Strings (Chordophones)

Much of the written literature has argued that no Aboriginal stringed instruments existed in the pre-contact period, but this was not the case. Most cultures used the bow and arrow for hunting and discovered the sound–producing capabilities of this implement. Buffy Ste. Marie has been instrumental in bringing the usage of the mouth bow back into Aboriginal music, particularly with her composition, Cripple Creek. Photos and information below.

The Inuit “fiddle,” or tautirut, is similar to a zither found in northern Finland (Diamond 2001: 1275). This instrument possibly is related to the three-string fidla of the Orkney Islands (Arima/Einarson 1976). However, no one has provably linked these zither-type instruments, so possibly the Inuit invented the sinew-strung tautirut

Hawkes described the one that he collected as follows: “It consists of a rude box, with a square hole in the top, three sinew strings with bridge and tail-piece and a short bow with a whalebone strip for hair. . . . Most Eskimo fiddles have only one string” (Hawkes 1916: 122).

A few decades after Europeans settled in New France, Native musicians were playing viols and violins. In 1640, Mother Marie de Saint-Joseph, an Ursuline nun, declared that 12-year-old Agnes Chabdikouechich was one of her most gifted students on the viol (Gallat-Morin, Pinson 2003: 233). Even today, Métis fiddlers claim their instrument has come down through the generations from the late 1600s. In any case, readers may find many fine Métis violin players at The site includes videos in which dancers perform to fiddle music and another video that teaches how to make a fiddle.

Descriptions of Drums and Percussions Instruments

From my own personal collection, I am happy to share information about drums. I use them to teach and promote better understanding between Aboriginal people and Euro-Canadians.

Readers will also see two Iroquois horn rattles, a deer antler rattler with deer hoof shakers and a simple drumstick. Both cow-horn rattles have maple handles, but the rattle that has the darker horn has cedar end caps.

Drums owned by Michael McCord and Dr. Luci Dufresne

Small frame drum

I made this drum in 1998 and gave it to Luci Dufresne as a gift to thank her for performing in a new musical work written for choir, Native flute and drums. The drum is 63 centimetres wide and six centimetres deep. The frame is nine millimetres thick. The head is heavy whitened rawhide. I crafted the drum for heavy use, so I made the hoop lap using both glue and one set of rawhide ties. As the reader can see from the drum’s back, it has a slightly different style of drumhead lacing.


Whatever the means an Aboriginal musician uses to express rhythmic beats, the sounds represent a holistic connection with the universe’s pulses and those of human beings. The drums present the heartbeat of Mother Earth, while a rattle is shaken to call up the spirit of life. Together with the voice, the most personal means to make music that living beings possess, people should respect all musical instruments and use them in a proper manner.

About the Mouthbow

Buffy Ste. Marie has been instrumental in bringing the usage of the mouth bow back into Aboriginal music, particularly with her composition, Cripple Creek.