Native Americans take great pride in their culture band. This is evident in their lifestyles, regalia, art forms, and beliefs.
To such an extent that, did you know that the name “Native American Flute” is a property right of Native American people?
Well, now, you do.
Legally, a native American flute is one that’s made by an enrolled member of a registered Native American tribe.
Technicalities aside, though, “Native American flute” has now become the accurate musical term for a wooden duct flute with a block whistle mechanism.
Whether you need to get one for meditation, entertainment, dance, religious ceremonies, and rituals or merely as a decorative item, this detailed review is sure to come in handy.
Best Native American Flutes In 2021 Reviewed
Types of Native American Flutes
There are two distinct styles of Native American flutes: Plains Flutes and Woodlands Flutes. There’s no consensus as to what this naming style means.
One school of thought is that the Plains Flute originated from the grasslands, whereas the Woodlands Flute originated from the wooded regions.
Just as well, the differences between these two styles are very subtle and often has to do with the way air is flowing through the bird. Plains Flutes have the air channel cut into the bird, whereas Woodlands Flutes have the airway cut into the flute’s body under the bird.
Generally, these two flute designs are different in how they are shaped, how they create sound, and their fingering holes.
Nonetheless, these are the two styles commonly used to distinguish between Native American flute designs.
1) Plains Flutes
The Plains Flute is the most widely manufactured and recognized Native American flute.
This flute goes by a variety of names, including Courting Flute, Love Flute, Cedar Flute, or Two-Chambered Duct Flute.
This instrument’s superior appeal lies in the fact that it’s easy to play and produces a deeply satisfying sound.
Standard identifying features of a Plains Flute include:
- The flue can be carved either into the flute or in the block.
- A tapered mouthpiece that fits between the lips.
- Holes that are drilled or bored.
- Constructed with a sharp splitting edge on the second soundhole.
- Uses a spacer plate to create the flue.
- Traditionally built from Cedar.
- Uses an external block or wide leather strap to make the whistle.
- Has a “buzzy” reedy timbre.
- Generally, 5-holed.
- The nest area is level or lowered into the flute.
One of the oldest museum-held Plains Flute in existence is estimated to have been constructed sometime between 1800 and 1825. This cedar flute is wrapped in intestine and comes with a spacer and block.
2) Woodlands Flutes
You may also have heard this flute being referred to as the Eastern Woodlands Flute.
The appeal of this instrument lies in the fact that it has a very clear tone and strong sound.
Standard identifying features of a Woodlands Flute are:
- The flue is carved into the body of the flute.
- A blunted mouthpiece that fits against the lips.
- Holes are burned with rods.
- Constructed with a blunted cutting edge on the second soundhole.
- Has a “mellow” timbre.
- Generally, 6-holed.
- The nest area is raised.
- Usually, they have a larger bore diameter, which allows for friendlier hole spacing.
- Typically uses as fingering for the octave note.
The Woodlands style places the focusing channel in the flute’s barrel, and this, together with the blunt fipple edge, gives a more rounded and warm sound. Unlike the buzzy timbre, you get with a plains flute.
This instrument’s friendlier spacing means that a player with smaller hands would find it easier to play lower keys on a Woodlands Flute.
How to Choose A Native American Flute
A Native American flute has just two chambers: a top mouth chamber and a bottom resonating chamber. An internal wall separates these two chambers.
Depending on which tribe is making the flutes, you will find that there are variations in the flutes’ lengths and the number of holes on the flute’s barrel. A flute may have 2,3,4,5,6,7 or even 8 holes.
Generally, your choice of a flute will be based on the flute’s hand-ability, durability, affordability, and ease of breath control.
Let’s zero in of these factors by assessing various aspects of a flute, i.e.:
When considering the size of the instrument, your decision will be based on how large your hands are, and how you want your music to sound.
A small and narrow flute will result in a high-pitched sound, whereas a longer, wider flute will give off a deeper tone.
A flutist should be able to cover the flute’s tone holes completely in that there are no air leaks.
This means that the most essential comfort factor on a Native American flute is the distance between the finger holes on the flute’s barrel.
Most flute makers try to ensure that the finger holes on their flutes are set an inch apart, at least for flutes up to F#4.
The general rule here would be if you’ve never played a Native American flute before, don’t buy anything larger than F#.
Key of The Flute
Modern Native American flutes are all tuned to a specific pentatonic minor key, and one can only play notes in that key.
A flute’s key is determined by the size of the flute and the hole placement on the flute’s barrel.
On a lower keyed flute, if the Chromatic notes (cross-fingered notes) are to be of equal volume and in tune, then the tone holes should be located farther apart.
As such, the lower the key of the flute, the farther apart the finger holes will be. This is especially true for the ring and index fingers on the right hand, used to cover the holes at the bottom of the Plains Flute.
A, G, and F# (F-sharp) are often regarded as comfortable keys for first-time flutists. On these flutes, the player’s fingers naturally cover the holes without having to stretch into awkward positions.
However, you might notice that on an F# flute, the ring finger has a slightly greater reach than on a G flute. Therefore, F flutes are generally better suited for players with larger hands.
D and C flutes require quite a bit of breath control and finger flexibility, which means that these flute keys are best suited for more experienced players.
Besides A, G, F#, D, and C, you can also find flutes in other keys such as G#, E, F, and low C.
Single Flutes Vs. Drone Flutes
Single flutes look just like what you’d expect a flute to look like.
Drone flutes are also known as dual-chambered flutes.
These flutes will play a drone through the left chamber and a melody through the right chamber. There’s only one set of finger holes, though, so what happens is that the drone chamber echoes/reverberates the melodic chamber.
A drone flute gives off a much richer sound that may even sound like two flutes are being played.
Mid-Octave (alto/tenor) Flutes are melodious and have a warm tone. These flutes are in the Keys of A (above middle C) through E (below middle C)
High-Octave (treble) Flutes have a faster vibration rate and a higher tone. This makes these flutes sound lively and energetically simulating, thereby rendering them perfect for dance.
Low-Octave (bass) Flutes have a lower rate of vibration and, consequently, a lower tone. These flutes give off a resonant and deep sound that slows you down and puts you in a relaxed, meditative mood.
A lower keyed flute is bigger and heavier, which makes it more challenging to hold and play. Also, the tone holes are farther apart.
The wood used to make the flute will affect its sound and weight.
Hardwood (e.g., Walnut) Flutes are heavier and produce a cold bright tone and clear sound.
Softwood (e.g., Pine, Spruce, and Cedar) Flutes are lighter in weight, and they produce a warm, soft sound that’s rich and resonant.
For this reason, you may find that an Aromatic Cedar F# sounds different from a walnut F#.
Pine and Cedar flutes are very popular in the southwest.
Native American flutes are known for their exceptional craftsmanship and beauty, so it doesn’t hurt to get an instrument that you find visually appealing.
Besides, this way, you can better express your personality, not only musically but also visually, based on the type of flute you are playing.
Some flutes may even come with beads and feathers, to further enhance their appearance and give it that authentic look and feel.
How to Make A Native American Flute
Tip #1: Sourcing the Wood
Choose your wood based on availability, feel, workability, moisture and rot resistance, and the desired sound you wish to get from the instrument.
While softwoods give a mellow sound, hardwoods create sharper tones.
Bamboo is a popular choice for many people because it is readily available and is also hollow, so you won’t struggle to create the inner chambers of the flute. Also, the divisions on a bamboo stem make it easier for you to learn about ratios (inner bore diameter in proportion to the length of the flute).
The following video shows how easily you can go about making a bamboo flute using just a hacksaw and a pocket knife!
If you want a true wooden flute and not one made from bamboo, you can use either branches or lumber.
Tip #2: Gather Your Tools
Now, making a flute using other woods won’t merely involve a hacksaw, and a pocketknife, as the video above illustrates.
You would need a workbench, and more sophisticated tools, including gun drills, routers, lathes, sanding machines, etc.
If you are willing to spend money on these machines, you may go on ahead and buy them. Alternatively, you may also opt to rent them, seeing as some tools can be quite expensive.
One thing to note is that, in many cases, you do not need power tools to build a flute. Everything can be done using gouges, knives, wood files, chisels, and other standard non-power hand tools.
However, as the video below illustrates, using power tools can conveniently make your flute-making process that much easier and faster.
Tip #3: Use Precise Measurements
To get the right sound out of the flute, you would need to use precise measurements.
This is because constructing a functioning flute basically involves understanding the fundamentals of the sound mechanism and the ratios involved.
More about this is discussed below:
How to Play A Native American Flute for Beginners
FAQs About The Best Native American Flutes
What Materials Are Native American Flutes Often Made Of?
Traditionally, Native American flutes could be made from bone, bamboo, clay, river cane, and different woods.
Modern Native American style flutes may be constructed using hardwoods (e.g., Walnut), softwoods (e.g., Cedar), bamboo, or plastic. You may also come across a ceramic or glass flute every once in a while.
What Key Is A Native American Flute In?
The key of a flute is the lowest note (fundamental note) that flute can play, and Native American style flutes come in different keys.
Flutes in the key of A, G, or F# are comfortably sized, making them suitable for novice players.
Lower-toned flutes in the key of F, E, D, or C are longer, making them better suited for more experienced flutists.
Why Does My Native American Flute Squeak?
There are essentially only two possible explanations behind a squeaky flute:
- Not covering the holes completely.
- Blowing way too hard, thereby making the flute jump up in pitch.
The humble Native American flute has survived many generations. And why wouldn’t it?
The instrument produces a beautiful sound enjoyed by many music enthusiasts and excellent musicians alike.
A Native American flute is more than a mere musical instrument. It is an emblem – an art piece that holds great cultural and aesthetic significance.
Picking one up and playing it just might prove to be one of the most transcendental moments of your entire life.