All it takes is an hour of practice for you to be able to play the Native American flute and express your emotions beautifully. There has even been a study conducted on those who play the Native American flute which found that it made them more resilient to stress.
You don’t even need any experiences with playing instruments before you pick this one up, everyone should have an opportunity to make their own music and this Native American flute is the perfect way to do it!
What is a Native American Flute?
The Native American flute is a musical instrument originating from North America within indigenous cultures that is played like many other woodwind instruments, it is held in front of you with both hands with the mouth hole that is blown into.
There are two chambers in the flute, one for collecting the breath that you blow into it known as the slow air chamber, and another one for creating the sound called the sound chamber or pipe body.
There is a plug inside which is also known as the internal wall which separates these two chambers.
Depending on where the flute was made and the history it has, the way it is constructed can vary slightly but usually, there is a removable block on the outside of the flute known as a bird or totem and is tied onto the nest of the flute where the sound hole is and allows the air to move through a flue from the slow chamber into the sound chamber.
There are typically five or six open finger holes that make the melody and there is a special hole at the end of the sound chamber that makes the breath vibrate, causing the sound that you hear when you play it.
This flute has a distinctive warbling sound and is often said to sound like the quick back and forth between pitches but is actually due to the harmonic components changing in dominance.
This type of flute was traditionally made out of wood such as walnut, cedar, bamboo, and redwood, but if the wood was hard to come by, they would use any other material that could be fashioned into a long hollow tube such as gun barrels. Nowadays, the flute is also made of wood but can also be made from plastic, glass, and ceramics.
History of the Native American Flute
Unfortunately, there is no clear explanation that tells us how the Native American Flute was made, but there is one narrative that states that indigenous people had heard the hollow branches play notes as the wind blew through them one day after woodpeckers had pecked holes into them.
Another theory as to how the Native American flute came about was due to a young man who was trying to impress a girl by playing beautiful music which is why another popular name that the Native American flute goes by is the courting flute.
Native American people valued ceremonies that were also accompanied by music and singing, so it is reasonable to believe that the flute was also used in these circumstances.
It is said that the flute was only used by men for reasons that we are not sure of but may be due to having status within the tribe but nowadays, there is no such restriction.
As well as this, the way in which this type of flute was designed and used varies greatly in what tribe used it and what region they were in. However, the flute was used for similar reasons which were to tell stories and evoke emotion which they did an excellent job at.
The first flute that was believed to belong to the Native Americans was the Beltrami Native American flute and was found by Giacomo Costantino Beltrami, an Italian explorer as he traveled through North America in 1823.
Buying a Native American Flute
When hunting for a Native American flute, you should be careful as a lot of sellers will sell you a replica instead of the real deal. In order to avoid this, you should stick to buying from reputable sellers as you will get the most authentic experience of sound and ergonomics as you play.
You can find a wide variety of Native American flutes online with prices starting at $50.00 and going up to over $1000.00 depending on the quality of the flute and whether it is made of wood, plastic, ceramic, or metal. You can buy a flute online from Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and many more websites.
However, if you are not too worried about getting a real flute and are fine with having a replica that will still have similarities in sound and appearance then it’s absolutely fine to get a replica as it will also save you a bit of money as well.
Whatever flute you decide to buy, there are a few things that you will have to check before you buy it which can easily be done just by looking at it.
The first thing you will need to look at is the spacing between the finger holes. Sometimes the spaces can be too wide for your fingers to reach which is much more common on Native American flutes that are a higher key, so it’s best to go for a flute that is in A or G key as the holes will be closer together.
If you are in a physical store that sells Native American flutes, they would usually let you test it out before you buy, especially if it’s quite an expensive one as you want to make sure it’s right for you.
Test how hard you have to blow on it as you play as some flutes are much harder to play than others and if you’re a beginner, you will want to steer clear of these.
Having said this, you also don’t want a flue that over blows too easily which means that when all finger holes are covered, it jumps to the next octave without you meaning to.
Finally, the music that comes out of this flute is pretty, so it only makes sense that the flute is pretty too. Pick up a flute that you are drawn to and would be proud to play, and you will find that you will have a lot more motivation to stick with it and be surrounded by beautiful sound.
How To Play a Native American Flute?
Now that we have gone through all the things that are good to know about this flute, it is time to get to play it so that you can enjoy this wonderful instrument for what it is.
As we mentioned earlier, learning to play the Native American flute is easy and anyone with a set of lungs can give it a go.
Before you do anything, you must check that the bird is in the right place which is the removable block that sits on the bridge of the flute.
It is usually tied to the flute with a string that you can untie to adjust it so that it is lined up behind the sound hole so that it barely touches it. Once you have put it in the right place, tie the string so that it is sitting tight against the flute.
The next thing that you will have to do is learn how to hold your mouthpiece properly. This will help you to produce a better tone and make sure that you don’t end up blowing out your lips or tongue.
The next step is to practice holding the mouthpiece in place as well as getting used to breathing into it. Once you have mastered these two skills, you can move on to practicing the different notes that you will be using while playing American flute music.
To blow through the mouthpiece correctly, pucker your lips and place it under the top lip and on top of the bottom one. Seal your lips with a bit of pressure around the flute and this should result in your top lip partially sealing the blowhole which is also known as the embouchure.
You should note that there are three main types of Native American Flutes: the whistle, the warble, and the whistle-warble. Whistle and Warble are both considered whistling because they use whistling techniques, but they differ in their approach.
There are lots of different techniques that are a bit more advanced such as tonguing and note-bending, but you can move on to that later on once you have mastered blowing into the flute to create steady notes and moving your fingers between the holes.
With all of this knowledge in this guide, you are now ready to start playing. You could try starting off with simple scales before you move onto easy songs such as happy birthday, but it won’t take long for you to get to the stage where you will be impressing those around you with your flute playing.
The key is to keep going and look at the flute as a way to express your emotions and to tell a story instead of an instrument that you have to be good at which was how history intended!