A Brief Introduction to Ojibway Musical Instruments

Updated on February 26, 2018
Makwawai profile image

JoAnne is a minister of metaphysics, a lecturer, and a counselor at the University of Sedona.


The Ojibway Have Three Main Drum Types

Every culture has a definition of the vibration they create and how its music functions within their social structure. The Ojibway people of Northeast Michigan value music for the personal and magical powers that are indispensable to their ceremonies and rituals. Music is a functional part of other, non-musical activities as well. Songs are connected with the treatment of the sick, children's entertainment, or social events. Game songs, war songs, love songs, work songs, and those sung by storytellers are an important part of daily life. Drums, rattles, and flutes were made from raw materials and are used in rhythmic accompaniment to singing.

Three types of “dewe’igun” (Ojibway drums):

  • The hand drum consists of a piece of rawhide stretched over one side of a hoop and is laced or tied together on the reverse side to form its handhold. Another form of the hand drum has two heads stretched over one hoop with the rawhide handhold stitched on the outer edge of the hoop. A cord is often attached, and the drum is used in the manner of a snare drum. These percussion instruments are generally 2.5 inches thick and 18.5 inches wide. Pegs are attached to the rawhide cords within the drum and can be twisted to tighten the heads for timbre. These drums are often called “moccasin game drums” as they are used during that game. The heads of both types of handheld drums were decorated with dream symbols. Drumming sticks were often five inches long, made of bone or wood and were hooked at the striking end. Some said the drumming stick was more important than the drum as they represented the head and eyes of the “owl.” Before striking the drum the stick is raised toward the west to give the signal that the bird should respond to the drum call. Other sticks have padded deer hide on the striking end.
  • The Mide drum, water drum, or “mitig’wakik,” was a ceremonial drum. It is a wooden kettle drum made by hollowing out a sixteen-inch-long basswood log. The wood is charred and scraped until a cylinder is formed. A thin wooden disk with a hole plug is fitted into the lower end. Before each use, a few inches of water is poured into the drum and a wet 18 inch heavily tanned deerskin hide is stretched over the drum. A willow hoop secures the hide. The drum is placed by the fire to tighten the head. This drum is used by a high-ranking member of the Midewiwin Grand Medicine Society and is decorated by the owner depending upon his rank within the lodge. These drums can be heard from long distances and are important messengers of the Mide hierarchy.
  • The flat drum has come into use in recent years. The Ojibway use a large flat drum, either placed on the ground or suspended from curved stakes. This drum is decorated with beaded velvet and is used for dances or during ceremonial events. It is a bass drum and can sometimes be made by stretching hide over a washtub.

Moccasin Dance Drum
Moccasin Dance Drum | Source

The Ojibway Rattle

Rattles are usually used in rhythmic accompaniment to singing. They are made from birch bark strips with a cover of hide shaped into cylinders. Each is filled with small pebbles and shot, then sewn with sinew. They are then pierced with a stick and that formed the handle. Some rattles are made by forming a hoop of willow, covering it with hide, and then filling it and sewing it in the same manner. Rattles are not richly decorated. A flat hoop rattle would probably be a “doctor’s rattle” and be used much like a tambourine. Rattles are used to “shoot life power” into an initiate during the Midewiwin rituals. Most rattles were made in sets to constitute the correct pitch.

Intertribal Drum Song

Their Main Wind Instrument Is the Flute A Bec

The wind instrument of the Ojibway is a type of flute called an "a bec." It is played by blowing air into the chamber at the upper end. The flute has six finger holes with five holes around the end. Cedar, box elder, ash, and sumac are the favorite woods used and a raw piece is cut in a nineteen-inch section before construction. A straight round section of wood is split into two equal parts. Each half section was hallowed out, except near one end where the bridge is left. When the two pieces are glued together, a cylindrical tube forms with a solid area in which to carve the air hole. A square opening is cut through the side tube above the bridge to create a wind chamber, and one is cut below into the sounding tube. Finger holes are created. Glue was created by frying the backbone of a fish. The residue in the pan is gathered on a stick and applied to the two pieces of wood. They are bound by thin strips of deer hide until they are firmly attached. The flute is only played by young men in courtship and as a way of sending signals of danger.

Flute A Bec
Flute A Bec | Source

Ojibway Rhythms

Rhythms were fairly simple in Ojibway music. A steady beat with rattle tremolos is commonly played. Solo singing is for lovemaking, ridicule, boasting, lullabies, and medicine songs. There are no lyrics per se, but old words, phrases, loanwords, or special phonetic sounds are sung. Melody is absent except for an occurrence of drone. Music is produced for pleasure, but most songs are functional, ceremonial or part of other non-musical activities. The creation of instruments is considered a functional art form, and all instruments (except for drums) are not decorated. The functionality of the product was the word of the day.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Chi Miigwetch Cabinwriter

    • jamila sahar profile image

      jamila sahar 

      8 years ago

      very interesting, having studied ethnomusicology in grad school, i enjoy reading about and especially listening to music from all over the world, voted up and interesting !

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Informative,thanx for sharing!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Megwetch Cabinwriter.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Very good article. Great work.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)