to my specifications for my 11 yr old grandson. It’s perfect. Made by William Lattie a Cherokee. You can find them on Etsy.com. I hope you find what you desire.

    • Avatar for Brandon K Bagwell

      Brandon K Bagwell


      are you talking about a pow wow drum or a hand drum. if you are looking for a hand drum that has a deeper bass get a 15 inch moose hand drum. if a pow wow drum get a steer or moose pow wow drum that is 24 inches by 14 inches tall

    • Avatar for Rt. Rev. Dr. Stephen F. Duncan

      Rt. Rev. Dr. Stephen F. Duncan


      We purchased a very nice pow wow drum through
      Centralia Fur and Hide, Inc.
      2012 Gallagher Road
      Centralia, WA 98531
      They are one of a kind handmade items and a number of different companies will handle sales.
      Good drums are not inexpensive – the one we got is really nice. I use it for my ethnomusicology class, though I would be perfectly happy to see it at home for the Pow wow (Gourd Dancer with Memphis Tia Piah)

  • Avatar for Galen andronis

    Galen andronis


    I submitted an order to purchase 3 items using Pay Pal. There is no system in Oregon with which to. Tried to find out else I might pay couldn’t get an email site to do this. Help, please

    • Avatar for Jim



      Maybe wrong website?

  • Avatar for Bernard Romeo Redwood

    Bernard Romeo Redwood


    beautiful pow-wow songs,just love listening to them

  • Avatar for H. p. FRItz

    H. p. FRItz


    Are the women drums that are emerging approved by the elders of the tribe that they are coming from? What are the tribes that have the women’s drums that are emerging? Do women sit at a mixed drum with men and women beating the drum? I was taught that the women sat behind the men and did not beat the drum. That this was the way the Creator gave it to us. If this is so has an elder gotten information from the Creator to change this? Just wondering how this is coming about from the old ways we were given.

    • Avatar for Louis Garcia

      The Dakota do not allow women to sit and hit the drum.
      The drum is female and the drumstick is a phallic symbol.
      The women can wicahda (chorus) the men.
      Usually the women sit or stand behind the male singers.
      The women also cehupawicahda (vibrating jaw) “cheer” the dancers or to the words to the song.

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