R. Carlos Nakai & James Demars,
The Art of the Native American Flute
(Canyon, 1997)

Here is the training manual for the Native American flute! The Art of the Native American Flute is like getting an entire year of music study rolled into one book. R. Carlos Nakai has included all the basic instruction in music. If you follow this book and do the exercises, you'll learn to play both the five-hole and six-hole flute.

The book begins with an introduction to Native American music. It briefly explains how Native Americans have used music in their cultures throughout history and describes the differing styles.

The next section introduces us to the Native American flute and examines how flutes made by different artists from various woods have distinct sounds. Nakai explains how the body measurements of a person determine the construction of the flute, with arm length, finger length and palm size all being factors. No two flutes will produce identical sounds, not even when created by the same artist! He also includes instructions for caring for the flute.

Now we get to the instructions for finger positions. There are fingering exercises that will acquaint your hands with the movements and develop your dexterity and coordination for playing the five- and six-hole flutes.

There is one major hurdle in learning to play the Native American flute -- the finger positions will not absolutely result in a certain pitch, which is ultimately determined by the force of air through the instrument. While these positions will teach you what finger positions relate to each note, it will be up to you to regulate your breath to produce the correct pitch. Of course, there are breath exercises and detailed explanations for producing the proper pitch.

The basic instruction for musical notes, meter, symbols and notations is included. There is a section on Native American techniques and ornaments, such as trills and flutter tonguing. Nakai has included quite a bit of sheet music for his own songs.

The final portion of the book is a study of Nakai's music by David P. McAllester. He discusses how Nakai is changing the Native American music genre and includes a discography of his work. There are detailed discussions of each of Nakai's recordings listed chronologically.

The last chapter in the book covers the controversy over the "authenticity" of Native American music and compares how the Native Americans are "inclusive" while the Europeans are "exclusive." I found this section extremely informative and feel it is a great help to understanding the entire music world.

If you desire to play the Native American flute or create your own flutes or whistles, this is the best manual I have found. It is easy to understand but thorough enough to provide you with all the basics without overwhelming you with information. If you follow the instructions, you will be playing in no time and will be able to read sheet music well enough to play most songs. I can promise you the 30 minutes per day that I have spent with this manual have made a great difference in my playing in only a few days. It works!

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 31 May 2003

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