Native American Flute Primer

Evoking the soothing textures of a world distanced from the hustle and bustle of daily life, the Native American flute’s beautiful sound and rich heritage mesmerize all. As the flute is one of the oldest instruments (one example dates back as far as 40,000 years), it is no surprise that these instruments carry a rich heritage.

The Native American flute is a standard instrument in many Native American cultures and is growing as common instrument in New Age, Jazz, and Pop styles. Typically the instrument was used as a courting instrument by men, with women rarely playing the instrument. There is evidence that the flute was also used for cermonies, but many of these rituals have been lost to time. Today, artists such as R. Carlos Nakai, Mary Youngblood, and St. Louis’ Mark Holland carry on the tradition and push the instrument into new directions.

The mythical Kokopelli

Traditionally, the flute was carved from a branch of wood. The individual finger holes were placed to fit the performer and not to a specific scale. With the introduction of the flute into modern music, design changes have been implemented such as tuning the notes to specfic pentatonic (5 note) scales and desigining the instruments for specific keys (F# being one of the most common).

Many builders are very aware of the tonal properties of the wood as well. Cedar is the most common wood used as it produces a thick and warm tone. Other woods used include spruce (which has a brighter and louder tone) and redwood (which is very similar to cedar). Some makers have taken to using PVC or other plastics. This has been highly controversial among many traditionalists, but offers a novice a somewhat cheaper option when buying a flute.

So what should one look for when buying a flute? The simplest answer is tone. A well mdae flute will have a loud resonant tone, while a lesser flute will sound constricted. The fipple (the small adjustable piece on the top of the flute) should be easily adjustable, but secured tightly to the instrument for maximum tone. As stated above, one should begin with an F# or G flute as the instruments are the easiest to play with reagrds to finger spacing and breath control. While other larger flutes (low A) and smaller flutes (high A) provide an extended range, proper tone production is much more difficult.

Music Folk carries a wide assortment of Native American flutes, books of music, and CD’s of internationally acclaimed artists.

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