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

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

Posted By Paul G July 19th, 2011 Last Updated on: December 5th, 2019

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.

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11 thoughts on “Pow Wow Drum & Singing | Importance & Explanation | Native American

  1. Lioko Sota says:

    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!

    • 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.

  2. mckenzie says:

    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

    • Nancy Cook says:

      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.

  3. Galen andronis says:

    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

  4. H. p. FRItz says:

    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.

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