Three steps can help you start playing one of my Native American-style flutes in just minutes.
Step #1 – Adjust the bird
The bird (also called the block or fetish) is an important part of the flute’s construction and not just an ornament, which is what some people think if they aren’t familiar with the Native American-style flute.
The bird is positioned over the nest (or air chamber) of the flute. You need to adjust the bird to the True Sound Hole uncovered (See the diagram.)
If you cover the True Sound Hole, you won’t get a full sound or may not get any sound. If you leave too much of the True Sound Hole uncovered, you will get a very airy sound.
Use the suede straps to tie the bird securely into position.
Step #2 – Channel your breath
Play your first note without any finger holes covered. This will be your first note. Position your mouth at the tip of the flute’s mouthpiece.
You don’t want to place your lips around the mouthpiece. First, cover your teeth with your lips then place your mouth at the tip of the mouthpiece. If you place your lips around the mouthpiece, you will be projecting more saliva into the flute as you play. Flutes will “wet out” with lots of playing (and saliva), but your mouth position also affects how soon your flute wets out.
When the flute wets out, the sound will change, and the flute may even stop playing.
All you need to do is loosen or remove the bird and let the flute dry out.
The fact that flutes wet out with regular playing is why flute performers typically have more than one flute of the same key with them during a performance so they can switch from one flute to the next should one flute “wet out”.
Step #3 – Place your finger pads over the holes
Use the flat part of your finger pads to cover the finger holes.
Starting flute players often try to use their finger tips to cover the finger holes, and that doesn’t work because you need to cover the hole completely.
You may need to look in a mirror to check your finger placement. Sometimes you think you have the holes covered but you haven’t, which is why you don’t get a good note when you play.
You may use either your right hand or left hand on the top or bottom set of holes on the flute – whichever is more comfortable for you.
In trying out flutes, you’ll find that they have different placement of the holes, as the flutemaker has placed the holes to obtain the desired tuning. Some flutes have a distance between holes that require larger hands with long fingers.
I design my flutes to have closer together finger holes to make the fingering more comfortable, especially for people with smaller hands. So be sure to get a flute that is comfortable for you. You won’t enjoy playing the flute if you get hand cramps from stretching to cover the holes.
Speaking of keys of flutes…
You want to consider the key of the flute if you plan to play the flute with other instruments. My Native American-style flutes are tuned to a pentatonic scale.
For harp players, here are the NAS flute tunings that will play well with some major tunings of the harp:
- A Harp tuned to C major (no sharps or flats) works well with a pentatonic NA Flute of A minor
- A Harp tuned to F major (one flat) works well with a pentatonic NA Flute in the key of D minor.
- A Harp tuned to G major (one sharp) works well with a pentatonic NA Flute in the key of E minor
- A Harp tuned to D major (two sharps) works well with a pentatonic NA Flute in the key of B minor
You also want to make sure the flute is concert-tuned, meaning that it is tuned to play with other instruments. Some flute makers tune their flutes to a key but for solo playing. The flute is not concert-tuned. Ask the flutemaker to be sure. If the answer is “the flute is tuned to itself” then it may not be concert-tuned.
Most of my handmade Native American-style flutes are concert-tuned, as I enjoy providing musicians the ability to play their flutes with other concert-tuned flutes and other instruments, such as the harp, ukulele, kantele and Appalachian dulcimer. The only exception to my concert tuning is an occasional branch flute that, due to it’s unique bends, cannot be concert-tuned.
If you follow these three steps, you will find the flute with the sound that expresses your spirit.
I’d hope that could be one of my flutes! You can purchase my flutes online at my Etsy store. If you are going to be at one of the events where I’m a vendor, I’d enjoy talking with you and helping you select a flute.