History of the Native American Flute: Where Spirit Takes Form

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Next to the drum, the most important Native American instrument is the flute. Earliest written accounts of explores and colonists often mention that the native peoples played ‘flutes’. Unfortunately, these accounts do not include pictures or descriptions of these instruments. It is probable that there were many different types of flutes in use, something confirmed by archeological evidence.

Native American Flute Features Unique Design

The ‘two chambered duct flute’, now commonly referred to as the Native American flute, is a design unique geographically to North America. A two-chambered duct flute has a slow air chamber at the head end of the flute into which air is blown. Then, there is a duct or channel, which conducts air from this chamber to the splitting edge where part of the air is directed down into the sound chamber or bore of the flute. A solid area separates these two chambers.

Unwritten History of Native Amercan Flutes

Due to the lack of a written language, the history of the Native American Flute is not very clear. In pre-Columbian times, Native peoples preserved their history in the form of stories that were passed from generation to generation. These stories told of how the people came to be who they are and where they are, offering accounts of how they acquired different aspects of their cultural heritage. Many of the tribes expressed these stories in the form of song. Ethnologists sometimes refer to these stories "creation myths&quot.

There are many such stories about how the flute was discovered, created, or given to Native people. A common one tells of a woodpecker, a hollow branch and the wind. Many others revolve around a young man wanting to attract the attention of a maiden.

The Hopi people have long had an organized group called a flute society. Among the Hopi, the flute is used by Flute Society members for ceremonial and healing purposes. It can be assumed that other Native American tribes had similar relationships to the flute. These ancient oral traditions usually confine the use of the flute to men, something that has changed in modern times.

Native American Flutes Today

Today, Native American flutes give pleasure to people all over the world. They are beautiful to look at, wonderful to hold, and magical to play. Native American style flutes are as satisfying for beginners as for seasoned musicians.

The Native American flute has achieved some measure of fame for its distinctive sound, used in a variety of New Age and world music recordings. The instrument was originally very personal; its music was played without accompaniment in courtship, healing, meditation, and spiritual rituals. Now it is played solo, along with other instruments or vocals, or with backing tracks both in Native American music and in other styles. There are two different types of Native American flute, the plains flute and the woodlands flute, each with slightly different construction.

1960s Roots Revival Centered on Native American Flute

The late 1960s saw a roots revival centered around the Native American flute, with a new wave of flutists and artisans like Doc Tate Nevaquaya and Carl Running Deer. Of special importance is R. Carlos Nakai, who has achieved mainstream renown for his mixture of the flute with New Age and ambient sounds. Mary Youngblood is the only Native American flautist to win two Grammy awards, although several others have been noted as Grammy nominees.

Notable and award winning Native American flautists include: Timothy Archambault, Charles Littleleaf, Jeff Ball, (Jeff Ball is non-Native)Douglas Blue Feather, Joseph Firecrow, Kevin Locke, Robert Mirabal, Jay Red Eagle, Robert Tree Cody, and David Atlas. A few classical composers have written for the Native American flute, including James DeMars, David Yeagley, Brent Michael Davids, and Philip Glass.

Buying Native American Flutes

Because Native American flute construction is significantly different than the construction of African, Asian or European flutes, it is now the accurate musical term for a wooden duct flute with a block whistle mechanism. As a result, any such flutes, even if they were made in Korea, can technically be sold as Native American flutes– just like Spanish guitars that were made in Cleveland Ohio are still called “Spanish guitars.” You have to look for the “made in Spain” label to find a guitar that is authentically from Spain, and you have to find an unambiguous statement that a flute is Native American made, if that is what you are looking for.

History of the Native American Flute:
Where Spirit Takes Form – Related Products

The following items are used in the above-article, or may provide added reference and helpful information.

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Now you can have the enjoyment of constructing your own "Love Flute" and adding your personal, distinctive finishing touches. The kit includes everything necessary to make a finished flute: 2 pre-hollowed flute halves in traditional, aromatic cedar, 2 leather thongs, reed material, pre-shaped volume control, simulated sinew & Native American Flutes booklet with illustrated assembly instructions and tips on learning how to play your flute, as described above.

Kit includes:

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The Art of the Native American Flute

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R. Carlos Nakai & James Demars - Divided into several sections, this well written book is a summation of Carlos Nakai's years as an educator, performer and student of the Native American flute. Covering everything from tuning, fingering, style, history and even a section on care and maintenance of the flute. Also included are numerous transcriptions of songs from Nakai's recordings. This book is an important source on the Native American flute and a concise review of the career and artistry of one of the most important ethnic artists in America. 121 pp: heavily illus. SC
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Also includes Chazanoff Flute Music Book (4106-004-074).

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Native American Courting Flute Manual & CD Set - Jeff Ball

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Jeff Ball's Native American Courting Flute Manual & CD Set is the best instructional manual & CD available For learning to play and maintain your flute. We've teamed up with well-known recording artist Jeff Ball to produce this enhanced version of the old "Trailhead" book along with a new CD!

Jeff covers all aspects of playing and caring for your flute, including the legend, getting started, melodies and advanced play, along with choosing your flute, trouble-shooting and song writing tips.

Included is music for several practice songs and scales, all in an easy-to-follow format. The 40 page manual comes with an interactive CD developed exclusively to go along with it, and contains many illustrations and several color photos.

The Native American Flute - Understanding the Gift (with CD)

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A CD and 90-page illustrated text combine to provide an interactive guide for learning to play a 6-hole Native American flute. It's comprehensive, covering basic notes, finger placement and breath control, various scales, and the basics of reading music notation while including 25 songs of both Indian and traditional popular culture. The author, a professional woodwind player and educator, presents six progressive lessons, each building on the skill and knowledge learned in the previous one. He also covers the flute's history and the techniques necessary to enhance the player's appreciation and mastery of this beautiful instrument.
Woodpecker River Cane Native American Flute

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Made by Native American flute craftsman Robert Bushy, these wonderful Native American flutes are fashioned from real river cane. Each flute is personally tuned and ready for use. The plain 6-hole river cane flute is approximately 22" long. The woodpecker flute, approximately 24" long, is hand-painted and adorned with feathers and cones to give it that individual appeal.

Traveling Flute

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Flute Songs of the Kiowa & Comanche- Indian House CD

Flute Songs of the Kiowa & Comanche- Indian House CD

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I'm Crying Looking for You. Learned from Ben Blackbear Sr.

Native American Love Flute Kit

Native American Love Flute Kit

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Make your own custome Native American Love Flute

Also known as a "courting flute", this kit provides everything you need to make a truly unique Native American Love Flute.

Cut from aromatic cedar, this kit includes:

  • two flute halves
  • "birdie"
  • sinew
  • leather lace
  • reed material
  • sandpaper
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Legend of the Native American Love Flute

People listen to and play the Native American flute for any number of reasons: reflection, meditation, relaxation, even prayer. According to the Lakota Legend of the Flute, this was not the intended purpose.

The "love flute," according to legend, was originally an instrument of courting. The legend speaks of a young man, while hunting in the forest, came upon a tree which had been eaten away by termites and pecked with holes by woodpeckers. As the wind stirred, a beautiful sound came from its branches. The young man removed a branch and returned to his village. This branch would become the first flute. As an instrument of courting, the flute was played only by men. It was believed that when a young man played his flute, the wind would carry the song into the heart of his chosen love. Read Lakota Love Flute Legend

Today, Native American flutes are used for many reasons besides courting, and more and more woman are making and playing flutes as well.

2016-12-21T23:48:11+00:00