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Ceremonial Peyote Music

Peyote drummerMusic is the central activity in peyote ceremonies and consists of singing and drumming. It has to be noted that as peyotism has developed into an intertribal activity, the ceremonies and the music are very similar between the traditions. As Willard Rhodes notes, songs are passed form one tribe to another. There are particularly four songs - the “Opening Song", the "Night Water Song", the "Morning Sunrise Song", and the "Closing Song” - that can be heard among different tribes, among them the Kiowa. Bruno Nettl wrote in the book “Music in Primitive Cultures”: “The songs of the peyote cult [...] are related in musical style to those of the Navajo and Apache. This may be due to the fact that the style could have spread [...] from the Lipan Apache”

In Kiowa ceremonies the instruments used are a water drum and a gourd rattle, in addition to the voice. The water drum is able to produce an organic sound with variable pitch through the movement of water in the body of the drum. The water drum is filled with water and freshly tied anew before each ceremony.

The old and new style

There is a basic distinction between “old style” and “new style” peyote songs. The old style songs are traditional peyote songs as they have been performed for decades and passed down from one generation to the next.

New style songs are newly written compositions and have developed only in recent years. They are often electronically enhanced, particularly with reverb, harmonization and electronic instruments. The Native American Church is putting emphasis on creating new songs, so everyone is encouraged write new songs. As a consequence there are now hundreds of new peyote songs available.


 Four Peyote Songs Led by Kevin Yazzie - Four Straight Songs - Cheevers Toppah, Kevin Yazzie

General Characteristics of peyote music

In the book “Peyote Music” David McAllester lists seven general characteristics of peyote music thats sets it apart from other tribal music:

1)  The songs are sung with a relatively 'mild' vocal technique;
2)  they are fast;
3)  the accompaniment is in eighth-note units running even with the voice and adding to the impression of speed;
4)  they are uniquely consistent in the use of only eighth and quarter-note values in the vocal melody;
5)  they have the usual plains phrase patterns but in addition show a significant incidence in paired patterns, restricted compass and unusually long and flat codas;
the finals show a cumulative use of the tonic for phrase endings;
7) at the end of the typical peyote song, as diagnostic as the Christian 'amen,' comes the phrase “he ne neyo wa”

Also, traditionally, “peyote songs are always sung by individuals, never in chorus”.


Peyote Songs Led By Louie Gonnie (Epicenter)


- Omer C. Stewart, Peyote Religion (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987)

- “The tracks of the little deer” last modified in 1992,

Willard Rhodes, "Music of the American Indians" (Washington: The Library of Congress, 1982), 15.

Nettl Bruno, Music in Primitive Cultures, (Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 1956)
- McAllester David P, Peyote Music. (New York: Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology, 1949)



Peyote Cacti