Native American

Exploring Pathways of Appreciation

To foster an awareness and appreciation of music by listening and coming to appreciate how the diverse application of shared elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, texture and form gives rise to such diverse expressive pathways showcasing an inner beauty of the human spirit.

Here are links to music performances showing diverse styles and performance as voiced around the world; each expressing a component part of a global diverse counterpoint of cultural contrast. Enjoy yourself and do check on the links.

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In Counterpoint of Cultural Contrast

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Native American "Indian"

It is amazing how the creativity of mankind takes the universal tools of melody, harmony, rhythm and style, combining in different ways, forming such diverse manners of art and expression!  

To the right is a good example of the high pitched forceful style of singing you would hear at a "Northern Plains" Pow-wow.

Notice how the lead singer begins followed by the drum singers. After the chorus and tail (coda) is repeated the lead begins again. This is called a "push-up".

Traditonally four push-ups are performed. Accented beats on the drum signal the end of the 2nd chorus repeat. How many push-ups do you hear in this recording?

The melody starting at a high pitch and ending at a lower symbolizes the relationship of man with the Great Spirit, Spirit of Truth and the inner expression of a form of Trinity.


Here is an example of an intertribal pow-wow drum song. These songs are called intertribal because they are shared by drum singers from many tribes. Vocables are sung instead of actual words. A song may be popular and then cease being performed in favor of a newer "hit" song on the Pow-wow Circuit. This Intertribal song is performed by the "Little Earth Singers"

Both this "Intertribal" Song and the  Veteran's Song (on the right) were recorded by me at the annual July 7th Pow-wow held at the Redlake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota 1984.

Pow-wow ceremonial gatherings are an important way for Native Americans to celebrate and remember their heritage. The entire traditional event is held in honor of Mother Earth and the Great Spirit.

The Grand Entry is a time of honoring those who lived in such a way  that we may reap the benefits of their lives on Earth. This Veterans Song honoring all war veterans is performed by the "Seine River Singers from Seine River Ontario".

The Rhythm of the Universe, a Heartbeat of Eternity, sums up the deep spiritual wisdom represented by the Sacred Drum in Native American thought. When singers align with the pulsing throb of unity felt within the heart of an Indian Drum it is a moment filled with honor and closeness. I speak from personal experience.

The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Taka (the Great Spirit), and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.

This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is known that true peace, which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.

Black Elk - Oglala Sioux

Earth Drum: An Eternal Cosmic Rhythm

Native North American Pow-wow Drum songs portray levels of deep spiritual awareness. An Intertribal song is played as explanations of music form and meanings are explored. A "Trinity" relationship is shown as the Lead calls too (or directly represents the Calling from God). The Chorus ( with descending melody lines) describes knowledge gained in a relationship between Mankind and the Great Spirit, while the Coda illustrates meditation on the above. It is also shown interfaith Scriptures worldwide commonly embrace much of the spiritual insights seen in this music.

This performance by the Northwest Bay, Ontario Singers was recorded by me for radio July 7th, 1984; at Redlake, MN.


Intertribal Song: Expression of Native American Spirituality. from David Britton on Vimeo.

Pow-wow Drum singing is an expression of deep spiritual thinking central to Native American tradition. An Intertribal song is presented as a metaphor describing the relationship of God (the Great Spirit), the connecting Word (Spirit of Truth) between God and mankind and the need of all to be awakened by this Truth leading to the pathway of Enlightenment, Salvation and Nirvana; Being Born Again; Finding fulfillment following the Path for which the spirit of man was created.

You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance.

This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.

Black Elk - Oglala Sioux

The Navajo "Beauty Way Chant" has been a life-long favorite. The poetic verse and soul stirring meaning give us, the white man, much to ponder and meditate.

One (of many) translations reads:

I shall walk in beauty, I shall walk in beauty. (a possible song refrain)

There is beauty before me, and there is beauty behind me. 

There is beauty to my left, and there is beauty to my right.  

There is beauty above me, and there is beauty below me.    

There is beauty around me, and there is beauty within me.

Navajo Beauty Way Chant

The Dineh Beauty Way blessing set to melody and Buffalo drum by Randy Granger performed at the 2009 World of Faeries festival. Thank you for watching.

The Sacred Drum and  Dream Dance Origin.

Native American Drums

Native American drums played an important part in many Native American Indian tribal ceremonies, celebrations and spiritual festivals. Through many songs and dances to the beats of the drum, the Native people try and find a close spiritual relationship with the creator, the mysterious powers they look to as gods. These Native American drums are recognized as their own living entity and symbolizes a strong tie with the creator. To many Native American tribes the Native drum contains thunder and lightening, and when it is beaten it helps to get the creators attention and it also helps contact the spirits of the Native American forefathers.

Many Native Indian tribes had a selected person that they would refer to as the drum keeper, and he watches over the sacred drum. The drum keeper is usually the oldest son of a selected family, and in Native American culture it is an exceptional honor to be the keeper of the sacred drum. The Native Americans look at the drum as a living and breathing entity; they believe that the spirits of the tree and animal that the drum was made from live within the drum. They also believe that the beats of the drum help call out to these spirits to protect and watch over them.

Many of the Native American drums varied in size and among different tribes the drums were completely different and made for different Native Indian traditions. All of the ancient Native American drums were made from wood with animal skin heads. Since there were many different animals depending on where the tribes lived some Native American drums were made from deer skins and others were made from buffalo skins. These drums were extremely important and sacred to the Native American tribes, and there were many sacred ritualistic rules surrounding a drum. Many Native Americans also had other forms of percussion that they would use, and these were hand rattles, which were similar to the drums in the aspect of playing beats and honoring the gods. Some of the Native drums used by some of the Northeastern Indian tribes were filled with water and this gave them a really unique sound during their tribal pow-wows. The drums had many other uses to the Native people and some included healing ceremonies, war preparation dances and even festivals to honor the goods to help bring a good harvest. There are still many hand made Native drums that can be found nationwide on many Native American Indian reservations and at many of these places you can see demonstrations of some of the tribal ceremonies and such things as the Native American rain dance ceremonies.

The Origin of the Dream Dance (a Menominee oral tradition)

Some Sioux people lived at the edge of a lake. While they lived there, some soldiers came to fight them. To escape them, a woman took her child on her back and ran down to the lake to hide in the water. There were many reeds at the edge of the lake, and she went there and hid in the water. She lay for four days in the water while her people were killed and she hid from the soldiers. The soldiers were camped by the shore of the lake, and she could get nothing to eat. At night she nursed her child to keep it from crying and by day she could only keep their mouths above water to prevent the soldiers from finding them.

After four days in the water, a Spirit came to her. It told her to get out of the water and go among the soldiers and eat. The Spirit made sure that the soldiers would not see her. She got out of the water and went to the place where the soldiers were eating. She sat down and ate with them and they did not see her. When she was finished eating, she went outside. A metal washtub was lying by the door.

The Spirit told her to take the washtub back to her people and to instruct the men to kill a deer and prepare the hide to use as a drum head. It also told her that when the drum was completed, the men should dance together around it while the women could sing along but not dance and prepare food so the men could eat after the dance. The Spirit told her that if the people were faithful to the drum and did not fight the soldiers, then they would live. The same peace that they kept with the soldiers they should keep with each other, and from that point forward there should be no fighting among the different Indian tribes who followed the Dream Drum.

(Adapted from Leonard Bloomfield, 1928, “Menomini Texts,” Publications of the American Ethnological Society Vol. XII, 105-107.)

Apache Mountain Spirit Dance

a marvelous traditional mountain spirit song from the great Apache  

 Navajo Yeibichai Chant

Navajo Yeibichai Chant Painting from

The Sacred Flute:
Courting love and peace.

Tradition has it that the Native American flute was primarily a courting instrument. A young man would make a flute, set himself off from the group he was with and play a song that he and his beloved knew. She would hear this and understand his intentions. Once he and his beloved were joined together, he would throw away the flute never to play one again.

Other traditions among the Plains nations held that a tribe could be identified from a distance by the sound and songs that a member of the tribe played as they traveled. There are many other traditions, some of which are very contradictory.

The lack of verified history can be traced to the early twentieth century when Native American children where taken from their homes and placed in "Indian Schools". Once there, they were prohibited from speaking their native language, performing rituals and wearing their traditional clothes. This forced abandonment stopped the flow of Native American oral history with its traditions, rituals and culture.

The Native American flute tradition died out and was soon viewed by many young native peoples as "un-cool", or worse, as an unwanted native icon. A few players persisted, and in the 1960s, thanks to the interest of people like Dr. Richard Payne, an avid collector, historian and author, the flute began a renaissance. Then in the mid-eighties, the Native American flute entered the New Age market and interest in it has been increasing ever since among both native and non-native Americans.

In native culture, songs are owned by the songwriter and are not played by others unless "gifted" to them. Many non-native people find these traditional songs "foreign" sounding, not unlike most music from non-western cultures. Historically designed flutes do not fit into western tuning and scales, but rather the personal scales of the maker. Measurements were traditionally based on the size of the maker's hand, finger or thumb.

daddystovepipe — May 22, 2007 — The Native American flute is a wonderful instrument that really speaks to the heart. I'm playing two traditionals I learned from a cd called "Keepers of the Dream" by Kevin Locke. He and Tom Mauchahty Ware are the two best traditional fluteplayers. The first song is called "Traveling Alone" and the second one is "Look At Me Grandfather".
The flute I use has been crafted by Hawk LittleJohn and is a typical woodlandstyle flute.


Traditional Native American spirituality is deeply tied to the concept of "Mother Earth" and "Father Sky". Here is given a message we would do well to heed. The video below is simply titled:

Manola, Our Sacred Earth Mother

7SpiritBird4 — August 26, 2007 — A video about the conditions of our earth and images of the destruction of what man is doing to Her. It is my hopes to touch hearts and inspire others to start making a difference before it is too late. The first flute song is by David Maracle, the second is Kevin Locke, and the third is David Maracle.



If you wish to learn more about the history and regional styles of Native American music this site may help: