Shamanic music is music played either by actual shamans as part of their rituals, or by people who, whilst not themselves shamans, wish to evoke the cultural background of shamanism in some way. So Shamanic music includes both music, used as part of shamans’ rituals, and music that refers to, or draws on, this.
In shamanism, the shaman has a more active musical role than the medium in spirit possession. But a shaman’s ritual is a ritual performance and not a musical performance, and this shapes its musical dimension. A shaman uses various ways of making sounds to which different ritual purposes are ascribed. Of particular importance are the shaman’s song and shaman’s drumming.
The Shaman music is focused on enchantments and is accompanied by a wide variety of instruments. Some of these instruments are primitive and are made up of animal skins but these days there are refined, modern instances of the instruments as well.
The Shamans first started out with three staples: the drum, the rattle, and the flute. These days shamans also use singing bowls and harps to accompany their collection of instruments.
1. The Drum
The shaman’s drum, which acts as a bridge to the Otherworld, can drive out evil spirits or be used as a sound healing tool. It empowers, connects with Earth energies and calms the mind. It is excellent for achieving trance states or for power animal dances, rituals etc.
A number of theories have been advanced to explain the importance of percussion in ritual music in general. One line of explanation is psychoacoustic, whereby the tempo of the drum enables the shaman to enter the desired brain wave state, which corresponds to the number of beats per second of the drum.
However, in the case of shamanism, it seems that the portable drum is highly suited for a performance in which action and gesture are the top lines. The physical gesture of playing the drum is often integrated into a shamanic dance. For this reason, the drumming is not restricted to regular tempo but may speed up and slow down with irregular accents. In some regions, the skin of a shaman’s drum should be cut after his/her death. In others, not.
2. The Rattle
The rattle, a must have for any true shaman, is almost as indispensable as the drum. It can help the shaman to achieve trance states, or draw negative entities out of the body, seal the aura after extractions and so much more.
3. The Flute
And finally, the flute, an instrument of air, that when properly used has the power to create an enchanting mystical atmosphere, to connect to Spirit or call benign spirits and higher beings. It lightens the heart, lifts the spirit, soothes the emotions and puts us in touch with our innermost self and all-that-is.
4. New additions – singing bowls and harps
Singing bowls and harps form the instrumental ensemble for most shamans these days due to their therapeutic attributes. Singing bowls produce a high pitch hum when their rim is struck by a wooden mallet. Harps, on the other hand, are string instruments that produce a wide range of sounds, most of which are conducive to the therapeutic aspect of the shaman’s performance.