History of Native American Music

Interested in learning the history of Native American music? Read on to get a comprehensive overview of the history and development of Native American music…

Music was a prominent part of the Native American culture. The Native Americans had a tribal culture and each tribe had its own distinctive form of music. However there existed pan-tribal an intertribal genres of Native American music as well.

Elements of Native American Music

The music created by Native Americans was primarily based on the use of percussions accompanied by vocalization. Vocalization in this form of music took many distinct forms that included singing and chanting solo, choral, unison, responsorial and multipart.

Drums and rattles were the main percussion instruments used by the Native Americans. They helped to create a back beat for keeping a steady rhythm for the singers to keep timing. Generally the accompanying vocalization would consist of lyrics in the local language or non-lexical vocables that included sounds like chanting.

Native American music has a slow and steady feel. It begins off gradually like the rising of the sun. Gradually however it picks up pace and becomes more emphatic as the rattle tremolos, drums and shouts kick in. This kind of music was often accompanied by dance and the changes in music would act as a signal for the dancers.

Native American Music Texts

The collection of Native American music has certain pieces that were personal. This means that they were secret songs that belonged to the song writer and were played only by them unless others were given permission. Then there were those pieces that had been established as public pieces and anybody could play them.
A large part of Native American music consists of tunes that are considered to be sacred and are often reserved for special ceremonies. These kinds of music pieces are considered to be ancient and unchanging. Ritual speeches and public sacred songs also formed part of the collection.

Ritual speeches were perhaps one of the most interesting elements of Native American music. They were considered to be musical because they had a rhythm and melody to them. These speeches would illustrate the purpose of the specific ceremony that was taking place.

Another distinctive element of Native American music is the use of vocables. These are basically words or sounds that have no lexical meaning. This is a common feature of many different kinds of Native American music. Vocables were primarily used at the start or towards the end of a song.

Popular Native American Songs

Some of the most popular Native American songs include the Navajo Shi Naasha. This song was written in commemoration of the end of Navajo Internment in Fort Summer in the 1860s. Other popular songs are tribal flag songs which each tribe developed for themselves. National anthems were also a prominent part of the musical culture of Native Americans.

Powwows and other social ceremonies would also be kicked off with a musical performance. You will also be able to find an extensive range of dancing songs, courtship songs and in fact some of the most popular American tunes like Dixie, Jambalaya and Amazing Grace are of Native American origins.

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