Native American Flute Facts
The Native American flute is recognized as the third oldest known musical instrument in the world. The first to be discovered were drums, followed by various rattles, and finally bone whistles. Some bone flutes date back to over 60,000 years. The flute structure has changed over time. Eventually, more holes were added to the flute and the holes were carved larger. Flutes also had many different styles, using 2, 3, 4,5,6,7 or 8 holes.
Tonality and the quality of the sound of the flute are influenced by the different materials used in its creation, whatever resources were available to the Natives in the area. All types of hardwoods and softwoods have been used to fashion Native American flutes at some point in time. In the southern parts of the United States, even river reeds were used. This reed has a natural joint that serves as a barrier and creates a chamber. These flutes are fairly easy to make and may have added to the design of what is typically recognized as the plains style flute, commonly used by flute players today.
Native American flutes and whistles were created and used for various reasons, differing by tribe and purpose. Many tribes played the flute while traveling; most of these songs are still with us today. The tribes of the NW Coast used bone and cedar whistles for different dances and spirit-calling ceremonies. The Hopi had flute societies that performed powerful prayer ceremonies. The Lakota used the flute for courting and love songs. Today, eagle bone whistles are used at many Pow Wows.
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