Drum beats were an important part of any Indian celebration. They were also used to communicate long distances. However most of their significance took place during the powwows. Powwows could be held for a variety of reasons both to make significant and important council decisions and also to celebrate traditional holidays or other significant events for a tribe.
The different drum beats do have a significant meaning. These meanings usually match the type of dance that is being done with a song. The drum beats are meant to represent the heart beat and it is important for the rhythm to remain steady and for the drum to be played continually. The drummers at a powwow try to play the entire time without repeating a song.
The drums are traditionally made out of a large hollowed out log with an animal skin such as a cowhide or buckskin spread across the top of the drum. This method allows for loud drum beats that can reach great distances and be heard over a large crowd. The drum is large enough that several people can stand around it and play at the same time. In some tribes both men and women play the drums. In other tribes only men will play the drums, while the women who singe will sit in a circle around the drummers.
Each of the drum beats go with a song. There are many different documented songs and purposes behind each song. There are flag songs, which represent each different tribe. Contest songs test the skills of the dancer. There are also songs that fit every occasion.
Drum beats can be used to work the dancers into a frenzy or to slow the dancers down at the end of a ceremony. The drum beats are an important part of each powwow. The powwows give Native Americans an opportunity to remember their heritage and to teach others about their culture. When Native Americans refer to a drum they mean both the drum and the people who play the drum.