Native American Flute

Native American flute is a simple, traditional musical instrument that has earned considerable fame owing to its distinct sound.

Though the Native American Indian flute is currently used for accompanying varieties of new age songs, originally it was a very personal instrument. It was used by the performer for healing, meditation, spiritual rituals and courtship and thus had obtained an alternative name “love flute”. There are several speculations regarding the actual discovery of flute. However, the theory that it was developed by the ancient Pueblos based on Mesoamerican designs, sound most plausible.

Next to drum, flute happens to be the most important musical instrument of the American Indian people. There are several myths surrounding the tribal people relating to flute and one of the most famous is that of the hunchback flute player Kokopelli who came to the people of southwest America and brought them gifts and songs. The flute was and still is revered by several tribes as a sacred instrument through which they communicate their prayer to the creator. It is by far, the simplest instrument to play.

The American Indian flutes can be divided into two types – the plains flute and the woodlands flute. These Native American flutes are the sole ones in the world with two air chambers – the top (slow) air chamber and the bottom one with whistles and finger holes. A wall inside the flute divides them. The upper chamber acts as a secondary resonator with a hole at the bottom of it and a square hole at the top of playing chamber. There is a block or “bird” attached on top of the flute.

In case of plains flute, a spacer or a channel is added into the block itself whereas in case of woodlands flute a channel is carved into the top of the flute. It is worth mentioning that some of the modern American Indian flute called “drone” flutes entail two separate flutes built together into one.

Coming to its construction part the traditional flute of the Native American people was made as per the measurements of human body. The flute’s length was the distance from armpit to wrist whereas the length of the top air chamber and the distance between the whistle and the first hole were both one fist-width.

The distance between the holes was one thumb width whereas that from the last hole to the end was width of one fist. Mostly, the Native American flutes contain five or six holes and they are played on minor pentatonic scales. However, there can be seven to nine holes as well as no holes at all.

Most of the Native American flutes are made from wood. Generally flute players because of their brighter tones prefer softwoods and Juniper and Redwood are specifically popular for nice aroma. Hardwoods like walnut and cherry are also used for the richness of sound. Though river cane, bamboo or local wood was mostly used in traditional flutes, currently rainforest woods and even plastics are used for the purpose.

Originally, the construction of Native American flutes varied from that of all other countries and today it is almost impossible to find a flute carved by authentic Native Americans. It is because, “the Native American flutes” is now used as a technical musical term to refer to any wooden duct flute with a block whistle mechanism, not withstanding the place of its origin or the maker.

However, if you want authenticity then go for the IACA Seal. You can shop for those flutes from the websites or from other outlets. In the recent times, Butch Hall has earned the reputation of being one of the best flute makers. Moreover, he has released his own flute album like ‘Wind Dancing’, ‘Sonoran nights’ etc. These apart, you can also go for customized flutes carved from the wood of your choice.

So if your musical instincts have suddenly become active, then without any delay get your own Native American flute today and experience the ecstasy of playing the soothing and expressive tune all by yourself.

Joseph Paige 2006

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