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.
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.
DOUBLE FLUTE/DRONE FLUTE PHOTOS
Click Images for Enlarged View
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
THE DOUBLE FLUTE AND DRONE FLUTE IN MODERN TIMES
Your choices for purchasing a drone or double flute today are truly varied, limited only by
the creative imaginations of modern flutemakers. At NativeFlutesWalking.com, 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
GUIDE TO CHOOSING YOUR NATIVE AMERICAN DOUBLE FLUTE/DRONE FLUTE
Xavier Quijas Yxayotl
$575 - $700
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. Visit Site »
High Spirits Flutes
$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. Visit Site »
Spirit Of The Woods Flutes
$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. Visit Site »
$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. Visit Site »
THE SPIRITUAL VALUE OF DRONE/DOUBLE FLUTES TODAY
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER LEARNING
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
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
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