Drums can come from a variety of sources. Some are handed down in a family; others are donated to a drum group. Older drums are made of deer, elk or horse hides, but contemporary bass drums can be purchased or renovated, and even blessed, just as are the older drums.
The Drum is more than a musical instrument
The drum is more than just a musical instrument to those who own and play it; it has its own life. Some drum groups have gone through ceremonies and have had their drums blessed and named. The drum has its own powerful spirit. Gifts are made to the drum and some drums have their own sacred medicine pipes. In some traditions, the drum symbolizes the heartbeat; in others, the powerful medicine of thunder.
The Drum must be treated with respect.
Regardless of the tradition, the drum must always be treated with respect as a sacred object or entity. Nothing is ever placed on the drum, nor does anyone ever reach across it. Many drums even have their own songs, which are frequently sung as a warm-up at the beginning of the pow wow/celebration.
The beat of the drum is the heartbeat of the nation.
The beat of the drum is like a heartbeat, starting slowly and then beating more quickly as the singers get further into the song. The drum sticks connect the singers to the power of the drum as they sing.
The drumming is judged in contests by the rhythm of the song.
Usually the drum group is only judged on the songs they sing for the dance contests and on intertribal songs. There are many different rhythms and drum beats played, and each type of contest song requires a different one. The drum beats must be in perfect time, and each player must be in perfect unison.
The basic drum beats include the roll, a very fast drum beat, a slow steady processional beat; the Omaha beat, (the most frequently used round dance beat) (the boldface numbers indicate the more forceful beat); and the social dance beat, which is strongly accented (121212) and ranges from medium to fast.
The drum beat that is heard in movies and old Westerns is NOT authentic.
The Host Drum
The Host Drum is picked by the Pow Wow Committee. They are the invited drum by choice of the Pow Wow Committee, and they are often called upon for special songs or ceremonies.
The Pow Wow Drum
The pow wow drum carries the heartbeat of Mother Earth and the Indian nation, calling the spirits and nations together. You can’t have a powwow without a pow wow drum to carry the beat.
The Powwow drum is a large base covered with hide (buffalo, deer, or cow). Forming a circle, eight or more men strike the drum in unison with covered mallets.
The men then blend their voices with the beating of the Drum to create the song. The songs are often in the Indian language of the drum members.
It is the responsibility of the drum members and especially the lead singer to be able to sing and play whatever kind of song is requested by the master of ceremonies or the arena director for any given event (i.e. flag raising, honoring ceremony, different kinds of dances).
It is said that the drum was brought to the Indian people by a woman, and therefore there is a woman spirit that resides inside the drum. Approriately, it is to be treated with respect and care, and strict behavior is expected of anyone coming in contact with the drum.
The drum is often thought to help bring the physical and mental side of a person back in touch with his or her spiritual or heart side. As with many things in the Indian culture, the drum is used to bring balance and rejuvenation to a person through their participation in dancing, singing or listening to the heartbeat.