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American Indian Drums

The most important Native American instrument was and still is the drum, as you can tell by going to any powwow or Indian event. Different tribes have different traditions about the drum and how to play it, but the basic construction is very similar in most tribes: a wooden frame or a carved and hollowed-out log, with finely tanned buckskin or elkskin stretched taut across the opening by sinew thongs.

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Traditionally American Indian drums are large, two to three feet in diameter, and they are played communally by groups of men who stand around them in a circle. However, there were also some tribes in which each drummer had his own instrument, and it is possible to buy a smaller Native American hand drum for either musical or decorative purposes. (These hand drums are the ones that are sometimes called "tomtoms" by non-native people--contrary to popular belief, tomtom is not an American Indian word, but rather an old British word for a child's drum toy.)

If you are looking to buy a drum that was actually made by Native Americans--either because it's important to you to have the real thing or because you want to support native people with your purchase--then here is our directory of American Indian artists whose drums are available online. If you have a website of Indian drums to add to this list, let us know. We gladly advertise any individual native artist or native-owned art store here free of charge, provided that all drums were made by tribally recognized American Indian, Inuit, or First Nations artists.

Thank you for your interest in Native American art!

Indian Drum Makers

On our main site we do our best to avoid slowing down our page loading with graphics, but this page is about art, so we'd really be remiss in not showing a few representative drum pictures. All photos are the property of their respective artists; please visit their sites to see their drum-making talents in more depth.

Ancient Ways Indian Drums
American Indian drums and drumsticks handmade on the Wind River Reservation by Arapaho and Shoshone artists..
Northwest Indian Drums
Hide drums painted with Northwest Coast designs from a native-owned store in British Columbia.
Alaska Native Indian Drums
Another good selection of native hand drums painted with Northwest Coast Indian designs.
Tohlakai Native Drums
Traditional hand and pow-wow drums by a Navajo Indian drum-maker.
Tarahumara Indian Drums
Goatskin 'aro' drums made by the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico.
Iroquois Water Drum
American Indian water drums made by a Cayuga artist.

Indian Drum Music
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Here are a few good albums of powwow drum music if you'd like to hear what Native Americans do with these drums!

Tribute to the Elders Dance Hard Honor The Earth Powwow Kids' Pow-Wow Songs
Probably the best album by popular Blackfoot Indian drum group Black Lodge Singers. One of the best albums by the Cree powwow drum group Northern Cree Singers. Very good live recording from a 1990 pow wow featuring Ojibway and Winnebago Indian drum groups. This one's a little weird, but it's strangely catchy: popular children's songs like "Mighty Mouse" and "Twinkle Twinkle" performed at full speed by the excellent Black Lodge Singers. A good introduction to native drumming for kids.

Indian Drum Books

How to Make Drums, Tom-Toms and Rattles
Interesting 1938 book on native drum crafts, particularly Woodland Indian drums.
Drumbeat, Heartbeat
A lovely illustrated book on American Indian powwow and drumming traditions.
Dancing Drum: A Cherokee Legend
Attractive children's book about a young Cherokee drummer boy.

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Indian Drum Links

Here are some other good internet resources for learning about or purchasing Native American drums:

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act: US law against passing off fake American Indian crafts as genuine.
Wacipi/Powwow Drums: Article on the history of the Native American drum circle and the spirituality of the drum,
from more of a Northern Indian perspective.
Drum and Song Page: Information on the traditions of native drum-making and drum songs, from more of a Southern
Indian perspective. With RealAudio clips of Indian drumming.
Native American Musical Instruments: Explanation of different types and constuction of drums, rattles and flutes in Native North America.
American Indian Drums and Instruments: Online museum exhibit with photographs of historical Canadian Indian drums, rattles and bullroarers.
Native American Arts and Crafts: Orrin contributed to this larger directory of Indian crafts, many of which are authentic.
American Indian Cultures: View our pages for individual Indian tribes, most of which have artistic information.

About us: This website belongs to Native Languages of the Americas, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting endangered Native American languages. We do not make Indian drums ourselves, so if you are interested in buying some, please contact the artists directly. Though we have featured only Native American drums identified with the name and tribal affiliation of each artist, we haven't called the tribal offices to check up on any of them, and we only know a few of them personally. We also don't guarantee any of their products. This is not an exhaustive list of Native American drums--if you would like us to add your drum site to this page, please contact us with your URL and tribal affiliation. We advertise any individual native artist or native-owned art business here free of charge. We do not link to drums which are not made by tribally recognized American Indian, Inuit, or First Nations artists, so please do not ask us to. And finally, websites do occasionally expire and change hands, so use your common sense and this general rule of thumb: if the creator of each individual artwork is not identified by name and specific tribe, you are probably not looking at a genuine Native American drum.

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