Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Playing from the Heart -part 1

One of the beauties of the Native American flute is that it is within reach of people who have no musical background at all. The majority of Native American flute players have no formal musical training. I say formal because I believe that most human beings innately have music inside them. We respond to rhythms, melodies, and harmonies from birth, or even while still in the womb. It is all part of being human.

However, I meet many NAF players, or people that are thinking about becoming one, that worry they don'’t have any musical training and therefore they lack something when it comes to making music. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m not saying that musical training doesn't help, but a lack of it is no reason to avoid playing the Native American flute. Music is a basic expression of human emotional. If you are drawn to music that desire for expression is already stirring within you. Besides, there are plenty of people with little or no musical musical training that are world-famous musicians. Many rock, blues and pop musicians have very little musical training and yet we hum their tunes and buy their recording all the time. They must have something in their hearts...

The music is already inside you, you just need to get it out.

Playing from the Heart is what the Native American flute world calls improvisation. To improvise is to make something up while performing...

To read all of Playing from the Heart, part 1 click here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Strengthening your fingers

In the last article we looked at playing your first Native American flute scale. It would seem natural that at this point you would ask the question "Now what?". There are a couple things that would be good to consider. Strengthening your fingers is one of them. The other is to begin "Playing from the Heart" which is the NAF word for improvisation, or just "noodling" around on your NAF and playing whatever pops into your head. We'll look at "Playing from the Heart" later, for now let's look at a couple easy ways to strengthen your fingers.

The point of this article is to start you on the path to freeing your mind from having to think about your fingers. The less you have to concentrate on your fingers the more you can focus on playing your music, and the music's what it's all about. To do that we're going to look at some very basic things you can do to prepare your fingers to move effortlessly, allowing you to play more freely.

The Brain Connection
The first thing to keep in mind is that you don't need strong fingers in the sense of muscle strength. You don’t need to do finger pushups. What is meant by strength here is mostly improving your coordination, which is handled by the brain. So what you're really doing is training your brain and it's messages to and from your fingers.

The second thing to consider is that like anything you do, and I mean anything, the more you do it the better you get. Repetition also multiplies on itself non linearly. I like to point out to the people that attend my NAF classes that if you were to tie your shoelaces every day of your life, that by the time you were 35 years old you would have tied them 12,775 times! Odds are you've gotten pretty good at it. The exercises below work the same way.

    TIP: Practice makes better

Before we begin let's review the set up of the NAF. Remember that each hole has a number. We will also call the finger that covers any hole by the same number. So hole #1 is covered by finger #1.
    hole numbers

Fig. 1 The finger holes of a six holed NAF

Here are some simple ideas that you can use everyday to warm up and strengthen you brain – finger connection.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Temple of the Sun: solo intro

Here is a video of the solo intro to Temple of the Sun from New Fire.
To Play, click on the play "button" on the lower left hand side of the image.
This was taken by my friend Keith Stanford last fall.

You can read more about this flute here.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Playing your first scale on a Native American flute


In this article we will cover playing your first Native American flute scale and begin to familiarize yourself with the basic fingering and notes of this wonderful instrument.

There are many books and videos about how to get started on the Native American flute. Odds are when you purchased your new NAF you may have got one from the maker. But just in case you don’t have one, you lost it or you need a quick, easy refresher we’ll quickly go over the basics in this article, along with some handy playing tips that you can use all the time.

The Native American flute is a fipple flute. There are many fipple flutes around the world. European recorders, tin whistles and penny whistles and ocarinas to name a few. Fipple flutes, unlike silver flutes, pan-pipes and other wind instruments do not require you to produce the sound with the shape of your mouth. This makes playing a musical note very easy. You just put your lips to the mouthpiece and blow. In fact you can do it without covering any of the finger holes.

Go ahead and try it now. Leave open all the holes and just blow into the mouthpiece.

Hold your flute with the first three fingers from each hand and both your thumbs. The flute should be at about 45˚ from your body. Stand up straight, hunching your shoulders will hinder your breathing. The holes are covered with the first three fingers from each hand. Most people cover the top three holes with their left hand and the bottom three holes with their right hand. However, you may switch hands if you feel that is more comfortable. Use the fleshy pads of your finger-tips, not the tips themselves. This helps prevent air from leaking past your fingers.

Let’s assign numbers to the finger holes of the NAF, starting from the bottom and working our way up to the top of the flute. The hole closest to the bottom of the flute is Hole #1, the next one up is Hole #2, then hole #3, and so one until the last one hole which is hole #6. This way of numbering conforms to the basic scale of the flute. (fig. 1)

    hole numbers
Fig. 1 The finger holes of a six holed NAF

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