Flutes Of Native Americans
Many musicians and players of flutes (woodwind instruments) are familiar with the sounds of this ancient musical instrument of the Native Americans of the western plains of the United States. It is said to have originated as a "love instrument” in the beautiful area we now call Monument Valley in the southwest.
Early Native Americans spent many days searching for the proper kinds of wood to carefully carve this very special musical instrument. Following the long period of painstaking carving by hand were many more days of dedicated practice to learn how to play and thus create the hauntingly beautiful sounds that could then be produced in no other way.
The principal use of this breath-powered musical instrument (now called a woodwind instrument) was to help a courting male get the attention of the young girl he had fallen in love with. Many of the melodies played on these flutes were created to promote and illustrate - in gentle breath-like sounds - the heartfelt passion in the young brave's heart for the girl of his choice. We are told that the courting flute eventually became a part of the brave's family life.
Flutes were played during many family gatherings. To many Native Americans, the flute was and is considered a sacred instrument and it is still used in many ceremonial ways. It was thought of as a way for humans to communicate with the Spirit. The music of the flute is also thought to have healing properties. Even today, Native Americans use their flutes in hospitals to bring about healing. It seems the healing is somehow related to the vibrations of the flute and their mysterious effects or influence on a sick person’s body, soul and spirit. Many people are now both listening to and playing these unique flutes in order to attempt to reap the healing benefits that were once recognized by, and so much a part of, the Native American’s tribal beliefs and culture.
When a flute’s owner reached old age and he died, his flute was always buried at his side so he could take it with him on his journey to the happy hunting grounds of his heavenly life after his earthly life here was finished.
Other songs, such as those played at tribal meetings, help us almost hear, with a touch of homesickness, the gentle winds as they drift and flow in and around the jagged, rugged, mysterious and majestic contours of those castle-like, towering and windblown formations we know now as the “monuments” of Monument Valley.
Today many, Native American Flutes are made by craftsmen all over the world. Even so, these flutes are always patterned after and made in the original Native American style. These modern craftsmen are quite careful to make their refined and polished flutes very close replicas and thus nearly exact copies of the original flutes produced so carefully and lovingly by the ancient Native Americans. Originally, the Native Americans used measurements such as: the length of a thumb or the distance from the clenched fist to the elbow. But, since these measurement vary from person to person, modern day flutes have standardized those measurements so that
it is now practical for modern Native American style flutes to be played in concert.
A modern flute can be electronically tuned to an "F" fundamental note. Of course, a flute can be built and tuned to any fundamental note. As you may know, the “fundamental note” is the note you can obtain when you play with all of the holes covered, and it is the note with the lowest hertz value that can be played on the flute. Even so, the most preferred for the Native American style flute is the “F” note. A flute can be tuned to a Pentatonic tuning. It involves ways the sequence of the notes are played by covering or uncovering the various holes in the flute. It makes the flute very easy to play and since all of the sounds produced are harmonic, the sounds heard by the listeners is very pleasing to the ears.
Many flute musicians can create very beautiful sounds even when using no written music at all. They will simply improvise, relax and do their best to play beautiful original tunes right from their hearts.
In the old days, the Native Americans had to search for days to find appropriate wood to make a flute, but today, modern craftsmen have the advantage of being able to use beautifully grained exotic woods such as: Sappelli, Samba, Purpleheart, Zebrawood and Wenge. Great care is now taken to use the kinds of well-seasoned wood that will ultimately enhance the vibrant sounds of the finished flute.
The craftsmen take all acoustic properties of these kinds of wood as well as the intricate design of the woodwind into consideration, so that the finished product will produce the desired pleasing sounds expected by both the musician and his audience. An extra benefit of using exotic wood is in the beauty as well as the durability of this modernized ancient instrument.
Today’s modern Native American style flute is a remarkable woodwind instrument. Craftsmen are still creating these flutes in ways designed to continue the heritage of a quite unique musical instrument capable of producing the kind of pleasing, heartfelt, mysterious sounds never achieved in any other way.
By: Terry Weber