Origins of the Native American Flute

American Flute

It is considered that the Native Americans played an essential role in the evolution of the Native American culture in general. Some of its primary uses were healing, courtship, and even meditation. It is necessary to mention that these days the Native American flute is still widely used as an instrument in the area of new age music recordings. Anyway, flute music is rather soothing and expressive. Therefore, the Native American flute is a centuries-old tradition that has been passed from one generation to another. In addition, it is a wonderful form of art and the flute music will be appreciated for more generations further to come.

One of the most important instruments in the Native American culture is the flute. In fact, due to the fact that the Native American flute’s construction was rather different from that of African, European, and Asian flutes, it is today very difficult to find a flute that was produced by a representative of the American Indian culture. This is so due to the fact that the term “Native American flute” means now a wooden duct equipped with a block whist mechanism. Therefore, any flutes, even if they have been produced in any other part of the world, can be sold as Native American flutes. There is only a scarce number of the Native American style carvers, while the majority of flutes are made by the Asians and white people, who follow the concepts of the Native American style (Native Languages of the Americas, 2013).

The Native American flute is made from the two air chambers. One of them is based at the top, whereas the other one is located near the finger holes. In order to construct the Native American flute different materials were applied; some of them included cherry, redwood, and walnut. This depended on the sound to be produced. In some cases, the flute would be made of bamboo. Normally, the Native American flute was applied on the minor pentatonic scale, which shared the same notes that are played on a piano. The majority of flutes have normally five or six holes; however, some may have from seven to nine (The American Indian Heritage Foundation, 2014).

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It must be mentioned that the history behind the Native American Flute is not quite clear. It is so owing to the fact that North American indigenous peoples, who, in turn, are supposed to have created the Native American flute, did not have any form of written language. Therefore, there are no written records left dating back to the times prior to the Columbian era. The history of the Native American peoples is reflected in the form of the stories that have been passed from one generation to another. Stories like that explain how these people acquired some particular aspects of their cultural heritage. In some of the tribes, these stories are presented in the form of songs. Songs like that are normally sung in the nocturnal ceremonies.

As a matter of fact, there first examples of the Native American flute date back to the nineteenth century. Thus, Dr. Richard Payne, who is considered to be the expert in the subject, believed that the so-called “Plains style” Native American flute dates back to the Northern Ute tribe. These Plains style flutes were produced from wood. Examples of these flutes were presented in the 1820s. It is believed that these Plain flutes were a variant of flutes that were rather common in the Southwest among the Yuman and Papago peoples. The flutes made by these tribes were produced with the use of a river reed. According to Dr. Payne, the tradition of the Native American flute spread from the region of Great Plains to the community of Taous pueblo. After that, it has come to some other tribes of the Southwestern region. According to other sources, the inspiration that led to the design of the Native American flute originated from the native people’s observation of the church organs (Ancient Territories, n.d.). It seems also quite plausible that they came from the modification of the European recorders. However, one can certainly say that the true information regarding the early development of the Native American flute was lost in the course of time.

The 1960s saw the renaissance of the Native American flute. It started with the revival of the native roots of the flute. It is necessary to point out here that up to that time, the Native American flute had almost disappeared due to the suppression of the Native culture by the Federal government; therefore, its further deterioration of cultural traditions. The preservation of the Native American flute traditions should be attributed to the rural reservations. Such native artists as Carl Running Deer and Doc Nevaquaya played an important role in the revival of the Native American flute traditions. Such makers as Arnold Richardson and Raven Charles King turned to the historic flutes in order to gain inspiration. Moreover, thanks to the researches and collectings of Dr Richard W. Payne, the flute was reintroduced to the non-native and native people.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Native American flute began to be associated with the conformity of the Native American flute with the western musical traditions. The developments like that helped to make this instrument accessible to those individuals, who represent other cultures; therefore, different musical traditions.

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In the 1980s, there were two figures that had the major impact on the Native American flute; namely, R. Carlos Nakai and Lew Paxton Price. The former one was famous for the mix of the traditional flute music with the New Age influences along with the ambient sounds. Such a combination helped to produce a universally appealing musical composition. His performances and recordings motivated many people to undertake playing Native American flute themselves. The latter one was Lew Paxton Price, who is famous for the publication of a number of books on the flute design and fabrication. His works contained a great deal of information on the different aspects of making a Native American flute. At that time, they appeared to be the foremost reference on the subject, and provided the insights into the traditions of the Native American flute for the contemporary makers.

The Native American flute playing techniques continued to evolve in further years. Contemporary electrical tools and fabrication techniques made it possible for the flute makers to boost precision and minimize crafting time. Flutes are produced not only from softwoods, bamboo, and cane, but from exotic hardwood alongside with metal and plastic too. Furthermore, there have been introduced numerous tone chamber flutes, or the so-called “drone flutes”. Flutes are now to be found in a range of keys that can span two octaves.

All things considered, the Native American flute today can be found in every part of the world. Flutes are played during traditional Native American ceremonies, as well as modern healing modalities. These days, flutes are rather popular. Although most flutes are made from plastic, a great many of traditional flutes are produced from wood. Wooden flutes are often viewed as real collection items.

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