Frame drums are among the most ancient of musical instruments, having been around since ~6000 BCE. They likely originated from the flat pans used for shaking husks off grain. Variations of them can be found all over the world: the North African tar, the Irish bodhran, the Japanese uchiwa daiko, the Dominican Republic’s tambora, the Uzbeki variant on a tambourine. Some are used for accompanying music and dance, and others help medicine people enter the spirit world.
Nearly everywhere they are played, frame drums carry not only music but also strong sacred or ceremonial associations. Frame drums with one or two heads are used for shamanic purposes by tribal peoples across Central Asia, Siberia, northern Europe such as Norway and Finland, and parts of North America.
When I made my first frame drum back in 1985, I had no idea how to do it. I knew I wanted to work with them, but had no money to buy one and also had the feeling that I should really make it myself. The process of learning how, by doing it, is one of my most spiritually powerful personal stories. I’ve since made many more drums, which are now in the hands of wonderful people all over the planet.
My favorite way to make shamanic drums is to do it upon request and not before, working specifically with the spirits and visions of the person who is to become their partner.
Two “Spirit Drums” glowing in the sun.
These are made from deerskin and pieced pine boards. You can easily see how this way of tying them forms a star, one that fits beautifully in the hand.
I first tried this pieced-wood technique for the frame because I couldn’t succeed at bending thinner wood: in northern Nevada where I was living at the time, the air was just too dry, and they kept snapping. But I’ve since been told that some tribal peoples of the Pacific northwest coast also pieced their drums like this.
This Triskell Drum is made of deer and pine, and decorated with henna.
What dyes human skin could also dye deer skin, I figured – and it turned out to be true! As the dried henna paste cracks off, a lovely, permanent reddish-brown stain remains on the rawhide.
The symbol is a variant on the Triskel, three-pronged spiral beloved in the Celtic land of Brittany; plus some traditional henna flower motifs in the center, clouds from Tibetan Buddhist thankas, and fire around the rim.
Snake Mandala Drum
The Snake Mandala Drum is crafted of deer and pine, decorated with henna.
This drum lives with Julianne Skai Arbor. Check out her beautiful artwork at treegirl.org.
The backs are tied by hand
with rawhide lacing, cut from the leftover scraps of deerhide.
I often find myself singing as I tie them. The songs come once only.
Each drum is completely unique.
The beaters are made of a found stick; leather for the head; a variety of soft materials for stuffing: sheep wool, dog hair, my own hair, quail feathers, etc.; and a tie of whatever is handy or meaningful: spun wool, silken thread, a fraying friendship bracelet…
See photos of more drums I’ve made:
If You Feel Called to Work With a Drum,
three choices are available:
purchasing one that’s ready now,
having one made for you, or
making it yourself with some guidance.
(Just as in the old faery tales, all good adventures come in threes.)
I do ritual for each drum I make, both during the making and afterwards to ‘birth’ it.
Drums Currently For Sale
**** 12 – 1/4″ drum *** [SOLD]
Deerskin over steamed pine, tied with deer and cowhide.
This is a lovely and sturdy portable drum with a big sound.
$150, beater included
(please click on images to see them larger)
Have a Drum Crafted Especially for You!
I’ll work with the spirits to craft a drum specifically for you, to serve as a companion on your own unique shamanic path.
Magical Decoration is Available for Both – And for Existing Drums
If you wish to have your drum decorated, I’ll incorporate imagery of particular meaning and power to you into your one-of-a-kind drum and beater. This can be easily arranged for new drums, or to enhance some drums you already own.
Images can be painted with acrylic paints or permanently stained with henna.
Paints allow for many different colors.
Henna begins as a thick black paste. When it cracks off, the natural deerskin head is left with a deep reddish-brown stain. Just about any design you desire in monochrome color can be drawn with henna.
Motifs: I am experienced at drawing many stylized motifs, including Celtic and Pacific NW Coast tribal designs, Art Nouveau faunal motifs, Southwest tribal geometric patterns, elemental abstracts, animals, plants, suns, moons, spiritual symbols such as “Om,” and more.
Embellishment price is $50 and up, depending upon complexity, time and materials.
Beaters can be Embellished as Well.
Stuffing materials can include your own hair or the hair/fur of a beloved human or animal friend, feathers, cattail down, sheep or alpaca wool, threads from a child’s clothing. Any small soft material you care to send can be included.
Decoration: Beaters can be decorated around their necks and/or ends.
The first beater pictured below, made specially for a client, is sewn of deer hide on a stick from her home area. It is ornamented with two turquoise beads surrounding a larger bead of bone carved with the moon’s face. Its end is grounded with a small serpentine stone, one I found and carried out of the Utah wilderness.
When I was making the beater, it seemed like this stone wanted to come along and become part of it. Who am I to argue with a rock? I can be stubborn, but stones can outwait anybody. Plus it’s not a good practice to ignore our elders.
The next are pictures of my own drum beater, the first beater I ever made. Its end is carved in the image of a snake face, and it has some real (desert-found) snakeskin glued around its “neck.” I’ve had this drum for 25 years, so the snakeskin has understandably become a bit worn away from use.
Perhaps you dream of having an even more personal relationship with your drum.
How about Making it Yourself?
Drummaking sessions are available for small groups up to ten. If you organize a session of six or more people, you can participate for only the cost of materials.