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.