Native American Drumming – All You Need to Know

Native American Drumming has been around for centuries and is most commonly used during their spiritual activities, religious ceremonies, or even celebratory gatherings. Most of these events also include other instruments, but the drums have been there throughout history.

People of the Hopi tribe believe that a god or creator is present in everything. They strive to have a personal connection with their gods or creators while dancing and singing to the beat of drums. The Native American drums were acknowledged as distinct beings and represented a profound connection with the creator.

The Native American drums are believed to contain thunder and lightning by most indigenous peoples. It alerts the creator when struck, allowing you to connect with the spirits of your ancestors.

The Native Americans regarded the drum as a living creature. The people of the era thought that the spirits of trees and creatures resided within the drum, which was generally constructed from an animal or tree. They also believed that these spirits trapped inside the drum would protect and preserve them while being played.

It is believed that the drums help the Native Americans connect to the spiritual world and that they always link and associate the drums with a human’s heartbeat or that it resembles the heartbeat of Mother Earth.

Types Of Native American Drums

Throughout Native American history, there are several drums that are used for all the activities and traditions. While some are more commonly used, others not so much, but each contributes to their history as much as the next. They were made out of wood, with animal skin used and stretched to cover that wood. The more frequently used ones are the Hand Drums, the Powwow Drums, and the Water Drums, while the Foot Drums are not used as much.

Hand Drums

The Hand Drums are by far used the most in Native American drumming. What’s interesting is that there isn’t just one Hand Drum that is used all the time. They come in different sizes and shapes. So far, the most frequently used one is what is known as the double-sided hoop drum. The name derives from the fact that it had animal skin on both sides of the wood, and the sound that it emanates, depends on the size of the drum.

Another drum that falls in this category is the Spinner Drum, which compared to the size of the previous one, was significantly smaller. The name comes from the fact that the drum is stationed on top of a pole, with beads attached to it so that when they spin it, the beads hit the drum and produce the sounds.

Other drums that fall in this category are the Frame Drums, also known as shaman drums. They are small, one-sided drums. An interesting fact about this particular drum is that the drum head had a width far greater than the depth of the drum. Their name originates from the deepest corners of their history, as it is thought to have been used by early shamans for different types of rituals, that include healing purposes and even helping them enter trans-induced states.

Water Drums

When it comes to Water Drums, none of the others are as unique as this one. It’s called a Water Drums because it is essentially a gourd filled with water. The animal skin was used to stretch over it in order to cover it, and depending on what kinds of sound they wanted, it would mean they had to fill the gourd to a certain degree in order to produce that sound.

Powwow Drums

While it may be considered a Hand Drum, the Powwow Drum represents much more than just a regular drum. It is the most sacred of all in their rich history because it is used for dancing and singing events, to bring their people together. The Powwow drums are bigger than all the other ones, with a thicker animal skin used to cover it whole. It is considered the most durable drum, carefully crafted to withstand harsh weather conditions. As far as the sound, it manages to produce a very deep-toned sound that served as the general beat for their drum circles, and because it was bigger, it would most often be played by multiple people.

Foot Drums

The Foot Drum isn’t used as much as it once was in the history of Native American drumming. With Hand Drums being more practical and effective, the Foot Drums kind of fell in the background along with their history. If you guessed by the name, the Foot Drums were played using their feet, stomping on the hollow logs that were placed on top of wood pits to make sounds.

Why Drums Are Important In Native American Culture

The significance of these drums is far beyond what we may conceive. It’s been said that it allowed Native Americans to connect with the spiritual realm and as for protection and guidance from the spirits. They were used for dancing and singing, as well as for communicating with spirits for healing purposes, particularly before going to war or expressing gratitude after a harvest.

It greatly signified and was responsible for giving them a joyous state of mind. One thing that can be certain is that it brought them together, because all their rituals had the same goal in mind, to keep them together and be happy. Many believed that the drums were inhabited by thunder and lightning, or at least felt like that when they were being played. They were used for so many reasons in Native American history, mostly for events, some of which are regular feasts, religious rituals, and special ceremonies.

Original Purpose Of The Drum

At its core, the Native Americans believe that the drum symbolizes the heartbeat of Mother Earth or the heartbeat of indigenous nations. Its original purpose was to communicate over long distances as a warning sign or a signal, much like the smoke signals. In their long line of history, it was also used for storytelling, as well as meditating.

“The Native American people consider the drumbeat the heartbeat of Mother Earth,” As you listen, you become part of that beat, and it’s almost as though you can feel it (spreading through Fort Ancient). It just brings a sense of unity.” – (Indian Country News, 2008)

The Cultural Significance Of Drumming For Native Americans

As we’ve seen so far, drums are used in every aspect of Native American culture, which includes births and even funerals. There were specific rules for each clan when it came to designing the drums. Each tribe had its own standards on how to gather material and make drums, as well as what kind of behavior was allowed when near the drums.

The drum, according to Native Americans, has a life of its own as well as an independent powerful spirit. The drum is the Native American’s heart. The drum is a symbol of the universe, and it brings together spirits and nations. It is considered to be a sacred instrument by many indigenous people.

A lot of people believe it assists them in reconnecting with both the physical as well as the spiritual aspects of themselves. The Native American drum, just like many aspects of Native American culture, is used to restore balance and vitality to a person by taking part in dancing, singing, or listening to the heartbeats.

Whether during tribal celebrations, spiritual festivals, or tribal councils, drums are used as a symbol of expressing people’s heritage and connecting them directly with the creator and spirits. These instruments are considered tools for calling forth spirit guides and protectors.

“Since the drum is often the only instrument used in our sacred rites, I should perhaps tell you here why it is especially sacred and important to us. It is because the round form of the drum represents the whole universe, and its steady strong beat is the pulse, the heart, throbbing at the center of the universe. It is the voice of Wakan Tanka (Great Spirit), and this sound stirs us and helps us to understand the mystery and power of all things.” – (Black Elk, from John Neidhardt’s book Black Elk Speaks)

Effects Of Drumming

A state of altered consciousness and deep meditation can be achieved by playing drums during recovery. Drums may also have biological effects that can help to control certain behaviors. Rituals that include drumming, singing, and chanting have been found to produce auditory drive, which may contribute to a desired meditative state.

Drums have been used for centuries to cure a variety of illnesses, including headaches and physical pain, many mental disorders, and even personality disorders. The relaxing drum sound has been observed to have a soothing influence on the majority of individuals, which helps to relieve tension and anxiety.

What Is A Drum Keeper?

Among their many traditions, in each Native American tribe, there was a person who was referred to as a drum keeper. This was, essentially, the oldest son of a chosen family. And it was considered a very high honor to be chosen as a keeper of the holy drum. During their history, they successfully carried out each and every one of their goals with remarkable precision and devotion.

Drums are looked upon with high respect, and their treatment is guided by complex customs. A drum keeper is generally regarded as the owner of a particular drum, although this varies by region. Drums are wrapped in blankets, smoldering sage and cedar are used to keep them clean on a regular basis. Some drums may only be played very rarely, but they are brought out for the purpose of having visitors and receiving gifts.


Native Americans have a very rich history and drums are a huge part of that history. They represent the heart of their people and have been used for different kinds of events, such as religious ceremonies, feasts, births, and even funerals. They are carefully kept, with many rules and traditional guidelines surrounding them. The drum is seen as a symbol of the universe, making it sacred in the eyes of Native Americans.

There are several types of drums, and those are Hand Drums, Water Drums, Foot Drums, and Powwow Drums. Drumming can help reestablish balance in one’s life by connecting spiritually with their ancestors and the spirits. Drums can also help by relieving stress, anxiety, and pain. They were accompanying tools for meditation and different rituals.

A drum keeper is considered the highest honor in some tribes, as he holds a very important instrument that represents his tribe’s history and cultural heritage. Drums are a representation of the heart and soul of a tribe and it is known to have several psychological and physical effects, which is why it was used for healing purposes as well.

Mike O'Connor
Mike O'Connor

I've been playing drums for over 18 years. I work as both a session drummer and a drum teacher, and I love to share my knowledge and tips on this site. You can also find me on the Electronic Drum Advisor YouTube channel.

Leave a Comment

Leave a reply

Electronic Drum Advisor