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Music and the Cherokee Indians

Updated on September 21, 2008
Flutes
Flutes
Drums
Drums
Rattles
Rattles

Instruments

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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    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 9 years ago from Northam Western Australia

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

    • Bonnie Ramsey profile image
      Author

      Bonnie Ramsey 9 years ago from United States

      Eileen,

      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!

      Bonnie

    • Zillian.Naire profile image

      Zillian.Naire 9 years ago from Texas

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

    • Bonnie Ramsey profile image
      Author

      Bonnie Ramsey 9 years ago from United States

      Zillian,

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

      Bonnie

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 9 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: http://www.myspace.com/stevecoxmemphis

    • Bonnie Ramsey profile image
      Author

      Bonnie Ramsey 9 years ago from United States

      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!

      Bonnie

    • solarshingles profile image

      solarshingles 9 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
      Author

      Bonnie Ramsey 9 years ago from United States

      Solar,

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

      Bonnie

    • 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
      Author

      Bonnie Ramsey 8 years ago from United States

      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. http://www.ncai.org/index.php?id=126&selec...

      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!

      Bonnie

    • profile image

      Paige 7 years ago

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

    • profile image

      mosheh tucker 7 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 7 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      Great hub! Enjoyed the read...

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 7 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.

    • profile image

      Kristina 7 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.

    • profile image

      GB_5219 6 years ago

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

    • profile image

      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

    • profile image

      Fat Person 6 years ago

      This is great! :D

    • profile image

      hi 6 years ago

      hi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Pr

    • profile image

      Star 6 years ago

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

    • profile image

      jeremiah 6 years ago

      you are awsome

    • profile image

      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".

    • profile image

      nyob 6 years ago

      cool

    • profile image

      Sean Chadwick 6 years ago

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

    • profile image

      viamney guzman 6 years ago

      beautiful site. congratulations

    • profile image

      bailey L 6 years ago

      where did you find this information?

    • profile image

      Judy Aka Sunshine 6 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

      Sunshine

    • profile image

      shannon 6 years ago

      Yes im interested,garnetbird

    • profile image

      Allan Hartman 5 years ago

      Thank for you hub

    • profile image

      madeline greenwood 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      person 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      weirdo1777 5 years ago

      this is a pretty cool site

    • profile image

      bblah 5 years ago

      wooww!

    • profile image

      AustinMcCurdyisamoron 5 years ago

      Austin McCurdy is a moron.

    • profile image

      Sam Montgomery 5 years ago

      Sam Montgomery is a booger

    • profile image

      thisiswhyimbroke 5 years ago

      Austin is funny.

    • profile image

      Sam Montgomery 5 years ago

      SAM IS HOMELESS!!!!!

    • profile image

      Thomas Nealy 5 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. It...it... 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....

      www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysgQ9spsphk

    • profile image

      Thomas Nealy 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      Jogn Hatfield 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      Thomas Nealy 5 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....

    • profile image

      Thomas Nealy 5 years ago

      R.I.P.

      Jogn Hatfield

      a friend, a father, a husband

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 5 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!

    • profile image

      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? dewdropin711@gmail.com

    • profile image

      bob 4 years ago

      it is cool

    • profile image

      Isaiah 5 months ago

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

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