My Medicine Drum ~ A Personal Journey


SOL’s Drum Making Weekend Workshop (advertised here in an earlier blog post) was held last weekend (17th-19th July) at Camp Coutts – a scout camp at Waterfall, in southern Sydney, NSW. Never having made a drum before it was a totally new experience for me, and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Day 1 – Friday 17th

We arrived at the camp on the Friday night and got ourselves settled in for the weekend. The weekend also coincided with SOL’s usual Dark Moon Circle so we conducted our ritual on the Friday night, and took the opportunity to tap into the energies around us and those of the upcoming New Moon in Cancer and the Total Solar Eclipse on the 22nd. We used the Medicine Wheel for our meditation, healing and to connect to our guides and totem animals. By the power of the Dragons the circle was blessed cleansed and sanctified, the 8 directions with their corresponding animal spirit guides were called in and our intent was stated, followed by a meditation on the Fox, an animal which has appeared in many forms to various members of our circle over the past few weeks.

During Friday night’s meditation I received some information about my drum – that it would be aligned with the west, water and healing. I saw beautiful blue ribbon tied to it (similar to that on the Mongolian Shamans’ drums which I first saw in photos included in the book and website for The Horse Boy) which I will find and use to decorate the drum and the beater.

Day 2 – Saturday 18th

Saturday morning saw the beginning of our work on the drums. The skins and rims had been laid out around the fire circle for us to choose from, each of us being drawn to a particular skin and rim for whatever personal reasons.

drumj1Skins & rims laid out waiting to be chosen.

One by one we went into the main hall, each person ritually cleansed in white sage smoke before entering, where we gathered in a circle to take part in another meditation, this time specifically to connect with the spirit of our kangaroo and symbolically with the timber of our drum rims. During this second meditation I connected with the spirit of a gentle female kangaroo and that of the Angophora tree (knowing full well that in reality my drum rim was more likely maple or some other non-native wood). I received further confirmation that my drum is associated with water, the colour blue and is to be used for healing and that I also needed to attach a small quartz crystal point to the lacing on the back of it. I knew that to have a tangible connection to Angophora, my drum beater was to be made from that type of tree.

After the meditation we proceeded to work on our drums. The first step was to lay out the skin and select the area we wanted to use for the drumhead. The remaining skin would then be cut into a long strip to use for lacing the drum.

drumj2Rim placed on skin, showing outer circle marked for cutting.

drumj3Drumhead has been cut out & remaining skin cut into a thin strip for the lacing.

I had a slight problem working out how best to get the maximum length of lacing cut from the remaining roo skin and after a couple of failed attempts at cutting the strips in zig zags I ended up with three shorter pieces instead of one continuous strip. However, it all worked out in the end and I had plenty of lacing to finish my drum with.

The lacing was then gathered and pegged onto the skin using clothes pegs and each person’s roo skin bundle was placed into a large bin of water to soak overnight.

While the skins were soaking we spent the rest of the day searching the surrounding bushland for appropriate sticks to use for our drum beaters, making our beaters, and sanding the timber rims smooth (any rough spots could cause the stretched drumhead to eventually tear with use).

I headed for one of a few Angophora trees (Angophora costata, known as Sydney Red Gum or Smooth-barked Apple),  searched underneath it and found a suitable stick, which then needed to be cut to length, have the pinkish bark picked off and be sanded smooth before being transformed into my drum beater. These trees also grow in the bushland near my home so perhaps that is why I feel an affinity with them.

There was a large collection of leather samples to choose from, to make the heads of our drum beaters, so I carefully selected a colour I liked, as well as 2 different leather lacings to bind it with. I glued the wadding into place on the stick, then  stretched the leather over it and bound it tightly.

drumj16My drum beater.

Day 3 – Sunday 19th

Sunday morning we were up early and eager to continue work on our drums. We collected our bundles of skin and lacing from the water bins, then awaited instructions on how to proceed.

drumj5The soaked drumhead & lacings, still pegged together, straight out of the water.

To get the hole spacing even we folded the drumheads in half, marked the positions for the first two holes, then folded in half again, at 90 deg. to the first fold to mark out the second two holes, then across both diagonals for the next four holes. The other 16 holes were marked by eye, between the 8 already done. Using a hammer and hole punch we proceeded to cut the holes around the edge of the drumhead.

drumj4Soaked drumhead (with holes punched around edge) and lacings …ready to go.

Next we started lacing our drums, very loosely at first, by crisscrossing from hole 1 to 13, back to 2 then 14, back to 3 then 15 etc, working in an anticlockwise (sunwise) direction, each person gradually adding something of their personal energy to their drum.

drumj6The lacing is started (and kept wet for easy working).

Once the lacing was completed we then had to carefully readjust the position of the skin if necessary, to keep the rim centered on the drumhead, then go around tightening each lace one by one. This could be very confusing as it was easy to lose track of which lace to pull to continue in the right direction, and in the beginning I found myself going back the wrong way, accidentally loosening what I had just tightened, until I worked out my own system of keeping a hand on each side and only letting go to move on to the next strand in the correct order. Eventually, after about 4 times around the drum with this confusing and painstaking process, and two breakages which were fixed by tying knots in the lacing, my laces were tight enough.

A 2m length of lacing was left at each end, to be used to wrap the first two groups of four laces. One 2m length was pulled back into the lacing to tie off as close to the exact centre of the drum as possible, then wrapping proceeded from the centre to the outer edges, finishing with weaving in and out of the lacings where they were too far apart to wrap. The end was tucked under and held in place by a clothes peg. Once the skin dried these cut ends would not be able to pull out of place.

drumj7Laces have been tightened & the first two groups have been wrapped together.

A 4m length of lacing was cut, then tied in the centre of the drum, leaving 2m to wrap each opposite side. This was repeated for the remaining pair of groups of 4 laces.

drumj8One more to go…

drumj9The finished drum – pegs left in place until laces dry hard & can’t unwrap.

drumj10Edge of drum showing decorative twisted cord wrapped around rim.

The whole process was very time consuming but we managed to get all this done almost in the time allotted before we were supposed to be out of the scout camp. We were a little late leaving but that didn’t matter. After packing up and thoroughly cleaning the areas we used we left those facilities much cleaner than they were when we arrived. 😀

We took some group photos, then said our goodbyes and after much hugging, we finally left, all very happy with our drums and the weekend’s activities.

Of course there was lots of other fun stuff that happened, such as the  camaraderie around the campfire on the Saturday night and the atmosphere of friendship and fun in general, and of course the fantastic food! We never starve at SOL gatherings, LOL! As this is my personal blog, naturally I’ve concentrated on my drum making experience, but there’s more photos of our weekend on the SOL website.

My Journey Continues at Home… Day 4 – Monday 20th

Making my beater was a journey in itself, which continued after I returned home at the end of the weekend. I remade my drum beater …twice (anal retentive perfectionism …I know, LOL). When I got home I tried out my beater on my previously purchased drum and wasn’t happy with the sound it made (more like the toneless thwack of hitting a cardboard box) so I pulled the beater apart and redid it, this time removing some of the wadding so it wasn’t as soft. I also felt it was appropriate to add to my beater some of the leftover lacing from my drum,  to make the connection with the spirit of the roo and the Angophora as presented to me in my meditation.

I still wasn’t happy with version 2 of the beater, so I pulled it apart yet again, this time turning the leather covering inside out so the softer side hit the drum skin. This produced a much better sound, more like the beater which I bought with my first drum, which was covered with suede leather rather than shiny polished leather.

drumbeatersLeft to right: First, second then third (final) version of my drum beater.

I also decided to put masking tape around the rim to hold down some of the skin, to stop it sticking out and looking untidy (in my opinion anyway).

drumj11Masking tape was applied to keep the edges folded flat against rim.

Day 5 – Tuesday 21st

The drum skin was dry enough to stay in place once the masking tape was removed. I also removed the pegs as those ends of the lacings are also dry and stiff and won’t come undone.

drumj12The skin has dried & hardened enough for the masking tape to be removed.

drumj13…showing the outside edge, now neatly folded.

drumj14…and the inside.

drumj15Drum and beater.

There is still more work to be done on my drum and beater; decorating with the blue ribbon as envisaged in my meditation and also adding the quartz crystal. I’ll add more photos here as the journey progresses.

Day 6 – Wednesday 22nd

I still haven’t disposed of the remaining lacing so I decided to use some to attach a quartz crystal to my drum.

drumj17Quartz crystal.

The lacing wrapped around the beater shrank as it dried and was showing a few gaps so I wrapped more around that as well to cover the gaps.

Day 8 – Friday 24th

Although I was very pleased with the drum after adding the quartz crystal I kept getting the sense that the drum was unbalanced and it needed another crystal on the opposite side …but which crystal to add? I searched my crystal collection and eventually decided on Apatite, a crystal I’ve had for many years but never really utilized adequately. I initially felt drawn to it because of its blue colour, which for me associates it with water and healing, and seems very appropriate given my drum is aligned with water and is to be used for healing. According to the book Love is in the Earth by Melody, Apatite vibrates to the number 9. So I looked up the numerology of 9 and found this very synchronistic info… Nine energy flows like water and is reflective of universal love. Nine is also three times three, the magical number.

Right from the start this crystal just felt “right” but after reading the rest of its properties I was convinced I had made the right choice, as its healing properties also encompassed a lot of other issues that are important to me (although they’ve not all been discussed on this blog so they might not appear relevant to others reading this).


Apatite is a perfect crystal for representing water. It has inspirational properties. The interface point between consciousness and matter, it is a stone of manifestation and promotes a humanitarian attitude, inclining toward service. Apatite is attuned to the future, yet connects to past lives. It develops psychic gifts and spiritual attunement.

Psychologically, Apatite increases motivation and builds up energy reserves. It induces openness and social ease, dissolving aloofness and alienation. It draws off negativity about oneself and others. It is helpful for hyperactive and autistic children. Stimulating creativity and intellect, Apatite clears confusion and helps to access information to be used personally and for the collective good.

Physically, Apatite heals bones and encourages formation of new cells. It aids absorption of calcium and helps cartilage, bones, teeth and motor skills, and ameliorates arthritis and joint problems. This stone suppresses hunger and raises the metabolic rate, encouraging healthy eating; heals the glands, meridians, and organs; and overcomes hypertension.

It balances the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies, and the chakras, eliminating overactivity and stimulating underactivity. Used with other crystals, Apatite facilitates results.

Blue Apatite connects to a very high level of spiritual guidance. It facilitates public speaking, reduces stuttering, enhances group communication, opens the throat chakra, and heals the heart and emotional dis-ease.

The Crystal Bible by Judy Hall

drumj18Apatite Crystal

Unfortunately the piece of skin I used to strap in the Apatite crystal has dried a different colour to the rest. It has also shrunk rather unevenly. This annoys my perfectionist tendencies no end, but I’m just going to have to learn to live with it because strapping in a smooth, rounded tumble stone turned out to be rather difficult and took a couple of tries to get it right. I might ruin the drum if I remove it to try again.

drumj19Blue Apatite & Clear Quartz Crystals

Day 9 – Saturday 25th

OK, I know I said the third version of my drum beater was the final version, but as things turned out, that was not to be, LOL. After using it to beat my other drum for a while (this new one was not yet dry enough to beat) I realised the beating end was too heavy and the handle end needed something soft wrapped around it. So I pulled it apart again and made some more modifications. Once again it has some roo skin wrapped onto it but it still needs to have more decoration added …something blue, preferably some of whatever I add to the drum so they match.

drumj20Drum Beater – early stage of version 4

Day 16 – Saturday 1st – Painting the Drum

I finally came up with a design I was happy with so the next step was to draw it on a piece of paper, sized to fit inside the drum.

drumj21My drum design

I wanted something to represent water, and I also liked the idea of the Ouroboros, so I drew my representation of a water dragon ouroboros. The swim fins on the dragon are also reminiscent of gum leaves, making a visual connection with the Angophora tree. Next I placed the paper design inside the drum and taped it into place against the skin, and put the whole thing on a light box so I could trace the design onto the outside of the drumhead.

drumj22Paper design taped to the inside of the drum.

drumj23…on the light box

If you don’t have a light box you could put an upturned desk lamp under a glass topped coffee table, or if that’s not possible you can just hold your drum up against a sunny window to see the design through the skin and trace it with a pencil.  Make the pencil lines very faint otherwise they can show through when you paint the drum.

drumj24The painting …stage 1

After looking online for info about painting natural skin drums the few sites I did manage to find mostly recommended acrylic paint. However, oil paints can also be used, although they can take weeks to dry unless a drying agent is added to the paint to accelerate the drying time. Some sites also recommended a coat of clear sealant after the painting is complete. Although many people do paint designs and pictures in the middle of their drums I decided it would be best not to paint in the area where the drum is beaten because no matter which type of paint or ink is used it’s eventually going to look rather worn, and in the case of acrylic paint especially, it could even crack and flake off.

drumj25The drum so far…

The main body of the dragon and the fins are done with metallic silver acrylic paint. The black outline and the silver dots are done with paint pens – the type that look like felt marker pens but have paint in them instead of ink. There’s still lots more to be done, but that will do for now …its 2am and I really should be asleep. 😀

Day 17 – Sunday 2nd

drumj25aExtra set of fins added to dragon

drumj26Water droplets added around the edge

drumj274 different types of water droplets 🙂

Day 22 – Friday 7th

Today I finally coated the drum with a protective layer of clear varnish. The product I used was “Crystal Kote – Matt” (manufactured by Helmar) bought from “Riot” art supplies shop in Miranda Westfield. I did a couple of test strips by painting some of the leftover lacing, just to check that it looked ok and didn’t attack the paint. Trouble is, it doesn’t actually say whether it’s acrylic or what it actually is, but it is for spraying on acrylic paintings, among many other things, and it is acid free and non-yellowing. This was actually the third can of spray clear coating that I bought and did test strips with.

The first product I tried was “Boyle’s Matt Spray Finishing Sealer” from Lincraft, but it didn’t say what it actually was either. Although it too was for spraying on all manner of artwork, it made the paint pens I used run and go dull. The second spray I bought was automotive clear acrylic top coat. It looked really good and didn’t make the colours run but because it was gloss it would have made the drum look too shiny and plastic, and being meant for cars it did set a little harder than the others and might not have been very flexible. I really didn’t think it would be so hard to find a suitable clear acrylic top coat. I even tried at the Games Workshop hoping to get a can of the clear acrylic spray my son said they sold for the Warhammer models, but no luck there either. They no longer sold the spray cans and only had the clear acrylic in their tiny and ridiculously over-priced bottles for brush painting.

Oh well, the drum has been coated, and the sound of the drum hasn’t been changed by it, so it’s all good so far. 🙂

Day 24 – Sunday 9th

I finally finished wrapping and tying on ribbons, plus adding a final layer of roo skin to thicken the ties at the back to make them more comfortable to hold. The ribbons represent the healing flow of water …especially when the person receiving the healing is lying down and the drum is held in a horizontal position, as is the case when I “drum” my youngest son (which he enjoys immensely and says that he feels very relaxed after the drumming).




Day 25 – Monday 10th

Today I painted raindrop designs on the handle of the drum beater and tied blue ribbon onto the end of the handle. I will  use the gloss acrylic spray to coat the raindrop paintings and the exposed timber  on the handle of the beater.

Day 29 – Friday 14th

I finally got a chance to spray the beater with a clear acrylic top coat. I masked the leather by taping a freezer bag over each end of the beater before painting.


The final version of the beater …really!! 😀

Finally, my drum and beater are finished! WOOHOO!!!!! …well, almost. It still has to be consecrated and activated, which will be done at our next Dark Moon Circle, when everyone who made a drum will bring theirs along. This is when our drums will come ‘alive’ so to speak. And of course I also have to make a storage/carry bag for it.


My completed drum and beater!


Day 36 – Friday 21st

drumj36Today I finally made the carry bag for my drum, as I needed something to put it in to take it to our Dark Moon Circle tonight. I checked through my supply of assorted fabric scraps and lengths being kept “just in case” and found I had enough fabric-backed vinyl leftovers to make the bag if I used two colours. I used black cotton fabric to make a bag for my previously purchased drum, a Celtic  bodhran styled frame drum, but decided for this one a more weather proof bag would be better. Luckily the most plentiful was the blue (leftover from recovering a motorbike seat years ago) and black (from one of many things I made …can’t remember exactly what though). I finished sewing at 7:00pm, which left just 30 minutes to get ready and drive to circle …hmm, I really do leave things to the last minute at times.


Drum bag showing beater in front pocket.



I mentioned earlier about the need for the drum to be consecrated. Here’s some more info about that…

Drum Consecrating

The drum is the main tool of the shaman; the drum enables the shaman to call spirits by means of sounds. The drum is not only a musical instrument, but it is also symbolic of the universe.

The drum is one of the main helpers of the shaman and is the symbol of his or her strength. This is indicated by the ritual of animating the drum.

It is the belief that the new drum had no powers, and it should not be used for religious rites, as it might break. Therefore, the ritual of initiation or animation is conducted so that the drum becomes alive.

10 thoughts on “My Medicine Drum ~ A Personal Journey

  1. Thank you for describing the process and taking all those photos! means I will have some idea when I get around to making my own!

    And can’t wait to see it once it has been finished!


  2. Thanks Foxy 🙂 …drum making is certainly a very satisfying activity …you’ll enjoy making yours eventually. Although, the fiddly bits of how exactly to decorate it can take a bit more time, LOL. I’m hoping I can get mine finished before the next Dark Moon.


  3. Jenny fantastic work on your drum, I don`t know where you get time time but good on you.
    All I had time for is trimming the sides, but I have ideas a plenty. lol.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.