10 Native American Music Traditions


Sounds of the Sweat Lodge

All cultures throughout time have created some form of a sweat lodge, or sauna, to cleanse their bodies, minds and souls. In Native American cultures, sweat lodges are generally small enclosures with hot rocks in the center. Participants crawl inside, heated rocks are brought in and water is added to the rocks. As steam fills the lodge and participants begin to sweat, songs are sung to the beat of a sweat lodge drum, and prayers are said. The songs tend to be about forgiveness, healing and purification [source: Zango Music].

Typically, a round or oval double-headed drum is used in a sweat lodge. Round drums symbolize the universe, while the oval represents the elliptical path of the earth's movement around the sun. Lodge drums are generally about 5 inches (12.5 centimeters) thick with a hide on each side. Unbleached rawhide is often used because it's more durable than a bleached hide; the hide must be quite durable and able to hold its tension, otherwise the moisture inside the lodge could cause it to quickly go flat [source: Boehme Music].

The tone of a sweat lodge drum is generally high, strong and far-reaching -- a different sound than the typical drum.