It’s big.  It’s beautiful and it has a voice like thunder.  It’s a pow-wow drum!

Seven Cedars Native American Group Women's Drum group perform at the University of Pennsylvania Museum

Have you ever been to a pow-wow or Native American gathering? Some are private and closed to the public, but many are advertised and open to anyone who wishes to come.  Some have wonderful dance contests with big prizes, most have great food and wonderful vendors with beautiful handcrafts and other items.  All of them have music and at the center of the music is a big drum, played in unison by a group of men or women. That’s a pow-wow drum.

One thing that most folks notice right away about the pow-wow drum is that all the drummers are playing together in unison. Although there is a drum leader who usually chooses songs and indicates the beginning and end of a song, all players strike the drum together – creating a powerful beat that sets the stage for singing or dancing to the music.


Children in Nazareth, Israel explore their own homemade drum

According to Native American music historian; Tom Bee, the first pow-wow drum played was probably a skin stretched between many hands and played with sticks, mallets or beaters.  A drum like this can be played by many people at the same time and is easy to make and enjoy.

To make the drum, you’ll need a large piece of durable fabric like vinyl, suede, leather or fake skin from a fabric store. Cut your fabric to resemble a large animal skin.

Girls at the Museum of the American Woman in Dallas, Texas decorate their own version of a big drum

You’ll also want to make a beater for each drummer. To make the beaters, start with a wooden dowel or chopsticks or unsharpened pencils. Wrap them with electrical tape to form a “head” that can beat on the drum.

A beautiful drum beater.

Drummers situate themselves around the drum, holding the skin in one hand and their beater in the other. Then, they strike the drum together – at the same time.  It makes for a powerful sound and shows how any activity can be stronger when it is powered by cooperation and created by the joining of many hearts and minds as one.

To practice drumming together, you may wish to try a simple song used by DARIA while teaching music and English in the Middle East.  The students wanted to learn the days of the week in English so they drummed to…

(one beat) Sunday,
(one beat) Monday,
(one beat) Tuesday,
(one beat) Wednesday,
(one beat) Thursday,
(one beat) Friday and
(three beats) SAT-UR-DAY (beaters must stop and be raised in the air).

Each drummer can take a chance at leading this short song or any one person can lead the song and then point to another player to have the next chance to lead. It’s a fun way to build the skill of playing together cooperatively!

Here’s hoping you make some beautiful music with this great activity!  Check out some of these links below as well:

Hear a Pow-Wow Drum

Hear a Pow-Wow Drum song by Starfeather Native American Group

Color a Pow-wow Drum (online)

Color a Pow-wow Drum (print-out)

Make A Drum Beater

All About The Talking Feather

Teaching Kids the Wonderful Diversity of American Indians
Excellent article by Bernhard Michaelis of Native Child



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