Photography By: The Stanford Powwow

The Soul-Stirring Beauty of Native American Music: A Journey Through Millennia of Sacred Traditions

 Photography by: The Stanford Powwow   

 Native American Music

For thousands and thousands of years, North American natives have been using music to rejoice in their culture, history, and identity.


From the Arapaho tribe to the Navajo tribe, the beauty of their traditional arts passed down from generation to generation is admirable.


For thousands of years before Anno Domini (AD), music has been a crucial element to the daily lives and traditions of the Native Americans due to the historical importance it had to them over the past thousands of years when little technology existed.


From religion to traditions passed down to generations, music is a divine part of the lives of Native Americans which is shown by how the tribes view songs as property and how they link their musical masterpieces to their deity in a religious and spiritual sense.


Native American music overwhelmingly consists of percussion and vocals. Percussion creates a steady beat for performers to base their performance on using non-lexical vocables and their language (different ones in different tribes) using rasps, bells, clap sticks, drums, and rattles.


Songs usually begin slowly, which becomes slightly quicker with more emphasis and force into the piece with subtle shouts that adds to the musical craft.


That adds variety to the music and makes it catchy but also simple simultaneously. Speaking of simplicity, melodies from numerous tribes are usually tectonic and pentatonic.


Vocals in Native American musical pieces are in a variety of tones. These tones involve sharp, tense, and even loose, relaxing sounds. With this variety of sounds, there are also wide usages of falsetto and vocal vibrato (male singers singing notes higher than their voice usually sings).


These unexpected but catchy additions of expression to the music add elements to the song that tell stories about the tribe’s history and be used to carry about traditions and religious rituals.


Native American music also has sex-based roles and rules. The Cherokee tribe holds traditional dances before starting their stickball games. That is a prime example of sex-based roles in singing and dancing.


Men dance in circles around a flame, while women dance in stationed areas. The men usually do the singing, and the women have their songs sung by native American elders (those who provide knowledge, leadership, information, and history that passes down to new generations).


These sex roles also have different functions in the dance as well. The men call on power to their stickball team, while the women remove power from the rival team.


Native American music and art generally is crafted in the pursuit of a structured goal, typically a cultural and spiritual goal. The diciplined coordination within the artistic practices of Native Americans is unique, especially in a world where art forms like jazz, abstract art, and more modern art forms are highly liberated in technique.


That is why Native American art has a distinct charm which makes it special.

Instruments Used


  • Drums (Water drum)
  • Rattles
  • Bells
  • Flutes (Anasazi flute) (Native American flute)
  • Idiophones
  • Membranophones
  • Aerophones
  • Chordophones
  • Apache fiddle
  • Clapper stick
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