MIOL-Native American Music
Drums are the oldest instrument on earth, and the one most
important to Native Americans. Used in both sacred and secular music, numerous oral traditions refer to drumbeats as
the earth's heartbeat, or the spirit of life. Drumbeats drive all Native American music, so it's considered essential that
everyone listening hears the drum's sound. Further, it's also critical that drums accompany the human voice. In fact, the
two are so tightly linked in American Indian culture; those who play the drums aren't called drummers, but rather
The Native American
flute (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3IfeB6oaM8&list=PLwiBwpxgjy_2SEw-
PKT5CFkgQHkcJuU24&index=3) is considered one of the oldest musical instruments in the world, created after drums,
rattles and whistles. Native Americans used flutes for everything from entertainment, prayer and healing to courtship,
perhaps its most popular use. In fact, many flutes are called Love Flutes or Courting Flutes, and American Indians have
numerous sacred stories as to how the Love Flute came to be used in courting.
Whistles and rasps are often included in Native American music. Whistles are usually
made of bone and have been around for thousands of years; bone whistles discovered in
northeastern Arizona came from the Basketmaker period (300 B.C. to 300 A.D.) The eagle-bone
whistle is the most common type of bone whistle, and other American Indian whistles were
crafted from antlers, wood and the bones of other animals.
Sometimes, if they didn’t have material available to make a whistle, they would use what came
naturally: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJjRw_lLl5s
Want to see something amazing? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8CcHSn3Yjk
Rasps are notched sticks that make sounds when you scrape another stick against its notches. You can also place the
rasp against the head of a drum to add resonance to the tone. The Utes call these instruments bear growlers because
they use them to imitate the voice of the bear. The Hopi use rasps for their Turtle Dance; still other American Indians use
its sound to imitate a frog croaking for rain.
is a person believed to be able to cure physical and mental ailments in people using certain instruments
and articles. While many shamans are men, there are female shamans in some
Native American tribes.
Often, a Native American shaman will begin his work by entering into a trancelike
state -- sometimes induced by drugs -- to the rhythm of the shaman's drums and
rattles. In this state, the shaman is considered to mediate in between the
natural and spiritual worlds to heal people and, in some tribes, to influence the
weather, hunting and other activities.
spirit drum
The shaman drum -- also called a
, heart drum, healing drum and
medicine drum -- is generally a one-sided instrument laced in the earth's four
directions with a sturdy, natural hand-hold on the back, which allows the shaman
to play it with his free hand. A drumstick can also be used, and the shaman
sometimes strikes the drum from its underside with the hand holding its laces. A
shaman's rattle is often made from gourds and finished with a hand-carved handle.
Shamans exist throughout the world and in all cultures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jke6ruBeRxs
Powwows are actually a relatively new ceremony among Native Americans. Rare before Europeans came to
North America, this communal ritual sprang up around the mid-19th century, when tribes were being relocated by the
U.S. government (https://www.educanon.com/public/31413/84875) and began interacting with one another and
initiating cultural exchanges.
While powwows differ among tribes, they all typically begin with a Grand Entry of the color guard and dancers, then a
welcome speech. After that, various dance performances are held, such as the Men's and Women's Traditional Dance,
the Grass Dance and the Jingle Dress dance. Often there are dance competitions, and prizes are awarded.
The man instrument used at powwows is the drum. Powwow drums are typically large, two-sided drums, which allow
several people play each drum simultaneously. The songs tend to be rhythmically complex, with the singers using a
slightly different tempo than the drumbeat.
Powwow drums are revered and are placed on a blanket or stand during the performance, then covered when not being
used. Before a powwow, a smudge of tobacco is usually applied to the drums in a sunrise ceremony, and no one can use
drugs or alcohol near them.
While Native Americans use instruments in most of their music, they rarely play instrumental pieces, as singing is
considered the most important part of the music, along with drumming. Musical genres favored by American Indians
include lullabies, songs given to people by their guardian spirits, curing songs, ceremonial songs and those that
accompany daily activities.
Not surprisingly, the various tribes have different vocal traditions. The Eastern Woodland Indians, for example, use
special vocal techniques like rapid vibrato and yodeling in some songs to make their sounds more expressive. The Plains
Indians are known for the tense, nasal tone of their singing, as are the Navajo and Apache; those from the Northwest
Coast and Great Basin use a more relaxed, open style. Within these two styles, the tribes tend to favor using the lower
or higher end of the vocal range.
Both secular and sacred melodies form the repertoires of all Native American tribes. Secular music is used in songs
honoring a person's life, in pieces of gratitude and in melodies used for communal celebrations, among many others.
Sacred music is employed when dealing with things like the spirit life and the earth's elements. Overall, however, Native
Americans perceive the sacred and secular as interwoven and don't make the major distinctions between the two that
non-American Indians do.

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