Building Your Own Hand Drum


To drum or not to drum: Is there a question?

No, not really. Not to my way of thinking. I believe we should all be drumming, so much so I recently wrote a short article to encourage people to hunt down a drum circle in their area and start drumming. If there ever was a way of bringing people together, of jumping right over the top of shifty words and ambiguous body language to connect heart to heart, it's through drumming.

I'm very fortunate in that I get to host drum circles, and when I do, I'll usually have extra hand drums with me to loan to people who don't have one. I lead with a small floor drum, and I keep a couple hand drums close by for drum healing. I built all of them. It is quite common now that if a person comes back a few times to the drum circle, but doesn't own a drum, she or he will soon enough ask me about building one. Makes me smile.

I encourage people to build their own hand drum if they intend using it in a ceremonial way. The process of building a drum is likened to creating a child. So when someone asks about this, I'll take the time to ask them what their intentions are for the drum, how do they see themselves using it, where are they likely to take it? This is to get some sense of whether I can help them or if someone else might be better suited. For instance, if our drummer's real interest is social drumming, I'll usually decline their request. This is not a judgement, it is simply a preference of where I put my energy.

Drums, to me, are living beings.

I am sure many others on the Red Road feel the same way. If a person understands the imperative of ceremony in the face of the accelerating decline of the Earth and the reasons for it, I'm there.

We begin with a teaching on this process of drum building. First, there is the impetus to do so, to have a drum, not as an owner, but more as a partner. After all, Native American-style hand drums are made of organic materials; trees and animals. The lives of living beings were taken so we could have the materials to build drums. True, these materials are also used in other ways, but the idea is that life was taken so we could drum for spiritual purposes. Our first obligation is to honor those lives. We do that by dedicating our partners to a shared ceremonial life from the very beginning, and in circle, we will often sing a song honoring the drum and those who brought it to us and the ones who gave so we could create them. This has to do with ancient agreements between two-leggeds( humans) and our relatives (animals, trees etc.)

Drums used this way we call "sacred," meaning they are "set apart" from the mundane, that we use them to pray with and to heal. On the day we get together to build the drum, I not only teach how to put it all together, I also teach about drum circles, about drumming solitaire, drum etiquette, catching traditional (non-European language) songs, and how to care for their drum.

I build the frames, either octagonal or round. They're made of hardwood, and the joints are pinned; they're exceptionally strong. However, you can acquire factory-built frames, just search "hand drum frame" on-line. For that matter, you can get a drum kit on-line. It will have the head, lacing, frame, and photo instructions. Factory-built frames, which are also used in drum kits, are thin laminates, usually steam formed. I used to use these until I saw two warp.

I cut the drum heads from full hides, and about every fourth hide, I'll dedicate a full hide to lacing. This is time consuming and rough on the fingers! But I do this for economic reasons; buying lacing would raise the cost significantly and generate waste because the lengths are nonsensical.

The hide is laid out after 16 slits have been cut around the edge and the frame positioned on top of it. We begin threading the lacing. After the lacing is run, everything is adjusted to get fairly equal spacing on all sides, then the work begins. Our intrepid drum builder is shown how to "pull" the lacing sequentially, making several passes. At a point, it will not pull anymore. The lacing is then grouped into four sets, each set then bound with sinew to further tighten the drum head.

It will take four to five days for the drum to fully dry, out of direct sunlight and away from any curious house critters. I also teach how to build the mallet, or drumstick, but we do not build one at that time. I do not want them "testing" the sound of their drum as it dries, first because they might get carried away and retrain (stretch) the hide, but most importantly, they will be waking their drum up in a proper way in ceremony. Sounding the drum before then would be like "thumping" a sleeping baby; not good.

Soon after their drum is ready, we'll have a drum circle, during which their drum is awakened. This we do with dignity and respect, and the new drummer is counseled on what to do during this time.

Then, we drum!

Find a competent drum maker near you, or order a drum kit. Once you've gone through the process, you'll see that building your own drum is not the big mystery some make it out to be. And your drum will have more meaning to you than if you just buy one. I see a noticeable difference in people who have devoted the time, energy, and resources to create their own drum. It shows in how they treat it, how often they show up to play it, and how it affects them, especially those who go off to drum solitaire every now and then. They learn from the drum and soon realize that when life gets crazy, to go to their drum and let its vibrations call the Spirits to them. And they will come. And this we see.

 


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