News & Views Sunday, June 24, 2018

The “Other Woodwinds”, Part Two Friday, February 08, 2013

melbay-96718-fWoodwinds aren’t just flute, clarinet and saxophone.  They can be recorder, Native American flute, or tinwhistle.  Part One investigated the recorder.  Part Two will address the Native American flute.  There is some music printed for this instrument.  Until recently, (the early 1970′s), the Native American flute has been a little-known instrument.  This is because, “in the years of official suppression of native culture, the use of the flute was lost by many tribes and continued as a small part of the tribal culture in which it remained.”  (R. Carlos Nakai, page 2 in “The Art of the Native American Flute“.)  Now there are many makers of fine Native flutes, and people want to find music to play.  Native flutes are built in keys, and their range is one or two notes more than an octave.  It’s not unusual for a person who plays often to have several flutes, each in a different key.  The sweet, pure sound of the Native flute is pleasing and calming.  If you have one, or would like to get one, and you need to know how to start playing it, “The Art of the Native American Flute” by R. Carlos Nakai is a great book to begin with.  It explains Native musical traditions, tunings and finger patterns, the Nakai tab system and more, followed by transcriptions of 18 flute compositions by Carlos Nakai from several of his recordings.

A second book of Native flute songs is “Songs of the Nations” by Jim Mayhew.  It uses the Nakai tab system to notate songs from many tribes collected by Frances Densmore for the Smithsonian Institute’s Bureau of American Ethnology.  Her method of recording was the newly-invented  Edison Recorder.  Natives called it a “speaking box”.  Because of the “speaking box” and Frances Densmore, we can still sing and play these songs today, more than 100 years after they were first recorded.songs-of-the-nations  If you are interested in these books, or other folk instrument publications, please contact us at 1-800-42-MUSIC, email us at, or check out our website at

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