Traditional Navajo Flute Music

by H. Maria Perry Google
Navajo flutes are hand-carved from wood and have six holes.

Navajo flutes are hand-carved from wood and have six holes.

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The flute is an important musical instrument in Navajo culture. Flute songs are composed for specific purposes and ceremonies, such as marriages, funerals, harvesting and spiritual celebrations. The flute player, or flutist, is highly revered by the Navajo. Navajo flute music is played on a traditional style flute hand-carved from wood and adorned with an animal carving. Sometimes feathers are added for decoration. The flute is an instrument of spiritual expression. The flute-playing god, Kokopelli, is regarded by the Navajo as the god of plenty and the harvest who brought rain and food.

Flute Design

Navajo flutes are crafted from various types of wood, such as redwood, pine, walnut, cherry, oak and cedar. Cedar is the most popular wood for Navajo flutes because of the rich color and interesting wood grain patterns. Redwood flutes produce a soft sound. Navajo flutes are typically about 19 to 20 inches long with six holes. Traditional flutes include an animal totem, such as a horse, buffalo, eagle or turtle, on the top near the mouthpiece.

Learn Navajo Flute

Navajo flutes are played similar to a recorder. The instrument is held to the lips and the player blows into one end of the flute while covering or opening the holes carved on the top of the flute. Books and CD tutorials are available from flute sellers. Southwest colleges offer flute-making and flute-playing courses. Printed music includes fingering charts that demonstrate how to play notes and scales. Dark-colored holes on a diagram are covered and open circles are uncovered.

Notable Navajo Flutists

Navajo-Ute flutist Carlos Nakai, and Navajo flutists Brent Chase, Andrew Thomas and Kelvin Mockingbird produce traditional Navajo flute music as well as contemporary compositions. Vince Redhouse is a two-time Grammy-nominated flutist who adapts the traditional Navajo flute to jazz and classical compositions. Nakai also combines traditional Navajo flute music with contemporary music styles such as jazz. Contemporary Navajo flutists appeal to both traditionalists and contemporary listeners.

Protection of Navajo Flutes

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 prohibits the marketing of any item as authentically Native American when it was not created by a Native American person. Navajo-style flutes that are not created by a member of the Navajo tribe may not be lawfully advertised or sold as genuine Navajo flutes. A genuine Navajo flute is hand-carved by a member of a Navajo tribe.

About the Author

H. Maria Perry (Bascom) has been a writer and blogger since 2008. She is a contributing editor to "Pink Panther Magazine," as well as a professional photographer, visual artist and poet. Bascom holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Morehead State University and a J.D. from the University of Louisville.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images