Making a Native American Flute

Making a Native American Flute with The Soul Fan

Life is always changing

Due to some recent changes in my world, I have been away from my blogs for a few weeks. One of the things I love to share with my readers is my passion for meditation. Flute music has come to be one of my favorite things to listen to during meditation. Recently, I decided to try my hand at making a Native American flute.

I don’t know that I have ever been able to distinguish the different flutes by ear. I guess I assumed them all to be eastern flutes from the Asian countries. Those flutes are transverse flutes similar to a metal concert flute. Looking around online, I found that there was some instruction available on how to make flutes.

Learning new things and creating things has always been a passion. Over the last couple of years of getting more in touch with my true self, my passion has been reignited. My interest in creating a flute myself was peaked so I started to do some research.

Visual learning is something that works for me so I love to use YouTube to discover ways to do new things. What I found was that lots of the videos with flute music are actually Native American Flutes but the sound and the music is just as amazing.

My Next Project was getting off the ground

Looking more deeply, I discovered the Native American Flutes are actually constructed like a whistle and they are easier to play. The decision was easy, I was going to make an “end-blown” Native American flute.

My first thought was I would make a bamboo flute, then I saw some videos on wooden flutes and decided to try that. Woodworking has always been something I enjoyed so I began my hunt for the perfect piece of elder wood.

Elder is soft at the center and makes for an easier time hollowing out the wood. My first wooden flute looks pretty good but does not , as of yet, play a note. However, I learned a lot in the process.

Once I decide I am going to make something I usually persist until I have attained some reasonable level of success. This was just the beginning.

Surprise, surprise, PVC Flutes are a thing

Continuing my research I uncovered something I had never heard prior, but it made perfect sense. As mentioned, my first thought was bamboo but I did have any available. PVC is similar in size to the bamboo flutes I had seen and with either the hollowing out is not necessary.

My first PVC flute was finished and making music in less than two hours. Today I have two different sizes of PVC flutes, a cedar flute, and a red oak flute. Yes, I also made my first bamboo flute.

The bamboo flute and the larger PVC flute are my two favorites, I guess because they are the easiest to play. That skill, I am still developing, but I am improving and I enjoy learning to play. The process of making the PVC flutes is fairly simple and quick. Working with bamboo is a bit more involved.

Making a Native American Flute from Bamboo

I remembered that there was bamboo growing right next to where my younger sister used to live here in town. Finding a piece of bamboo there, to make a flute would be easy, I thought. Upon arriving I found a piece of bamboo laying on the ground in a parking area and brought it home.

That piece of bamboo now plays beautiful music. Working with the bamboo, something for nature, provided by the universe, was a meditation in itself. Bamboo has a magical quality about it, it is very calming to be amount bamboo culms growing in nature.

Bamboo is a source of food and also has hundreds of uses as a wood product. From furniture to flooring and beyond.

The Process

The first thing is to select a section of bamboo to work with. I decided to cut a section of the internode as long as I could get it from between the nodes (rings). With the way the flute works, I could actually have used the node to help create the flute.

I will probably try that next time.

Having chosen a section bamboo, you will want to clean it up a bit and get it smooth on the ends with some light sanding. Obviously, one end of the flute will be the blowing end. The section just inside for the blowing end is called the “slow air chamber”.

There is an opening at the top of the flute right at the end of the slow air chamber, we can call it the SAC exit or simply the “air hole”. Air travels into the flute to the SAC and up through the air hole. The airway is blocked by the “plug” at the end of the SAC so the only way the air can go is through the exit.

There is a block on top of the air hole called a fetish or bird which has a small channel cut in the bottom to create an airway. The air is compressed in the airway and directed across the sound hole. The sound hole has a sharp edge on the far side which splits the air and creates the sound.

For my wooden flutes and my first to wholes on my bamboo flute I used a drill and small files. As it turns out that is not the best approach, so after watch I few more videos, I fashioned my own burning tool.

flute-diagram

Playing a note

With the air hole and the sound whole cut, it’s time to position a plug between them, inside the chamber. I have made wooden plugs thus far. Getting them to make an air tight seal can be a challenge, though. Using a cork is a better solution.

Once the plug is in place you have to create a fetish to channel the air across the sound hole. If you got it all right your flute should now play a note. This note will be the lowest note your flute plays. During tuning, you will probably need to trim the end of the flute to get right on the note.

As you shorten the sound chamber the pitch goes up. Be careful to shorten it a little at a time because if you go too far it hard to go back.

Calculating Finger Hole size and placement

There are a few different methods of doing this and I have heard some pretty amazing sounding flutes done different ways. Some flutes are made with the holes at equal distance apart for one another.

1 and 1/8th-inch spacing seems to be fairly common.

Many more modern flute designs have a finger hole spacing that varies in size and distance from one to another. The calculation can be done by using measurements such as center bore and wall thickness. I use an online calculator at Flutopedia.com.

Of course, there are experts who have made so many instruments they just know where to put the holes. One technique for making a flute is just to use a flute you like and copy the length and hole placement.

Many of the flutes I see are six hole flutes but the majority are played with the 4th hole always covered, especially for beginning flute players. This means it is virtually a 5 hole flute and plays a pentatonic scale. I am not really an experienced musician and a pentatonic scale makes it easier to sound good.

Basically, it is a scale in which any note you play sounds good with the other notes of the scale. That is necessarily true with a major scale. You would have to be better versed at how to maneuver up and down a major scale.

flute-diagram-2

This is just the beginning

All together I have two weeks in on this new hobby, that includes research and creation. I have made 6 flutes and 5 of them play music, Yes, I will definitely be making more. This experience has been wonderful and my soul is ever expanding.

If you would be interested in having me make you a flute please drop me a comment below or send me and email by using the contact link.

2 comments

  1. Hey Steve,

    What a pleasure it was to find your post. Wow, making your own flute is admirable! You have done a great job, and TBH , if you just started learning two days ago… wow! I felt mesmerized by the sound,I LOVE listening to the pan flute. It is so tranquil and soothes the soul, you feel it getting right into your core.
    I have always struggled with meditation, but this just might work for me 🙂 In the meantime, I have subscribed to your youtube, to refer back 🙂

    Cheers
    Jo

    1. Dear Jo,

      I am grateful for you taking the time to, not only read, but to watch and comment, as well. Thank you so much. I too struggled with meditation in the beginning because I was always thinking too much. Worried about whether are not I was doing it right and trying to force things to be like what I thought a guide or book was saying they should be. I finally realized that my meditation was for me and my connection to source and if it felt right to me it was just fine. From there I was able to let go of some of my over-thinking and relax into it.
      The music also helps me to focus and not be distracted by things going on around me. I have to agree that the flute music to me is magically soothing. I am again very grateful to have made this connection with you and hope to hear from you again soon.

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