7-year-old Elizabeth Hope reads the step-by-step instructions out loud on how to make a drum

Sealaska Heritage Institute sponsors the “Baby Raven Reads” program which mainly teaches young children how to read yet also conducts other cultural projects for the young minds and bodies.  This past Sunday, Mary Folletti taught the drum making class for children and their families took place for a couple of hours at the Gajaa Hit Building near the ANB Hall in Juneau.  Thank you Davina Cole, project coordinator from SHI…!


Prepared raw hide is soaked in water

The drum making kits were purchased from a supply store in Centralia, Washington State at Centralia Fur and Hide Company (their website is of the same name).  The kits included the pre-bent wood frame, the pre-cut circle of hide and the raw hide threads.


A few tools and supplies needed for drum making:   needle-nose pliers, hammer, scissors, push pins and “Tightbond” wood glue

My grand-daughter Elizabeth and I were one of approximately 20 Juneau families who took this class.  Most of the children were around 4 to 7 years of age, though there were a few younger.


After the raw hide has soaked, place on a flat surface smooth side down with pencil markings facing down; pat with a towel to absorb excess moisture

For many years my friend, Becky Etukeok made drums from local hides such as deer, moose, and caribou.  After taking this class I have a larger admiration towards her dedication to this art form.  I had never seen how drums were made nor had the appreciation of how they were made until doing this simple class where all the hard work was done for us.  Although Beckie now is the program director of arts at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, she is still known as “Beckie Drum-maker.”


Soak spiral-cut, 3/8″ “threads

When threading, pull so there’s no slack, but not too tight as that will make your drum too high pitch.


Instructor Mary Folletti demonstrates how to begin threading

How to include your young child in making a drum:

*  Let your child explore the materials (sinew, frame, hide) while you name them.

*  Talk about how the frame is a circle.  Ask what shape the hide is and why it’s bigger than the frame

*  Ask what the different materials feel like (smooth, wet)

*  Ask or explain where the materials comes from (deer, tree, intestines)

*  Count the holes together, name the tools (hammer, pliers, scissors)

*  They can help pull the sinew through

*  The can help “pull tight”

*  They can help hammer tacks with close supervision


Begin threading through one hole and tie a half hitch knot


Thread through the hole directly across the first hole, and repeat


Clarissa helps her grand-daughter Elizabeth how to create a handle


Most everyone in the class has created their “star” pattern

I had a blast making this drum with my grand-daughter Elizabeth.  I look forward to doing more cultural things with all of my grandchildren as they grow up.


Some drum makers fold rawhide between the threaded areas over the frame and hammer a tack in each section to hold it down.

When you have completed your drum, make sure you take the thumb tacks out and let your drum dry on a clean, flat surface, face up.  Depending on your climate:  it takes about 2 days to dry in Alaska, though at 7000 feet where the climate is a bit drier like the 4-corners area of the United States, the drum may not even take a day to dry!


Directly after creating the handle and pushing the raw edges of the leather to the inside of the drum, with her strong fingers, Elizabeth carefully smoothes the frame removing all the big folds and wrinkles – you must do this step as soon as possible before the hide even starts to dry


Your drum was made out of an animal and a tree and some say the drum is a living being so you want to honor its spirit with love and respect

Store it wrapped in cotton, wool, or a custom drum bag face up or on a wall.  Keep it from extreme temperatures and direct sunlight as heat may cause it to crack.

Water expands and heat constricts.  On sunny days you can mist with a damp cloth or spray bottle.  If your drum is cold you can warm it slowly, using your own skin as a gauge.

Clean with a slightly damp cloth.  You can condition with Shea butter bought from cedarmountaindrums.com

Careful not to set anything on your drum and remember to play your drum often.  It wants to sing!


Mary Folletti teaches some of the kids how to do various beats with their new drums and drumsticks

How to make a drumstick:

You will need a stick, padding (cotton or wool cloth), sinew, and a piece of buckskin.

1)  Put glue on one end of stick covering 1″ down around the whole stick.

2)  Wrap padding around end of stick that you glued, snuggly not to tight.

3)  Use sinew and wrap around padding a dozen times crisscrossing, then tie off on stick behind padding.

4)  Center Buckskin on end of padded end, pull down stick and hold snug behind padding then wrap sinew very tightly around buckskin and stick 7 to 9 times; tie off using scissors to trim excess buckskin