Native Flutes

The history of the native flutes gives a whole new meaning to the Hollywood coined storytelling phrase, “this one time, at band camp…”, because as is evident by studying Native American Indians, they thrive on telling stories and carrying on legends.

The native flutes are no exception, and rumor has it that they were discovered by woodpeckers putting holes into hollow branches as they searched for termites.  The wind blew through the branches and made a beautiful whistling sound that the Indians liked and attempted to recreate.  Realists suggest that the development of the native flutes was far less a product of nature, than by the manmade determination of the Ancient Pueblo people.

There are two main types of native flutes; the plains flute and the woodlands flute, though the difference between the two are subtle.  These carefully crafted and intricately detailed flutes are made out of a variety of hard and soft woods depending on the desired tones.  Traditionally they were crafted by using individual measurements based on the body of the musician.  For example, the length of the flute would be constructed based on the distance between the armpit and the wrist, for optimum practicability.  Although time has afforded people the opportunity to discover variations, most of the flutes are based on the pentatonic (or piano) scale known to almost all musicians.

The native flutes were, and sometimes still are used in Native American ceremonies like Chief appointments, coming of age ceremonies, weddings and other celebrations.  The flute playing talent is shared by male and female Native Americans and their ability to play is thought of as a musical gift given by the gods that surround them.  Although these instruments once had a very practical purpose, they are now often used as a decoration or to make New Age or meditation music.

Joseph Paige 2006

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