Native American music is primarily characterized by the usage of drums and rattles. Rasps, bells, and clap-sticks are all types of percussion instruments that are often worn as part of a drummer’s ensemble. Flute, whistle, and stringed instruments are examples of melodic instruments. This instrument is constructed from the agave plant’s stalk, which is native to the Apache people. However, the Yaqui violin is based on European instruments that were used in 17th-century missions. In certain parts of the Southwest, you’ll find folk guitars and harps that are copies of European types.
Water drums, which are played by certain Northeastern tribes, maybe as little as a palm and as massive as a powwow drummer’s cymbal. Certain models may be made from wood, while others need more complex building methods. Several examples are shown below. Most Native Americans use the term “drum” to describe both the instrument and the group of performers. A drum is generally governed by a set of rules and regulations.
It’s common for rattles to be manufactured out of gourd or bone, but there are many more options. Traditionally, gourd rattles are crafted from gourds that have been dried, prepared, and adorned in a manner that reflects the owner’s or tribe’s cultural preferences. The most frequent material for making a bone rattle is a horn portion that has been trimmed to the correct length. A stick may be used as a handle since the bone is left uncut except for a hole at the end. Seeds or other things are placed into gourd or bone rattles to make the desired sound.
The shell of a turtle is used to make turtle rattles, which include items such as turtle bones or cherry pits. Native Americans in the Eastern Woodlands commonly refer to North America as “Turtle Island” in commemoration of the turtle’s involvement in the formation of that moniker. Other materials for rattles include carved wood, aluminum cans, and plastic bottles. In the Southwest, an aluminum salt or pepper shaker attached to a handle is a particularly popular rattle.
For the most part, the flutes are end-blown and block flutes, like the recorder. Pitch changes are achieved by covering and uncovering finger holes in the flute’s body while the air is softly blown into one end and driven up through a fipple. Tribal and individual preferences influence the number of finger holes, which may range anywhere from three to six.
The Native American flute, long solely associated with romance and healing, is now utilized for a variety of other reasons by non-Native Americans. Flutes are often constructed of wood or cane, with cedar being a popular choice. Ceramic and metal flutes exist. However, they aren’t widely used. Bone is the most common material for whistles. There are many other kinds of animal bone whistles, but the eagle bone whistle is the most well-known.
America’s musical instrument heritage
The use of musical instruments is widespread in the Americas. If you have a few hours and some readily accessible materials, you can easily make a few indigenous instruments. Other instruments are made by a skilled artisan over the course of many weeks or even months, requiring a variety of different people to prepare their own materials.
Symbolism is evident in the way musical instruments are used, ornamented, titled, or handled before and after usage, as well as how they are played. The Anishnabe nickname their water drums “grandfather” and “little boy,” which refer to their two different sizes, “grandfather” and “small boy.” It is common for decorations to have religious meaning or to reference holy stories. Respectful care is required for certain instruments, according to some beliefs. Classifying instruments follows a different system for each tribe, based on long-held beliefs about knowledge organization.
Scholars have devised a method of categorizing musical instruments into four types: idiophones, membranophones, aerophones, and chordophones, in order to compare them across countries. To describe electric and electronic instruments, an additional category, electrophones, may be added to the list. Physical descriptions of instruments are used to identify them, and their labels reflect that.
Native techniques of telling history, traditional tales, archaeology, iconography, and linguistics may be used to learn about the early history of American Indian music. Peoples like the Incas and the Aztecs have their own ways of remembering the past. Aztecs etched symbols on certain instruments to indicate when, where and by whom they were performed, while Incas developed a genre of historical songs. It is clear that Native Americans have long histories of inter-regional contact, which has enhanced and expanded their musical repertoires throughout time.
It has taken millennia for inhabitants in the Eastern Woodlands to build a sophisticated system of musical exchange that extends from Florida all the way up to Ontario, Canada. There is a wealth of knowledge regarding musical instruments’ history that can be found in archaeology as well as in the study of ancient art, paintings, and other visual resources. Pre-Columbian musicians in Central Mexico were known to have played teponaztli and huéhuetl, for example.
I hope that you enjoyed this list of Ancient USA instruments. These instruments have been used for thousands of years to play music. Some are very similar to modern-day instruments, and others are more like hand-crafted musical toys for children. These ancient musical instruments pre-date written history, so there is limited information about who played them and how. However, archeologists have been able to piece together enough information from the physical remains of these instruments to give us a small idea of what culture used them.