Native American Music Culture

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Culture and Its Significance

Culture refers to certain social behavior that runs in a society. Culture includes the beliefs, practices, codes of conduct that govern people of a certain society and that helps to give them a sense of belonging. There are cultures on every aspect of society such as dress code, parenting, education, religion, art, language, music, food among others. It is also culture that differentiates society from another because every people have their different ways of doing things and at the same time creates an invisible bond which ties the people together. Cultural values are usually manifested through the lifestyle of the people as they must carry themselves as culture dictates. In this paper, we shall focus on the native America music culture and see how it has influenced the contemporary cultures.

The Role of Music in Native America

In Native America, music played a very integral role in the lives of its people. Music is mainly used for recreation, expression, healing and for ceremonial purposes. Several instruments are used in making the Native American music and these include flutes, drums, and percussion instruments and the most important of all elements is the voice in the music. The vocals also play an important role as they are the backbone of music in the American culture. While singing, an off-key style and an unusual irregular rhythm is used to make the music even more interesting. The music can be done by many people at once and at times the vocals are done solo (Browner). The Native American music can be used to ask for rain, heal the sick, it can be used to invoke the spirits and to refresh people’s minds.

The Complexity of Native American Music

According to research, music in native America is one of the most complex that has ever performed. With the varying drum beats and vocals, the music becomes a very intricate form of art that is so unique. In every region where the Native Americans settled, they produced different forms and sounds of music that greatly varied from each other. The music was therefore unique to each group of people among the different tribes (Barkley). Musical values and concepts in each community are developed over time though cultural and social processes. To some native Americans, songs are like property to them and they have gone as far as developing musical ownership systems as well as performance rights to their songs.

The Origin and Importance of Native American Songs

The origin of the American Native songs can be traced to the time of creation where the first people that were created were given specific songs by spirit beings. Native Americans especially the people from Northwestern Mexico, believe that some of the songs came about through shamans and other individuals who were taught songs, rituals and dances through dreams and visions. Some of the communities do believe that some of the music belong to an ensemble or the entire community and they must obtain rights to it. There was music that was provided for specific occasions each year. During ceremonies, everyone who attends must participate in one way or another either through singing, dancing listening to the performances.

Different Musical Styles in Native America

The musical styles in the Native America depend on the region where the music is produced and performed. However, despite having distinctive musical styles among the American Native groups, there existed certain similarities in all their songs. For instance, music from every region must have such characteristics as rhythm, melody, vocal style, phrase structure, typical instruments, use of text and occasions for specific type of music. Every Native American group had its own style of singing that was a bit different from others. In North America, singing is done with help of percussion instruments like drums. Their music genres include curing songs, songs given by guardian spirits, lullabies, ceremonial songs and songs that accompany daily works. Within North America, different styles have been utilized as below.

Eastern Woodlands

In Eastern Woodlands for instance, singers use a relaxed vocal style and put a lot of emphasis on the middle part of their range. Special vocal techniques are used in specific songs to enhance the music quality. In most of the dance songs in the Eastern woodlands, there is use of call and response style whereby the leader solos a song by singing a short melody and the rest of the dancers answer in unison. Songs feature strophic forms, sectional forms and iterative songs. Instruments used in this area are mainly flutes, drums and rattles (Zinn).

Plains Region

In the plains region that includes Texas North and south-central Canada, the main style is tense and nasal vocal quality. Northern plains use high part of their range while the southern part use lower range. Songs star high and descend step by step to low pitch and the instruments used are mainly hand drums, base drums and flute.

Great Basin Region

In the great basin region, the middle part of the vocal range is emphasized, and musicians sing with a relaxed and open quality. Scales only feature 4 or 5 tones that are equidistant from each other. Collective songs are done in unison and some of the dance songs are unaccompanied something which is unusual. The main style element used is round dances while instruments used here include strung rattles, basket resonator, and striking sticks.

South West Region

In the South West region, singers prefer an open and relaxed vocal style that emphasize a lower range and most of their songs are blended in Unison. Their main instrument is a double-headed barrel drum that is made from cottonwood. A violin too is used in their music to make it more interesting and great.

Northwest Coast Region

In the Northwest Coast, singers prefer a relaxed vocal style and prefer using ornaments. Songs are moderately blended, and they employ detailed phrase designs. Songs are performed during seasonal dance ceremonies, gambling events, shamanic events, initiation rituals and other feasts.

The Influence of Native American Music on Contemporary Culture

The Native American music has influenced the society in many ways. One of the influences is that the present day American music is derived from the Native American music. The vocal abilities of the present music for instance are derived from those of the Native American music. Secondly, symbolism that was richly used in the Native American music has been spread into the present American music. This is mainly because some of the themes especially on sex matters cannot be openly discussed in the songs hence the use of symbolism. The Native Americans gave the present day American music a hear beat. The use of the drum plays an important role in the American sings because without the drum the American music cannot be as enjoying as it is. The flute is as well used in the present American song composers. Additionally, vocals that was used by the Native Americans is being used in the American music today (Ripani). Instruments that were used in the past are used today to make songs more unique and interesting to listeners. All these shows how much the Native American music has contributed to the contemporary society as it forms the basis of music today.

Factors Affecting the Perspective of Native American Music

As much Native American culture has been embraced in present time especially in music, there are factors that have led to change of perspectives on the same. One of these factors is the increase of technology. With high technology today, musicians no longer use the instruments used by Native Americans such as drums and flutes but rather use the present-day technology that is better, efficient and fast. Secondly, change in demographics has greatly affected the adoption of the Native American culture because most of the young people are lazy at learning and want things done at the click of a button. They want things done faster and for this reason they do not take time to learn of their past and what their past music was about as to emulate the Native American singers. Nevertheless, the Native American music was good and has contributed so much to our society today not only to the Americans but to other parts of the world as well.


Barkley, Elizabeth F. "Crossroads: the multicultural roots of America's popular music."(2007): pg. 232.

Browner, Tara. "Music of the First Nations: Tradition and Innovation in Native North America."(2009).

Ripani, Richard J. "The New Blue Music: Changes in Rhythm & Blues, 1950–1999."Univ. Press of Mississippi. (2006): pg. 128-132.

Zinn, Howard. "A People's History of the United States: 1492–present, Harper Perennial Modern Classics."(2005).

November 24, 2023


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