native american flutes songbooks

FAQ About Flutes

"The aim and final reason of all music is nothing other than the glorification of God and the refreshment of the spirit . . ."
    J. S. Bach


What key should I get?

As far as the key, I would suggest you start with a key that is easy to play.  The larger (deeper) the flute is the harder it is to play. The dimensions and finger hole spacing is noted with each flute listing. You can use a dowel or a rolled-up piece of paper to mark down the finger holes to see if you can comfortably play a particular flute. Even people with small hands can usually play a flute in the key of A so that is the key I suggest you start with.     In order of size starting from the smallest (highest) are: High F#, High D, High C, B, A, G, F#, Low E, LOW D. 

You can compare the sound of all the flute keys here.  

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#, 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 recommend the key of A for people who have never played an instrument before.

We have Native American Flutes Songbooks to get you started, here.  

What wood should my flute be made in?

Generally hard woods have a clearer tone and are more responsive. Softer wood like cedar and ponderosa pine is more fragile, but smells nice and creates a warmer, mellow tone. But for beginners subtle tone differences like these are not really an issue.
It is a personal preference as to which is better, and many or most Native American flute players have some of each.

5 Hole or 6 hole flute?

You easily can cover the 3rd hole from the mouthpiece with painters' tape, a piece of wide ribbon, or leather and convert it to a 5 hole flute. 
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 used as a 6 hole 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 is the difference between a Major and Minor Scale?

Most Native American flutes are in the Minor scale, there are a few exceptions, and they are clearly indicated. What is the difference?

Without getting all technical a major scale is brighter and happier than the minor scale. A minor scale is more meditative and contemplative. Think of the opening of Beethoven's Fifth in C minor or the Brahms Symphony No.1 that starts out with those pounding drumbeats.

Then think of the opening of Prokofievís Classical Symphony - D major. Without knowing about major and minor scales, you instinctively know that the Prokofiev is happier than the Beethoven. 
That's what major and minor scales do


What is the difference between a Plains Flute and a Woodland Flute?

The difference is the construction method used to make the air channel between the animal block and the flute body. 
The Woodland style cuts the air channel in the body of the flute under the animal. The base of the animal is flat. 
The Plains style flute construction method cuts the channel in the bottom of the animal or bird and the flute body is flat where the animal sits. 

High Spirits, Stellar Flutes are Plains style. 
Jonah Thompson flutes are Woodland style. 
As far as playing and owning a flute this is something you do not need to worry about and both style flutes play and sound the same. One is not better than the other.

Where are your flutes?

The answer is here. 

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.   
See our song books here.


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. So the flute does the work for you. 
native american flute X Ray
native american flute design


Why do you offer FREE Bibles?

Reading the Bible has literally changed our lives, so as part of our mission we want to offer a Pocket New Testament for FREE to anyone who wants them.  Life is short and the really important things in life are in the scriptures. 


 Where do I get fingering charts? 

See the various fingering charts here.


Are Native American style flutes hard to play?

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


If I need help playing are there instructions available?

See our How to Play Book - "The Native American Flute Book 101 with Songs"

Also, there are lots of free information to download here: 
Information Downloads click here.  


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

This could be caused by a number of things:  
Wood Shaving in Air Chamber:
If your flute is new sometimes a wood shaving or chip from the crafting of the flute comes loose in the air chamber and partially blocks the air flow.  To remove it slide the animal block back a bit and blow into the flute.  This will dislodge the chip out of the flute. 
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 materials for details.  
Also, if you have a leather 3rd Hole cover make sure it is tight and completely covering the 3rd hole. 
If 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 from 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 through 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.
Hold the flute so light shines through 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 through to 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 mouthpiece and toward the body end.   Look down the barrel and mouthpiece with a flashlight.
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 loose or 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. 


Can I swap animal blocks from one flute to another? 

There are 2 major ways to match an animal block to a flute, Planes and Woodlands. We covered what the differences are in one of the questions above but the animal blocks do not mix. 
Even if they are the same, say both Planes type, each maker has different construction methods of matching the animal block to the flute. 
So generally, if the flutes are made by different makers the answer would be "No".  
And it gets more complicated. Even the flutes among a particular maker may not fit due to different sizes of the flute body and animal block with different keys.  
However, if you lose or break an animal block, I can generally get you one if it is a maker I am associated with.  


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.


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 to 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:

First, get comfortable whispering "ha ha ha" very evenly.  It's not like great huffs of air as in belly laughing, but gentler.  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. :)  

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.

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.


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