Music and the Cherokee Indians



The music of the Native Americans is as vast and diverse as those who create it. Each tribe has its own musical approach and style that has been passed down from generation to generation. It is the center of Native American culture and is used in religious rituals, for healing, accompanying work and games as well as social gatherings. Most Native Americans feel that music and song is not a human invention but rather something that is given to the by spirits to facilitate interaction between the heavens and earth.

Lyrics are filled with symbolisms and singers sometimes use made up sounds to create the stories and rythmic poetry. Vocals and chanting are very common in traditional Native American music. Flutes, drums and rattles are the most common instruments found throughout the tribes. Perhaps the most important element of their music is the voice.

Most Important Element of Music

Vocals are the backbone of Native American music culture. Unusual rythums and sometimes off-key style of singing is used. No harmony is ever incorporated although many people may sometimes sing at once. Other times the vocals will be solo. The Native American vocals are passionate and are used to invoke spirits, ask for rain or healing and are used to heal the sick. In most cases the men and women of the tribes sing separately and have their own dances. The women normally dance in place while the men dance in a circle.

Researchers feel that Native American music is one of the most complicated forms of music performed. The tensing and releasing of the vocals combined with the various drum beats makes it a very intricate form of art. Every region of the country where Native Americans settled produced varying forms of music. The music is always unique to its group due to the many different tribes.

Buffalo Dance
Buffalo Dance
Big Game Dance
Big Game Dance
Bull Dance
Bull Dance
Green Corn Ceremony
Green Corn Ceremony
Opening the Sacred Bundle
Opening the Sacred Bundle

Cherokee Style

Cherokee music, like many other Cherokee art forms, has always been an integral part of special ceremonies as well as in daily life. Cherokee instruments from the past have included panpipes, flutes, whistles, drums and rattles. Archeologists have found various Cherokee musical instruments that are estimated at one thousand years old. Flutes, made of river cane or the leg bone of a deer, were played to accompany processions of chiefs, to greet visitors and to encourage success in stickball games. Whistles, made from leg bones of birds, were sometimes blown by warriorsto produce their war call, often a male wild turkey gobble.

Precussion instruments (drums and rattles) primarily accompanied dancing. The water drum was most commonly used by the Cherokee and neighboring tribes. It could be tuned and was made from a section of hollowed log partially filled with water and covered by tightly drawn hide. Many rattles were made from gourds and contained beans, corn kernels or pebbles. The gourds were attatched to wooden handles and decorated with feathers or rattlesnake rattles. Other rattles were made from turtle shells, attatched to a leather strip and worn by womenduring dancing. They were tied just below the knee and produced a rythmic accompaniment with the drumming and singing as the women danced. These women were called shell shakers.

Comanche Dance
Comanche Dance

Cherokee Men and Music

Cherokee men sang to lead dances in various traditional ceremonies. Their song were frequently made up of short sections comprised of phrases sung four or seven times, the sacred numbers of the Cherokee. During dances, the songs may begin or end with a shout or whoop. Some dance songs followed a call-and-response pattern with one person leading the song and dance and the rest of the group answering in short musical phrases. Other traditional uses for music included the singing of prayer formulas.

New Instruments

New instruments were incorporated into Cherokee music in the eighteenth century. Scottish and English traders introduced fiddle playing to the Cherokee. By the early nineteenth century, tribe members were learning christian hymns from Moravian, Presbyterian and Baptist missionaries.

Following the introduction of Sequoyahs's syllabary in 1821, one of the first books printed in the Cherokee language was a hymn book. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians kept alive traditions of instrumental fiddle music, of hymns in both Cherokee and English languages and of older, traditional Cherokee songs and dance music. In the early twentieth century, Cherokee fiddle playing influenced nearby white Appalachian fiddle traditions.

Hymns in English and Cherokee are heard in the churces of the Cherokee and are often performed by gospel quartets. Walker Calhoun and others continue to preserve Cherokee songs and dances and Cherokee carvers carry on the making of river cane flutes and carved wooden flutes. These flutes are still played within the tribal communities and in public performances.

"Sun Journey" is from the film "The Blood Cries Out" which was nominated Best Long Form Music Video in the 2007 Native American Music Awards. Photography is by

Native American Music/ Ly-o-lay-ale-loya

Drums of Thunder (Native American Music) Mountain Spirits

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Comments 46 comments

Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 8 years ago from Northam Western Australia

Uou have collected a lot of beautiful pictures and interesting information. Thanks for sharing.

Bonnie Ramsey profile image

Bonnie Ramsey 8 years ago from United States Author


Thanks for stopping by! The site I found for these pictures is totally awsome! I listed the link to the site because that is all they ask for in return for use of the pictures. There are so many beautiful pictures there I will probably never see them all!


Zillian.Naire profile image

Zillian.Naire 8 years ago from Texas

Hi Bonnie, All I can say is Thanks so much. Loved them!

Bonnie Ramsey profile image

Bonnie Ramsey 8 years ago from United States Author


Thanks so much for reading and commenting and you are very welcome! I am so glad you liked it!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

I have several Native American musician friends including John De Boer and Voice of Golden Eagle and you have given me an idea for a future hub so thanks for that! I even have been honoured with an eagle's feather I was once sent by author David Seals from the Bear Butte Council of South Dakota.

Here's Voice of Golden Eagle:

Bonnie Ramsey profile image

Bonnie Ramsey 8 years ago from United States Author

Wow, Bard! This is awsome! Steve Cox is only an hour away from me! Thanks so much for this information. I will be contacting him and hopefully I'll be able to meet him one day. He can probably answer a lot of questions for me! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing! I really appreciate you!


solarshingles profile image

solarshingles 8 years ago from london

Bonnie, that is something for me! I admire the history of native Americans, even though it has been introduced to me through the Karl May's fiction books, such as Winnetou(Apache). I also listened all music videos. Thank you for this reading!

Bonnie Ramsey profile image

Bonnie Ramsey 8 years ago from United States Author


Thanks! I really enjoy the music as well. It makes me proud to be of Cherokee blood!


solarshingles profile image

solarshingles 8 years ago from london

Bonnie, may I ask you who does care and nurture about these great tradition, culture, language, music, etc. nowadays? What is your share in all these activities? Thank you in advance.

Bonnie Ramsey profile image

Bonnie Ramsey 8 years ago from United States Author

Hi, Solar!

Thanks for dropping by! There are many organizations today who nurture these traditions of the native americans. Many are federally recognized. There is a list of some of them at this website and includes the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians here in our state.

While I am not a member of these organizations, I am attempting to do the research into my heritage to hopefully discover which of the bands hold some ancestors. I am a bit lost but taking a little at a time because I didn't know much at all about my Dad's side of the family. I will be heading to the Choctaw Indian Fair in Mississippi being held July 9th through the 12th and am really looking forward to that. While they are the Choctaw band, their traditions are much the same as the Cherokee and I really enjoy the exhibits, dances, entertainment and stickball games there. I just can't wait!


Paige 7 years ago

this music is so beautiful! were did you find it?!

mosheh tucker 6 years ago

I am half cherokee and i did not think that I would even like this kind of music but its great

Michael Shane profile image

Michael Shane 6 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

Great hub! Enjoyed the read...

GarnetBird profile image

GarnetBird 6 years ago from Northern California

My great-grandmother had cherokee blood. I really learned a lot from this HUB! I am writing about the Trail of Tears (Cherokee trail) today if you are interested.

Kristina 6 years ago

i have some cherokee blood in me and i came here for a project and your site has been really helpful. the pictures are amazing. thank you.

GB_5219 6 years ago

My grandmother in no longer my guide. What does "Ly-o-lay-ale-loya" mean?

jim 6 years ago

i am half cherokee wish i could be full blood but i guess it wasn`t meant to be that way i love music to the fullest

Fat Person 6 years ago

This is great! :D

hi 6 years ago


Star 6 years ago

This has helped me with my project a ton! THANKS SO MUCH!!!! (:

jeremiah 6 years ago

you are awsome

Little one 6 years ago

Just wondering if Anyone knows a song that is sorta a nursey/children song. My mpther played the song to me when I was little. I think the name is "Little One".

nyob 6 years ago


Sean Chadwick 5 years ago

This really helped me with my world music project on native americans. Thank You For Posting!

viamney guzman 5 years ago

beautiful site. congratulations

bailey L 5 years ago

where did you find this information?

Judy Aka Sunshine 5 years ago

I will look into this being I have Cherokee in me

As far as I can tell so far I traced my herritage back to 1860's

I love my simple outlooks on life it is sometimes hard from a wheelchair but I believe that as life goes on we learn new testimonies to pass onto the next . I had a good life .

Sincerely ; Judy


shannon 5 years ago

Yes im interested,garnetbird

Allan Hartman 5 years ago

Thank for you hub

madeline greenwood 5 years ago

thanks for sharing!! lots of GREAT info I had needed I found here!!(:

person 5 years ago

Hello! Your advice is ver interesting and i enjoyed reading it!!! Keep it up!:)

weirdo1777 4 years ago

this is a pretty cool site

bblah 4 years ago


AustinMcCurdyisamoron 4 years ago

Austin McCurdy is a moron.

Sam Montgomery 4 years ago

Sam Montgomery is a booger

thisiswhyimbroke 4 years ago

Austin is funny.

Sam Montgomery 4 years ago


Thomas Nealy 4 years ago

The Slender Man is the scariest thing I have ever seen in my life. I can't even describe to you about what I saw that night when I was looking for my Jessica. I can't live. I can't sleep. that horrible face!!! Its arms were all the way to the ground... there's just no way it was human. If you are reading this then you can't stop now and you have to click on the link. If you don't the Slender Man will come and get you and your family. And I've experienced that and it's not a good experience... just trust me. Click on the link below or you will be haunted your whole life until you die, by the beast. There's no turning back now... you watch the video or die....

Thomas Nealy 4 years ago

You must post it on Facebook as well... good luck.

Jogn Hatfield 4 years ago

I just saw who was 11ft tall wearing a black and white suit is that him?? PLEASE TELL ME!!!

Thomas Nealy 4 years ago

That was him all right Mr. Hatfield... you need to move to somewhere far, far, away and do what I said a few posts ago....

Thomas Nealy 4 years ago


Jogn Hatfield

a friend, a father, a husband

Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

Bonnie; I really like traditional music forms from all over the world, and the videos on this page are beautiful to look at and listen to. But the rest of the article is also good for all the information it gives about the musical element in native American culture. Because I like this article so much, I have promoted it in a newly created hub review of ten of the best hub pages about native American culture which I have just published on this site. Voted up. Hope it brings in more viewings!

Jean Bruce 4 years ago

I would LOVE to make some Cherokee beaded necklaces, learn how to do ceremonial drumming and especially to make a beautiful Cherokee Dream Catcher. I'm also interested in the everyday clothing for women, moccasins and ceremonial dress patterns as my grandson is marrying a beautiful Cherokee girl in the summer of 2013. Thanks.

Could you also advise me of how a traditional Cherokee wedding is performed?

bob 4 years ago

it is cool

Isaiah 5 weeks ago

It is cool I think anyone can learn a lot from this lesson

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