You’ve almost certainly heard the beautiful Native American flute instrument. It could have been watching “How the West Was Lost,” perhaps Ken Burns’ series “The West,” or “The National Parks.” It may have been the last time you were at DIA and walked over the bridge from the main terminal to concourse A.
Flutes have been around since prehistoric times, played by indigenous populations all over the world; indigenous North American peoples included. The origin of the modern “Native American Flute” is a bit like tracing the origins of baseball…very nebulous, with many sources. During the 20th Century, attention was focused, at times, on the use of flutes by Native Americans. It was used largely for courting (men playing to women) or ceremony, and not bound to what we think of as musical norms. It was a medium for expressing the spirit and the heart.
What you think of as the modern “Native American Flute” took root in the 1970’s, catching fire in the 1980’s, led mostly by the work of R. Carlos Nakai. The Native American flute is usually a 5 or 6 hole wooden flute with fipple construction (meaning that, unlike a concert silver flute, you needn’t develop any particular skill in forming the mouth in order to get music out of it; or, if you can breathe, you can get notes out of one). Perhaps, as a primary school student, you were exposed to the Recorder, usually a plastic flute that plays a major (do-re-mi) scale. The Native American Flute is similarly easy to play.
The distinctive scale used in the modern Native American Flute, as you know it, is called “Pentatonic Minor,” meaning five pitches in the basic scale. It’s that scale, and the flute being made from wood that give it its unique and captivating sound.
“It is very easy to learn. Beginners are playing their flutes the first day of class…”
Those of us who come to play the Native American Flute are drawn to it for many reasons. Often times, the reason is its therapeutic sound; it’s a wonderful tool for reducing stress. It may be a means to help find healing for physical or emotional injury. Or it may be just because the sound of these flutes is so haunting and peaceful.
Whatever the reason, you can learn to play this instrument at Colorado Free University. Check their catalogue, as courses are offered from time to time for Beginners (at two levels), and if there are enough students, an Intermediate course will be offered.
It is very easy to learn. Beginners are playing their flutes the first day of class, and have a tune to take home from the first class. You’ll learn the basics of how to hold the flute, how to breathe into it to get the sound you like, the basic (pentatonic) scale and how flutes work. Through musical exercises and exposure to different techniques, you can enhance your playing so you aren’t tempted to put the flute somewhere to gather dust, but rather to become a part of your daily life.
Want to learn more? Here are some links to websites that tell you more about this fabulous instrument and how it can be played:
and a couple of links to hear samples of this type of music:
You can explore the music of the Native American Flute with a class at Colorado Free University. Learning this special art form will be both fun and challenging. Join Tom Farber for Beginning Native Amercian Flute from June 7 through July 5, from 10AM to 11:30AM.