How to Make Native American Drums

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Native American-style drums have not only their own unique style but also their own unique sound. No other instrument has the same qualities as these drums. Quality, handmade drums are available from select sources, but can be expensive. However, you can make your own simple Native American drum without having to invest in too many materials. You not only may save money in making your own drum, but you can also custom decorate it to reflect your tastes.

Things You'll Need

  • 1 Piece of square rawhide, two feet by two feet
  • Sandpaper
  • Piece of thin plywood, 4 feet by 4 inches
  • Blow dryer
  • Thin rope or strong cord
  • Drill
  • 1/8 inch drill bit
  • 4 to 6 feet of artificial sinew
  • Awl, nail or leather punch

Use your sandpaper to smooth the edges of the plywood. Soak it for 12 hours or overnight, until it will bend easily without breaking. If your wood doesn’t bend easily after only one night, let it soak longer.

Bend your plywood into a perfect circle. You need the edges of the wood to overlap by several inches, as this is where you are going to join the wood together. Heat the wood with the blow dryer if it is still not bending easily. Wrap your cord or rope around the overlapping section and tie it to hold your drum together. Let the wood dry for two days in a warm place, out of the sun.

Use the 1/8 inch drill bit to drill two holes near the beginning of the overlapping section and two near the end. Make sure the holes go all the way through both sections of the overlapping wood. Take your artificial sinew and thread it through the holes, crossing three times in a X shape. This should now be holding the drum together. You can cut off and get rid of the other material you were using to hold the drum together.

Lay your drum on the rawhide. Make an outline around the outside of the drum two inches wider than the edges of the drum. Also, draw four tabs, each two inches long, at four equal points around the edge. Imagine your drum as a clock and put them at ten o’clock, two o’clock, four o’clock and eight o’clock. Cut around your outline, including the tabs. Let your rawhide soak in water overnight to soften it.

Cut 1/4 inch wide strips from the rawhide you have left over. Also soak these in water. You’ll use them for tying.

Use the awl, nail or leather punch to poke two holes into each of the four tabs, about 1/3 inch from the edge of the rawhide. Now punch holes all along the edge of the rest of the rawhide, equal in length from each other and also about 1/3 inch from the outside edge.

Center your drum frame atop your rawhide. Use one of your leather strips and thread it through both holes of one of the tabs. Then stretch it out and thread it through both holes of the tab directly opposite. Slowly pull as tight as you can without breaking it. Tie the thong together. Now do the same thing with the remaining two tabs. You should now have an X pattern on the underside of your drum.

Start threading a strip along the remaining holes near the edge of the rawhide. Thread it through, then go under the rawhide and thread it through the next hole in the same direction. Keep doing this until all the holes have been threaded tightly. Pull to make it as secure as possible. Tie off and secure the ends under your rawhide as best your can. The hide should be fastened tightly around the drum now.

Let your new drum dry thoroughly before playing.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can add a handle by drilling two holes in the side and tying on a thin piece of rope.
  • You can paint the drum head after letting the drum completely dry. Use acrylic or oil paint, not watercolor, fabric paint or gouache.
  • When bending your plywood, do not let it splinter or crack, or your drum will be ruined.
  • Your drum and your paint will last longer if you use a drumstick with a soft head to play it.
  • Always be careful when using power tools.

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