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Double Flute/Drone Flute

If nobody is around today for a music session, you can still play a duet - with yourself - thanks to drone and double flutes. But first, you will have to make sense of the sometimes confusing terminology applied to these related but different wind instruments. In brief, a double flute has tone holes in both tubes, whereas a drone flute plays a single note drone with one tube and multiple notes with the other. This article contains photos, videos, maps, detailed information, a flutemaker comparison chart, and more to increase your understanding and appreciation of the Double Flute or Drone Flute.

Illustration depicting an ancient Double Flute

This original illustration depicts an ancient double flute unearthed in an archaeological dig at Colima in western Mexico. Featuring an anthropomorphic form and crafted of clay, this flute is properly called a double flute or flauta doble because both tubes contain finger holes.


This flute is currently held by the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Colima, and numerous similar flutes have been found throughout the occidental and gulf coast regions of the country.



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Photo of Modern Mayan Double Flute

This photograph depicts two Mayan-style double flutes, crafted by a skilled modern flutemaker. Note the different lengths of the two pipes of the flute - an element of style frequently encountered in the double flutes of Mexico and Mesoamerica.


Source: YouTube

Photo of Modern Aztec Double Flutes

In a nod of appreciation to ancestors, some modern flutemakers appropriately include a carving or fetish of the head of Xochipilli, the Aztecan god of art, dance and song. Language lovers will note the similarity of this god's name to that of the now-famed Southwestern deity, Kokopelli. These two beings share numerous attributes and characteristics.


Source: YouTube

Photo of Modern Drone Flute

A stunningly beautiful modern drone flute of North American manufacture. Both native and non-native flutemakers in the United States are embracing the exciting challenge of producing drone flutes in numerous forms.

Note that only one of the tubes of this flute features tone holes. The other plays a drone note, against which the melody is played.


Source: YouTube




Gentleman improvising on modern drone flute


Tips on playing a more complex double flute


Demo of Ecuadorean Dulzainas double flutes


Aztecan style double flute music


Drone flute performance by Aaron White


Map of Colima, Mexico

Map of Colima, Mexico, considered a hub of early double flute manufacture. It is conjectured that these early flutes played a pivotal role in religious rites.

Some websites selling drone and double flutes describe them as being the invention of modern flutemakers, but this type of flute has extremely ancient roots in Mesoamerica, with numerous examples being unearthed by archaeologists. Early double flutes have been found in Pre-Classic Period El Salvador (1250 BC - 250 AD).


Both straight and globular double flutes have been discovered, some being blown through a single air channel and others being blown through two separate chambers. Other examples have been discovered along the Gulf Coast, but the region most closely associated with the double flute is probably Western Mexico.

In this occidental region, fascinating double flutes have been found which date between 300 BC - 150 AD. Unlike modern double flutes which strive simply to produce accurate scales and a melodious sounds, the double flutes of this period appear to have produced psychoacoustic effects important to ancient rituals. This theory is attested to by the sounds of excavated instruments and by murals depicting the use of double flutes in ceremonies.

Colima, Mexico is an area particularly rich in archeological findings of clay double flutes, frequently of anthropomorphic form. In this beautiful, warm district, ancient peoples erected the La Campana pyramid around 1500 BC.


The region was subsequently home to the Otomis (250 AD -750 AD), the Toltecs (900 AD - 1154 AD) and the Chichimecs (1154 AD to 1428 AD).


History books in Mexico recount the mightiness of the people of Colima, highlighted by the fact that it took the Spanish invaders three separate attempts before they managed to conquer the region.

Pyramid in Colima, Mexico

La Campana Pyramid at Colima, dating back to 1500 BC and oriented due north toward the active volcano, Volcan de Fuego.

In addition to the straight and globular flutes discovered in Occidental Mexico, triple flutes have been found; further proof that while modern flutes feature many differences from these ancestral wind instruments, the creativity of ancient flutemakers was as rich as that of today.


Your choices for purchasing a drone or double flute today are truly varied, limited only by the creative imaginations of modern flutemakers. At, our authors have noticed that many people are confused by the terminology associated with these two types of related, but different, wind instruments. The following photos and descriptions will clue you in as to the most common types of drone and double flutes being crafted today.

Drone Flute

Drone Flute
American drone flutes have their analogs elsewhere in the ancient world. The basic principle of the drone flute is to allow a flutist to play a melody to the accompaniment of a single, ongoing tone - a drone. On modern drone flutes, this single tone may be tuned to a fifth or other interval, creating the possibility of interesting harmony and a rich sound. Whether the drone flute is made up of two separate tubes visibly joined together or the tubes are encased within a block-like structure, to truly qualify as a drone flute, only one of the tubes should feature tone holes.


Today, both Native and Non-Native North American flutemakers are experimenting with imaginative drone flute forms. You will find them in Y configurations, V configurations, side-by-side configurations or even with one flute stacked on top of another, like layers in a sandwich. These modern drone flutes are mostly made of woods such as cedar or exotic imported woods, revealing real craftsmanship on the part of the flutemaker.


Photo Credit: YouTube

Dulzainas Double Flutes

Dulzainas - Separate Flutes, Played Together
It's easy to imagine that ancestral flute players hit upon the realization that they could put two flutes to their lips, blow, and produce an amazing duet. Today, the people of Ecuador are very proud of their dulzainas flutes, both featuring tone holes, enabling the flutist to create endless, complex melodic arrangements. The dulzainas shown are made of brass, but you can also encounter them made of clay, wood and tin. They are fipple flutes (feature a whistle-like window which cuts the air, producing sound.) It is interesting to speculate that South American wind instruments like the dulzainas must have come first, before the idea of joining two tubes permanently together into the double flute construction more generally familiar today.


Photo Credit: YouTube

Mesoamerican Double Flute

Two Flutes Visibly Joined Together
The double flute shown here is of Mesoamerican origin, crafted by an Indigenous flutemaker in the style of the Aztec and Mayan civilizations. It is a fipple flute (featuring a whistle-like window which cuts the air, producing sound) with tone holes in both tubes and tubes of uneven length. Like so many of the ancient Mesoamerican flutes and whistles that have been unearthed by archaeologists, this modern double flute is made of clay. Also typical of historic flutes of this region, the example shown features a clay fetish in the shape of a head.


Photo Credit: YouTube

Drone Flute Alternate Construction

Two Flutes Invisibly Joined Together
Here, professional Native flutist, Aaron White is performing on a beautiful double flute of an alternate construction. Unlike the above flute, where both tubes can be clearly seen in an exterior view, this type of double flute encloses both tubes within a cartridge or box shape. These double flutes often feature impressive carved end pieces and offer the flutemaker a chance to let his workmanship shine through.


Photo Credit: YouTube

Triple Flute

Triple Flute - Combining Drone and Double Flutes into a Single Amazing Instrument
The gentleman shown in the accompanying photo is playing a High Spirits Triple Flute in the key of A. Flutemaker, Odell Borg, has crafted a remarkable instrument in this flute and other flutemakers are taking similar creative approaches. In a flute like this, the drone tube of the flute will play a single note, such as the root note of the scale. The middle flute will feature the array of tone holes. Finally, the third flute in this particular instrument is capable of being configured with leather ties to play three different notes. This complex construction offers tremendous variety of expression and composition for the flutist. As other-worldly as this triple flute may look, archaeological findings on the North American continents prove that triple flutes were known among the Ancestral Peoples.


Photo Credit: YouTube

In North America today, a major portion of the drone flutes being sold take inspiration from the Native American Plains Flute. They feature fipple windows, mounted with external blocks, often beautifully carved in the shapes of birds and animals. In this style, each flute is visibly separate but joined at the mouth by a variety of methods.


The alternate construction most commonly seen is the cartridge-style flute in which the tubes of the instrument are encased within a long rectangular block. These flutes often feature handsomely carved end pieces.


Modern drone flutemakers are experimenting with all different kinds of wood; cedar, maple, birch, fruit woods and imported exotics. Some feature burnings and carvings, painted elements and inlaid semi-precious gems. Most of the modern drone flutes being crafted in the United States today are concert tuned - capable of being played in tune with other instruments.

Company Native Made? Flutemaker Price Range Materials Special Features Additional Offerings Additional Notes
Yxayotl Native-made Xavier Quijas Yxayotl $575 - $700 Clay Exquisite museum quality double flutes in the Mayan/Aztec style, including Corn Lady and Moon Goddess Forms CDs, Drums, Masks, Art These double flutes are for serious musicians who wish to invest in the work of a modern Indigenous artisan making extraordinary beautiful flutes.
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High Spirits Flutes Non-native-made Odell Borg $150 - $350 Walnut, Birch, Cedar Plains-style Drone Flutes of exceptional craftsmanship and beauty DVDs, flute bags, whole array of flutes Odell Borg also makes a beautiful Triple Flute.
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Spirit Of The Woods Flutes Non-Native made Ed Hrebec $350 - $500 Walnut, Maple, Cherry, Exotics Cartridge-style drone flutes incorporating such handsome woodwork CDs and Accessories Endorsed by professional musician Mark Holland, Ed Hrebec's Flutes are designed with such sensitivity to visual beauty. A pleasure to look at his work.
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Fretwell Flutes Native-made Jerry Fretwell $250 - $550 Cedar, Birch, Oak, Maple, Ash, Exotic Cartridge-style drone flutes made of very beautiful wood Carrying bags, boxes, and other accessories Simple designs and very beautiful. Offers custom-made drone flutes.
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Research indicates that the ancient double flutes of occidental Mexico may have played vital roles in the religious ceremonies of these people. Perhaps their capacity for producing psychoacoustic sounds helped participants to bridge the gap between the everyday and the supernatural. No matter which Indigenous American culture one studies, the complexity and centrality of spiritual practices is apt to awe. It can bring into sharp focus the contrast between this world view and the typical modern one which may be practically devoid of ceremony or recognition of a spiritual dimension to life.


If you ever find yourself wishing that your life was richer in meaningful ceremonies, music can pave the way into encounters with energies and powers greater than our individual selves. Consider the magnificent unison of a drumming circle at a Native American Powwow, the ecstatic joy jazz musicians claim they often feel from the experience of jamming with one another, or the uplifting quality of beautifully rendered choral music. All these are examples of what happens when people join together their creativity towards a single purpose. The ceremony of a duet between two singers, an Indigenous musical performance or even a rock concert can put both us and the musicians into a space of acute awareness and openness to the wonders of life.


It is the dream of many beginning Native-style flute players to one day find other musicians with whom they can create meaningful music. This coming together of music makers can be profoundly enriching, healing and energizing. But double flutes and drone flutes offer a slightly different path, worthy of exploring. They enable you to capture two of your own feelings at once, helping you to tap into more complex moods and ideas. With a double flute or drone flute, you can go off on your own for quiet reflection but still produce a sound as if you were traveling with a friend.


From a flutemaker's standpoint, double and drone flutes are offering one of the ultimate tests of skill. To be able to combine two or three different flutes into a harmonious and fine-sounding single instrument is a tremendous accomplishment and some of the most exciting innovations taking place in the flute world on the American continents are centered on drone and double flutes. This may not be the first wind instrument you pick up as a beginner, but if you discover that your spiritual life is greatly enhanced by playing flutes, a double flute or drone flute will be a wonderful addition to your collection.

Recommended Books About Mesoamerican History

  • Music in Aztec and Inca Territory, Robert Stevenson
  • 1491, Charles C. Mann

Recommended Books on the Native American Flute

  • The Art of the Native American Flute, R. Carlos Nakai
  • Love Flute, Paul Goble
  • Flute Shop: A Guide to Crafting the Native American Style Flute, Russell A. Wolf

Recommended Websites about the Native American Flute


A Drone or Double Flute May Be Right For You If...

  • You have Indigenous ancestry
  • You respect and admire Indigenous cultures
  • You are looking for a challenging instrument to play
  • You want an instrument on which you can improve with practice
  • You enjoy warm, deep tones
  • You would like to be able to play a duet with yourself
  • You feel you have music inside you waiting to come out signature flute bird

Native Flutes Walking wishes you joy through music, and a good journey along the Native flute path.