What Are Native American Drums Made Of?

Native American drums are fascinating instruments with deep cultural and spiritual significance.

If you’ve ever wondered what are Native American drums are made of, we’ll explore the materials, techniques, and cultural significance that make these drums so unique.

The materials used in their construction play a crucial role in creating their distinct sound and connecting them to ancient traditions.

The rawhide is used to create the drumhead, which is what produces the sound when the drum is struck.

Traditionally, rawhide is made from the untanned hide or skin of animals like deer, elk, horse, or buffalo. In modern drums, cow rawhide may be used as well.

The frame of the drum is made from wood, typically sourced from local trees. Cedar is a popular choice due to its durability and resonance.

Other types of wood can also be used, depending on the region and the specific drum being crafted.

Traditional Native American Drum Construction Techniques

Traditional Native American drum construction involves specific techniques that have been passed down through generations.

These techniques ensure the durability and quality of the drums, as well as their cultural significance. Native American drum construction utilizes the materials and techniques that have been used for centuries.

When constructing a Native American drum, the first step is to prepare the rawhide.

The rawhide, usually made from the untanned hide of animals such as deer, elk, horse, or buffalo, is soaked in water to soften it. This process makes the rawhide more pliable and easier to work with.

Once the rawhide is ready, it is stretched tightly over the drum frame. The frame, typically made from wood, is carefully crafted to create the desired shape and size of the drum.

Common woods used for Native American drums include cedar, ash, and maple. These woods are known for their durability and resonance.

To secure the rawhide to the frame, thongs or lacing made from rawhide or yarn are used.

These materials are tightly woven through holes or notches in the frame, holding the rawhide securely in place. Any excess rawhide is trimmed away, leaving a clean and polished edge.

After the drum construction is complete, the instrument is often blessed with sage and prayers. This ritual adds a spiritual significance to the drum, connecting it to the cultural and ceremonial practices of the Native American tribes.

The construction process may vary slightly depending on the specific type of drum being made.

Techniques for constructing water drums, footed drums, hand drums, and powwow drums may differ, but the use of rawhide and wood remains consistent.

Type of DrumMaterials UsedConstruction Process
Water DrumsGourd, RawhideHollowing out a gourd and placing it in a basin of water
Footed DrumsHollowed-out logs or bones, RawhideSecuring rawhide tightly over the hollowed-out frame
Hand DrumsWood, RawhideStretching rawhide tightly over a wooden hoop frame
Powwow DrumsWood, RawhideConstructing a large wooden frame and stretching rawhide across it

What Are Different Native American Drums Made Of?

Types of Native American Drums

Native American culture encompasses a rich variety of drums, each serving a unique purpose and embodying distinct characteristics.

From water drums to hand drums, the rhythmic beats of these instruments hold significant cultural importance.

Water Drums

The water drum, or water-filled drum, is a traditional Native American drum in which a gourd is hollowed out and filled with water.

This unique construction creates a resonant and vibrant sound. Used in ceremonies and rituals, water drums symbolize the connection between human beings and the natural world.

Footed Drums

Footed drums, although less commonly used today, have deep historical roots. Crafted from hollowed-out logs or bones, these drums resonate with a distinct and powerful sound.

The addition of legs or feet enhances the drum’s resonance, resulting in a rich and robust tone.

Hand Drums

Hand drums are perhaps the most well-known type of Native American drums. These drums come in various sizes and shapes, but the double-sided hoop drum is the most popular.

With its circular frame and stretched rawhide, the hand drum produces a versatile range of tones. Used in celebrations, ceremonies, and social gatherings, hand drums hold a central role in Native American music and culture.

Powwow Drums

Powwow drums, also known as dance drums, take center stage in drumming circles and powwow gatherings. These large drums feature a wooden frame and a stretched rawhide head.

Powwow drums are not only powerful instruments but also serve as focal points for communal drumming, enhancing the sense of community and unity.

The varied types of Native American drums reflect the diversity and rich cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples.

Each drum carries its symbolism and purpose, providing a rhythmic heartbeat that connects individuals to their traditions and ancestors.

The Cultural Significance of Native American Drums

Native American drums hold great cultural significance. They are considered spiritually and symbolically important, connecting people to the heartbeat of Mother Earth and other influential spirits. The drums are treated with the utmost respect and are often considered sacred.

The materials used in drum construction, such as rawhide and wood, are chosen for their cultural and symbolic meanings. The construction process itself, with blessings and prayers, adds to the spiritual significance of the drums.

Drums are used in ceremonies, dances, and gatherings to share stories, offer thanks, and celebrate tribal culture and history.

Drum Materials and Symbolic Meanings

The choice of materials in Native American drum construction carries deep cultural significance. Let’s explore the materials and their symbolic meanings:

MaterialSymbolic Meaning
RawhideThe rawhide drum head represents the connection between the physical and spiritual realms. It symbolizes the animal spirit and invokes the power of the natural world.
WoodWooden drum frames symbolize the tree of life, grounding the spiritual energy of the drum. Different types of wood carry their own unique meanings. For example, cedar is believed to invite positive energy and purification.

Native American communities recognize the importance of using traditional materials that have been passed down through generations.

These materials not only contribute to the sound and construction of the drums but also carry the ancestral wisdom and cultural heritage of the tribe.

Spiritual Significance and Ceremonial Use

Native American drums play a vital role in spiritual ceremonies and cultural practices.

They are key elements in various rituals and gatherings, serving as a medium for connecting with the spirit world. Here are some examples:

  • Ceremonies: Drums are used in sacred ceremonies to call upon the spirits, honor ancestors, and seek guidance. The rhythmic beats create a sacred space and facilitate spiritual communication.
  • Dances: Drumming accompanies traditional dances, bringing harmony and energy to the movements. The drums set the rhythm, guiding the dancers and amplifying the emotional and spiritual experience.
  • Gatherings: Native American drum circles bring communities together, fostering unity and a sense of belonging. They provide a platform for storytelling, sharing wisdom, and passing down cultural traditions.

The sound of the drum is believed to carry prayers and intentions, connecting individuals to the collective spirit. It is a powerful tool for healing, meditation, and invoking spiritual energies.

Preservation and Respect

Preserving the cultural significance of Native American drums is of utmost importance. Many tribes have strict protocols and teachings around drum care and handling.

Respectful treatment involves maintaining the sacredness of the drums, ensuring they are kept in a clean and honored space.

Proper storage, including using protective coverings or bags, helps to safeguard the drums and prevent damage.


The materials used, such as rawhide and wood, play a crucial role in the creation of these iconic instruments.

Rawhide is used for the drum head, producing the resonant sound when struck.

Typically made from untanned animal hides like deer, elk, horse, or buffalo, rawhide symbolizes the connection between indigenous communities and the animals they rely on for survival.

The wooden frame forms the backbone of the drum and is typically crafted using local trees like cedar. The use of sacred wood reflects the deep respect and gratitude Native Americans have for the land and its resources.

The drums not only create beautiful rhythms but also carry the stories, prayers, and traditions of indigenous communities, fostering a vibrant connection to their heritage.

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