Drum Making with a Community Artist

This lesson is guided by the work of Ojibwe artist Karen Savage-Blue. Through this lesson students will learn about and then design a traditional Ojibwe motif for a hand-drum design, students will also be introduced to the painted drums of contemporary artist, Ms. Savage-Blue. Students will make a prototype of a drum, focusing on the design and historical context of drumming, rather than the actual creation of a usable hand-drum. However, they will work with another class in the construction of their designs onto drums.Drums are often a contested object in Ojibwe cultures and many elders do not condone the making or playing of drums by children, women or non-Native peoples. Please see the comments section at the end of this lesson, for further information on the importance of having local Native members present to co-lead such a lesson.

Materials Needed


Art Materials

Activity Process


Students listen to Ms Savage talk about being an artist everyday and living creatively. She also shares her experience of hand drum playing, making, and singing with the students.Students will be making the designs for drums, that will be made by the school's 5th grade class of exceptional learners.


Students are shown 5 traditional Ojibwe Motifs often seen on hand-drums. Ms Savage also shows her examples of hand-drums with a contemporary style of motif. Students are asked about symbolism and metaphor as they look at the designs and as a class discuss the meanings of the motifs. Students also learn the difference between ceremonial/religious drumming and drumming for personal use- not as part of a ritual. Ms Savage drums for personal use and for singing songs to her friends.


  1. Students brainstorm ways symbols can be used in their drum designs.
  2. Students measure, and draw a circle to represent a drum top on brown craft paper, to the exact size of a traditional hand-drum (approx 12" radius).
  3. Students create a design based on traditional and contemporary motifs and symbols, as guided by Ms Savage.
  4. Students write about their design and the meanings they intended.
  5. The students then give the designs to the 5th grade class for the construction of real drums.
  6. Students will meet with the 5th graders to talk and share the drums after constructed.


Students will display designs in the school hallways, along with their writing. Many of the designs will be painted onto hand drums made by the 5th grade class.


Students are attentive listeners as Ms Savage presents. They also ask questions and engage in conversation with Ms Savage when she asks for feedback. Students will review feedback given by the 5th grade drum makers on their designs.Students will have completed their work; with symbolism explained and design appropriate for the culture and community norms. Drum design display-ready when submitted to the drum making/painting students and display ready for a hallway gallery-display.

Vocabulary Words


This is not a stand alone lesson. The importance of having a local culture-bearer present the information to us cannot be over-emphasized. Our experience with Karen Savage gave this lesson its significance and rendered it respectful and humble. There are many aspects to learn about all drums and many differences to the use of community hand drums among tribal communities. We learned about the ways ceremonial drums are treated and about the use of drums and hand drum groups for social or individual music making in our families and community. Our students and staff, Native and non-Native, are taught about powwow etiquette. We also work to include Anishinaabe language and music when possible.

Grade Levels

Primary Content Area

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards


Language Arts



Social Studies