American Indian Drums

Medicine Man beating a hand drum by Henry Farny (1847-1916)

American Indian Drums
Facts and history about the life and lifestyles of Native American Indians. American Indian drums are percussion instruments, often made from a hollowed out log. The wooden drums were covered with a soft hide, stretched tight over the top and around the framework that was strung with sinew.

There were many different types and sizes of American Indian drums including hand drums that rested on the arm and large drums that were set on the ground. Other types included the water drum used by Woodland Indians and a foot drum used by Southwestern Indians including the Pueblo and the Hopi. Designs included double sided and single sided instruments. The American Indian drum was beaten with a hard stick, called a beater.

Native American Life - American Indian Drums
The life, history and lifestyle of Native American Indians is a varied and fascinating subject. The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on American Indian Drums. For additional facts refer to Native Indian Flutes and
American Indian Music.

American Indian Drums Fact Sheet for kids

  • American Indian Drums Fact 1: Music and the beating of a drum played an important role in the lives of all the North American tribes. They played a fundamental part of Native American Indian culture and social life
  • American Indian Drums Fact 2: The Medicine Men of the tribes believed that music enabled them to means of commune with the spiritual realm and music giving them the ability to bring the aid of supernatural power into the daily life of the people and the tribe
  • American Indian Drums Fact 3: Drums were played to ensure the assistance of the unseen power during ceremonies and sacred rituals and before participating on war parties
  • American Indian Drums Fact 4: Drums were beaten in sacred ceremonies such as the Sun Dance and during the rites of passage rituals such as Vision Quests
  • American Indian Drums Fact 5: Medicine Men used a hand drum during healing ceremonies and when administering healing herbs to the sick
  • American Indian Drums Fact 6: The drum was used in sacred ceremonies such as the Sun Dance and during the rites of passage rituals such as the Vision Quest. The intense, rhythmic stimulation of drumming was a technique used by Medicine Men to induce altered states of consciousness
  • American Indian Drums Fact 7: The sound of the drum would be heard in Indian camps before tribes entered into wars or battles to give the warriors strength and enable him to face death bravely
  • American Indian Drums Fact 8: The drum was used to accompany both singing and dancing. The sound representing the heartbeat of either a person or an animal
  • American Indian Drums Fact 9: The drum was beaten with a stick, called a beater, rather than played by hand. The beaters were long sticks with stuffed heads. There were also bison tail drum beaters, made by splitting the tail of the buffalo
  • American Indian Drums Fact 10: The term ‘tom-tom’ was never used by Native Indians in reference to their drums
  • American Indian Drums Fact 11: The types and style of drums were numerous. The single-sided hand drums were commonly used by the Great Plains and Woodland tribes and were an important part of the regalia of the Medicine men.
  • American Indian Drums Fact 12: The larger drums, including double sided drums, were played in unison to accompany dances, ceremonies and sacred rituals
  • American Indian Drums Fact 13: The large drums would be beaten by groups of drummers playing in unison at a Pow-wow or "gathering". Two of the most essential features of a powwow were drumming and featured a large bass drum
  • American Indian Drums Fact 14: Four basic rhythms were used in drumming by many of the Plains tribes such as the Sioux.. The Regular Beat was a steady pulse. The Honor Beat was the steady sound of a heart beat used to honor the memory of a person. The Two Beat was a steady two beat pulse in which the two beats were very close together. The Rolling Beat was a fast drum roll, then a pause, followed by a fast steady beat
  • American Indian Drums Fact 15: The water drum is unique to North America and is played by only one person at a time. It is found among many tribes including the Iroquois, Cherokee, Creek, Apache and Navajo. The water drum is made from a small container partially filled with water for tuning
  • American Indian Drums Fact 16: Traditionally all drummers were male, but in modern times many women sing and drum
  • American Indian Drums Fact 17: Many old western movies featured wagon trains of white settlers listening to the sound of drums, knowing that when the beating stopped they were facing imminent attack
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