Native American Flutes   
Walt LaForet
,
PO Box 222, Chalfont, PA 18914
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FAQ about Native American Style Flutes (Frequently Asked Questions)


Native American Flute Store         
For more Native American style flute information, click here
To see what my customers say about my flutes and accessories click here.
For FAQ about Band Flutes, click here
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What key should I get?

As far as the key, I would suggest you get the lowest key (biggest flute) you can use.  The dimensions and finger hole spacing is noted with each flute and they are listed in order of size.  Even people with small hands can play a flute in the key of A or higher (smaller) and "normal" size hands can play flutes in the G & F#  keys as well.  These have a deeper sound.  

Even if you've never played a woodwind before you should quickly adapt to most any key except the lowest ones. If you have any woodwind experience you will be able to master any Native American style flute.  Flutes in the highest range (High D, High C)  have a piping, Irish whistle quality, while flutes in the lowest range have an airy, hollow mellowness to them.  Experience has shown us that people usually want the deepest tone that is comfortable to play.  The A and G flutes are good middle of the road flute keys, still very easy to play and have a deeper sound than the smaller ones.  The F#, E, low D and lower, being larger flutes, need more practice to master. They are not so difficult to play as it is a matter of breath control. Again, most players I know have many flutes of different keys and woods.
I would recommended the key of A or G for people who never played an instrument before.  All the flutes listed on my web site have sound clips so you can hear the different keys.
Click here to enter.

Are these flutes Native American made?

Only the Jonah Thompson and Marvin Yazzie flutes I stock are authentic Native American made flutes.  
To learn about Jonah Thompson click here

To learn about Marvin Yazzie click here

Although the High Spirits, Stellar and 2 Bears flutes are used and endorsed by prominent Native American musicians, these particular flutes are not Native American made. 

What wood should my flute be made in?

For a beginner the main thing to consider about wood is the durability.  The harder woods - walnut, birch, cherry - hold up well to the elements and bumps.  Generally hard woods have a clearer tone and are more responsive.  Softer wood like cedar is fragile, but smells nice and creates a warmer, mellow tone.  But for beginners subtle tone differences like these are not really an issue. You can also have a flute made of special woods to your wishes, see the Flute Store.  
It is a personal preference as to which is better, and many or most Native American flute players have some of each.  

What is the best flute to start with?

After you read the FAQ page click here for help in choosing a flute. 

5 Hole or 6 hole flute?

The High Spirits flutes with a few exceptions are 6-hole flutes and come with a leather tie that easily converts them into a 5-hole flute. When comfortable, just remove the leather tie and experience the use of the 6-hole. You are not faced with this choice with an High Spirits flute.
The and other flute makers are all 6 hole and do not come with the hole cover but can be played as a 5 hole as well by keeping the 4th hole closed.
All the flutes are based on the minor pentatonic scale. When used as a 5-hole flute it is in the minor pentatonic scale. 
When the 6th hole under the leather tie is exposed, the flute will play the relative major key in both the Diatonic and Chromatic scales.
A 5-hole flute is easier to play because it is based on the pentatonic minor scale. (5 notes to the next octave) 
A 6-hole flute allows for an extended range of the instrument and different scaling.

What does 440Hz and 433Hz Tuning mean?

Most flutes, and most musical instruments for that matter have been tuned so that the “A” note (of the middle octave on a piano) is tuned to 440 Hz (Hz = cycles per second). 
This is known as Concert Pitch and was established as a standard at the beginning of the 20th century. 
The High Spirits EarthTone© Flutes use a lower 432 Hz frequency for the “A” note and all other notes are aligned accordingly. When played alongside flutes that are tuned to the frequency of 440Hz, the 432Hz tonal difference is very subtle. Much like the subtle inflection of the human voice that can project a subtle variation in feelings, an instrument using a slight change in frequency can alter the feeling quality of the music being played. 
Please note, though subtle in difference, instruments tuned to 432 Hz to do not pair with instruments tuned to 440 Hz.

Are there song books for Native American Flutes?

Native American flute music has traditionally been 'made up' on the spot, by playing what one feels. It is a wonderful tool for self expression. However my wife made some song books designed for those who might want to learn to play specific songs on their flute. No music reading skills are necessary, as all the notations are graphics of the flutes, the dark holes being the ones you must cover with your fingers to make that particular tone.   
Click here to see our song books.

How does one piece construction compare to the traditional method?

Traditionally Native American style flutes are made from 2 pieces of wood where the two chambers are routed out and glued together.  The High Spirits flutes use a one piece construction.  One piece construction uses a solid one piece of end-bored wood to create the chambers.  Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
The one piece method does not have glue joints that might separate.  It tends to have thicker walls making it heaver and better able to take a fall down the stairs or being sat upon.  The thicker walls makes for a "darker" sound than the 2 piece construction that tends to have thinner walls giving it a "brighter" sound. 
A two piece construction method also allows for finer shaping of the air ways inside.  Which is better?  I have many of each and I like the different tone and feel each type brings.  It is like trying to answer which wood or key is "better" - it is just a personal preference.  
How come I cannot see through my flute to the mouthpiece?

The Native American style flute is unique in that it has two separate air chambers, one you blow into and the air flow is directed out a hole into the other chamber which makes the sound.
native american flute design

My flute developed a check line, what should I do?

What happens is that the moisture from your breath condenses in the mouth piece, expanding the wood in the inside, putting pressure on the outside grain and sometimes it gives & creates a check line. From our experience the check line closes back after it dries up on the inside. When playing again it will open up again but will not open up more then it did the first time. It does not continue to open any larger.  This is not as bad as it sounds.  I have a flute I really like and it has had a check line in the mouthpiece end for a long time, and only I know about it. It plays great.  Oiling the inside will help.  See the question on "How do I take care of my Flute?"

Where do I get fingering charts? 

Click here to see the various fingering charts.

Fingering charts comes with every flute and all the songbooks. 

Are Native American style flutes hard to play?

No, you can play notes in tune the first time you pick it up, see question below. 

What if I have no musical experience and just want to play for fun?

If you cannot read music and have never played an instrument consider the Native American Style Flute.  They have some great advantages over other musical instruments.  They are very easy to play, and they are inexpensive.  You do not have to read music to play one as the Native Americans, like all tribal cultures, never had a written music language. They developed instruments that were naturally harmonic. No musical background is necessary to play these flutes. To produce the sound, one simply blows into the instrument; the unique design easily creates the music. They are also inexpensive allowing you to own and enjoy various models made from different woods and in different keys. The Native American style flute is constructed with two chambers, one you blow into and the air flow is directed out a hole into the other chamber which makes the sound. The length of the flute determines the key.  It is a wonderful tool for self expression requiring very little maintenance.  To see and hear our Native American style flutes, click here. 

If I need help playing are there instructions?

The High Spirits flutes come with an instructional CD and booklet.  The Native American style flutes by other makers do not but we have several very good and informative instructional DVDs at various levels of play.    To see these DVDs & CDs, click here.  

How are Native American Flutes like potato chips?

It is hard to only have one.

What is that small hole in the end of my flute?
 

The hole on the back side of some of the flutes near the foot part of the tuning process.   It is a tuning hole. 
Each individual flute is unique and requires individual attention in the process of tuning it accurately. As little as one thousandth of an inch variation in the construction of the flute, as well as the various densities of wood used to craft the instrument, can cause a flute to be slightly flat or sharp in the overall tonality. Occasionally it is necessary to include a very small tuning hole that brings the flute to the accurate tuning range.

How do you take care of a Native American Style Flute?
Should I apply any kind of oil on it?

There is very little maintenance to a Native American style flute. When finished playing, just suck air in backwards through the mouthpiece to remove the humid air & moisture. If it is very wet, remove the bird or block to allow more air to circulate and shake it out. Keep your flute out of direct sunlight and store in a bag when not in use for a long period. You can also apply a natural oil to the inside once a year or so, especially in the mouth piece end as that is where the most moisture builds up. You can pour oil inside the flute, roll it around and let it drain out and re-use the oil that comes out. You want to use an oil that is non-toxic and will not go rancid with time. We recommend sweet almond oil and it is available in our shopping center.  Click here to see our natural oil for wooden flutes in our shopping center.
How do I learn to play with vibrato? (By Elisabeth LaForet)

The easiest way to think about how to make vibrato is this: vibrato uses the very same muscles that you use when you whisper "ha ha ha."  It should sound very free and relaxed, but to make it sound natural, you have practice it like anything else on the flute, until it becomes second nature.  This way, you will be able to control every aspect of your vibrato, including both speed and depth.

Some vibrato practicing tips:

Speed:
First, get comfortable whispering "ha ha ha" very evenly.  It's not like great huffs of air as in belly laughing, but more gentle.  Think of a dog panting - that shallow kind of ha ha-ing, nothing too big or disruptive.   Feel what muscles are involved in this: you should feel your throat pulsing the air rather than huffing it from your stomach (or your diaphragm, as some flutists prefer to think).  

Then, if you have a metronome set a very slow tempo at first, maybe around 80 or 90. Using triplet groups, do three pulses to a beat. Work for absolute control and evenness.  In performance, you won't want machine-like vibrato, but the more you can control it and make it sound exactly alike now when you practice it, the more you'll be able to vary it the way you want to in the future.

Speed up as you get comfortable... the average vibrato speed is generally around 116-120 on the metronome (using 3 pulses to a beat).  Vibrato speed can also vary depending on the style of the piece you're playing.  Despite how technical creating vibrato is, using it is entirely an artistic judgment, so it's up to you how fast or slow you want it to be for everything you play, but just be careful that you don't get TOO slow, or else it will sound like "waah waah waah"...  And too fast, and you'll sound like a nanny goat. :)  

Depth:
Once you have more control over the speed, you want to think about the depth of the vibrato, too. Vibrato is actually made by pitch bending, although it's fast enough that we don't perceive it as a bad kind of pitch bending.

To visualize what vibrato is, try thinking of the note you're playing as a straight line and the vibrato as a wavy line juxtaposed on the straight line. You can have several different types of vibrato:

A) Vibrato that spikes above the note (so the wiggles of the vibrato line would push above the straight line).

B) Vibrato that dips below the note (wiggly parts going below the straight line)

C) Vibrato that's in between (wiggles bisecting the straight line to wave both above and below the line)

It's good to be able to use all kinds of vibrato as there'll be different situations in which a certain kind is better than the others.  What vibrato you'll use will vary from piece to piece, and from musical character to musical character within each piece.  Some pieces will call for full, rich vibrato, others will need fast, brilliant vibrato, others shallow, barely-there vibrato, etc.... the varieties you can create are endless!   Always be creative with it. :)

Vibrato that pushes the pitch up rather than down (type A), is good for low register notes, when we have a tendency to go flat. Vibrato that dips below the main pitch of the note (type B) is good for high register stuff, to keep us from going sharp.   This type of vibrato makes a very rich, warm sound, and is the kind that flutist Julius Baker often used.  And type C vibrato is your general, in-between kind.

So, thinking of vibrato as both speed and depth, you should be able to get vibrato that you can control to beautify and vary your sound.

When to use it:
Next, there's the question of when to use vibrato. Your goal is to have vibrato that you can bring in and out of notes, so it's not like you have an "on" and "off" switch. Vibrato on every note is too much, so choose when to use vibrato very carefully. Sometimes on long notes, you might try adding vibrato late, or starting with vibrato and taking it out... there's a whole world of possibilities to try, so try switching it up a lot, according to what sounds right for the kind of music you're playing.

Imitation:
The best way to learn when to use vibrato and how it should sound is by imitation, so I highly recommend checking out some CDs of Native American flute players like Jan Michael Looking Wolf Reibach, Charles Little Leaf, etc.  

Flutists aren't the only ones to listen to, either.  Violinists always have great vibrato (although it's typically faster than what sounds good on the flute, but listen to how they use it).  And singers, too - jazz singers are great for this, as well as popular singers, too.

Are those black lines in my Spanish Cedar flute cracks? 

No.  Spanish cedar has unique grain patterns containing dark lines that are occasionally mistaken for cracks. Some lines are short while some run the whole length of the flute giving a unique pattern. These are not structural defects but are just dark lines that are characteristic of Spanish Cedar. 
Spanish Cedar is an excellent wood for flutes because of the tonal quality and it has a straight grain with few knots. 
Some people desire a distinctive grain pattern in their flute so I listed some the the very unique ones separately in my store, click here. 

Why do some flutes have turquoise accents? 

All the aromatic cedar used by High Spirits comes from renewable plantation grown sources, which are relatively young trees. Because of this, there are knots in the wood. As we craft each flute it is thoroughly inspected and any knots that are not stable are removed and embedded with turquoise granules adhered with durable epoxy. These turquoise additions make each flute a one-of-a-kind instrument. They do not affect the tonal quality or integrity of the flute and are an attractive eye-catching addition.

 

 

My flute is not playing properly, what should I look for?

This could be caused by a number of things:  

Finger Holes not completely covered:
Every hole that you are covering must be sealed completely with your finger pads. If not air will leak out and there will be various symptoms.  See the instructional DVDs for more details. 

Moisture:
If it you have been playing the flute when it happens, moisture build up is the most likely cause.  As you play any wind instrument (flute, sax, trumpet, etc.) the moisture form your breath builds up in the instrument.  This is just condensation caused by temperature difference and is a normal part of playing any wind instrument.  You can just shake out the moisture or blow into the fipple hole (square hole) to clear it out.

Bird Block alignment:
The air flows thru the bird channel in the bottom of the bird block.  If it is not positioned just right it will cause the flute to play improperly.  The ideal position is a little behind the fipple hole (square hole).  It should also be right in the center and aligned to the length of the flute, not at an angle.  You can move the bird block back and forth to find the ideal spot.  Also the bottom of the bird block should fit tightly to the top of the flute.  Even a slight space would cause air leak.

Obstructions:
Hold the flute so light shines thru the finger holes and look in the end to see if you can see clearly to the fipple hole. See that no foreign objects are blocking the bore.  Now the Native American style flute does have 2 chambers so you will not be able to see clearly thru out the other side, but to the fipple hole.  You can get a better look if you untie the bird block and check both directions, toward the mouth piece and toward the body end.   Look down the barrel and mouth piece with a flash light.  

Structural:
As you can see the Native American style flute is very simple and if there is no obstruction or moisture build up it must be something physical.  A warped bird block bottom, or a major split or crack.  Some flutes do develop a crack or check line from moisture but the flute will still play fine for generations and this would not normally be a cause a flute playing poorly.

What is the thing (bird, animal, etc.) on the top called and what does it do?

It is called a bird, a block, a fetish, or bird block.  It can be a simple stylized shape or an artistically carved animal. It is more than decoration. The native American style flute has two chambers that are not directly connected, one at the mouthpiece end and the other larger one where the finger holes are.    Air blown into the mouthpiece chamber goes up a hole to the bottom of the bird block.  The bird block has a groove cut into it to channel the air over the fipple hole where the air stream is split creating sound. The 2nd chamber with the finger holes gives the flute its key and tone. 

What is the danger of buying a Native American Style Flute?

Warning: Most people who purchase a Native American style flute love it so much they buy more flutes in various keys & woods. You can't say I did not warn you.

Who is this?
flute dog This is Missy, our dog rescued from a local shelter.  She has had a rough early life but now lives like a queen and is enjoying life thoroughly. She always runs up to me and sits when I play the flute. She wants to play herself but cannot overcome the reach problem.
 

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