10 Native American Music Traditions


Shaman’s Drums and Rattles

Shaman's rattles like these typically feature hand-carved handles.
Shaman's rattles like these typically feature hand-carved handles.
Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection/Library of Congress

A shaman is a person believed to be able to cure physical and mental ailments in people using certain instruments and articles. While many shamans are men, there are female shamans in some Native American tribes.

Often, a Native American shaman will begin his work by entering into a trancelike state -- sometimes induced by drugs -- to the rhythm of the shaman's drums and rattles. In this state, the shaman is considered to mediate in between the natural and spiritual worlds to heal people and, in some tribes, to influence the weather, hunting and other activities [source: Mission Del Rey Southwest].

The shaman drum -- also called a spirit drum, heart drum, healing drum and medicine drum -- is generally a one-sided instrument laced in the earth's four directions with a sturdy, natural hand-hold on the back, which allows the shaman to play it with his free hand. A drumstick can also be used, and the shaman sometimes strikes the drum from its underside with the hand holding its laces. A shaman's rattle is often made from gourds and finished with a hand-carved handle [source: Mission Del Rey Southwest].

Although drums and rattles are the most popular instruments used by shamans, some tribal shamans use musical bows, rasps, deer-hoof rattles and striking sticks in their work, too.