Drums and Songs

The Heartbeat of the People

Drummers / Singers are important to every pow-wow. They set up in groups around the outside of the dance floor and sing appropriate songs when called upon by the announcer. Each drum group has a lead singer who leads the group in drumming and starts the songs. Singers require great skill and stamina to maintain the pace and pitch of pow-wow drumming and singing. They must know a wide variety of songs for competitive and other kinds of dances. While many songs sung at pow-wows are traditional and have been passed down through generations, there are contemporary and new songs. Today, popular drum groups sell recordings of their songs.


Traditionally, songs are considered to be given, completed, to individual Blackfoot people in visions or dreams. Though it is now accepted that music, especially white music, may be composed in the European influenced sense, the traditional view still greatly affects how songs and their creation or origin are considered.

Songs are considered somewhat like objects, in that they may be created of components, but once finished become a unity. They may also be "given" or even sold. Some songs belong to everyone, some songs to just one person but may be sung by others, and some songs individuals save until times of great need. Two songs which may be aurally identical may considered different songs if they have different origins, i.e., came from different visions.

Singing is strongly distinguished from speech and many songs contain no words, and those with texts often describe important parts of myths in a succinct manner. Music is associated closely with warfare and most singing is done by men and much by community leaders.

"The acquisition of songs as associated with difficult feats--learned in visions brought about through self-denial and torture, required to be learned quickly, sung with the expenditure of great energy, sung in a difficult vocal style--all of this puts songs in the category of the heroic and the difficult."


Singing without drums is extremely rare and considered inappropriate. The drum accompaniment to songs is rhythmically independent to the singing but in perfect unison, "slightly off the beat", and "often related roughly by the proportion of 2:3," to the vocal pulse or beat level.





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