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Native American Flute Music - Inspiration From North American Birds
Looking for new ideas for songs you can play on your Native American Flute?
Nature is ever generous, full of beautiful, inspiring sounds. It is a
documented fact that Indigenous groups like the Maya crafted whistles and
flutes to realistically mimic the sounds of a host of animals - birds, insects,
frogs - but you don't have to have a special instrument to work at this. Any
Native American Flute can be used to make music that either sounds like
wildlife or expresses how you feel when you are listening to wildlife. You
can create new songs, or new elements in songs by sitting quietly, listening
respectfully and then playing what you hear or feel. For example, one of the
authors at NativeFlutesWalking.com recently made up a song that is about a
broad, shining river where a California Quail is sitting in a low tree. The
melody flows along like the water and then the 3-note call of the bird is
The most natural way to find inspiration of this kind for Native American
Flute Music is to spend time in the country or in an urban garden that is
visited by wild animals, but even in the city, there are pigeons and sometimes
other creatures, too. If you've never spent much time listening to non-human
sounds, this article will get you started with videos, descriptions and
original illustrations of some of the North American birds and animals that
have lived side by side with Native American Peoples for thousands of years.
It is our hope that you will spend time on this page, listening attentively
to each song and then playing the music and feelings that come to you.
With a yellow patch on his chest that looks like the rising sun, the
Black-headed Grosbeak's music shines with a joyous sound.
His is a complex call, floating down to you from
trees along creeks and in mixed forest. It is a treat to get to spend time with one of these lyrical birds, just listening to his unique sound, and of course, his colors truly light up the woods! Can
you imitate his music? Try it on a Native American flute like the Woodlands Flute,
or try some Panpipes.
Hear This Bird's Song:
Don't let his plain feathers fool you. The secretive Swainson's Thrush has one
of the most amazing calls of all North American Birds.
You will hear him singing amongst the ferns and other low growth in mixed
woodlands, but spotting him takes patience. Can you use your Native American
Flute to make his music? The upward, zinging spiral of his call is truly
fun to play.
Hear This Bird's Song:
Great Horned Owl
The solemn hoot of the Great Horned Owl makes night music across the United
States and Canada. People who do a lot of driving or walking in the evening
along country roads know just how many Great Horned Owls may be seen along
telephone wires and fences.
They spend a great deal of time calling to their mates during the times they are separate and then they reunite in a tree,
bowing to one another and sharing the gifts of food they have brought. Though you cannot see the owl in this video, it's an excellent recording of his call.
Try this deep, woody music on your Plains Flute,
or Woodlands Flute.
Hear This Bird's Song:
The ancestral Native Americans of California must have watched the habits of
this indigenous quail with as much interest as we do today. Few can surpass
the California Quail's visual charm and his loyal protection of his large
family is endearing and admirable.
Standing on a tree, shrub or an object in the garden, he watches over all
his relations, reporting what he sees through a series of calls that keep
them safe. At 1:15 in this video, you will hear the California Quail give
his most distinctive 3 note call. Try it out on any Native American Flute,
including a simple ocarina.
Hear This Bird's Call:
Lesser Prairie Chicken
It is hard not to want to get up and dance and call with the Lesser Prairie
Chicken when you see him perform his courting display. Symbolic of the
prairies, he would have been one of the most familiar sights in the daily
life of ancestral Plains Indians.
would be a wonderful instrument to imitate his curious, burbling call, but
any Native American Flute would be worth trying for this ancient, energetic
Hear This Bird's Song:
Nothing calls the heart to the sea like the sound of gulls. You can almost
smell salt in the air when you hear their high cries.
An Andean Quena Flute
or Tarka would be an
interesting choice in trying to make the music of gulls, and whether you live
on the Atlantic, Pacific or somewhere in between, this is a call worth
incorporating into the music you play on your Native American Flute.
Hear This Bird's Call:
Hawks have always played a large part in Native American stories, and with
their piercing cry and airy call, Red Tailed Hawks seem to lift our spirits
up into the skies with them.
This hawk casts its swift shadow across the
United States and thrills we two-legged animals with its graceful form and
beautiful salmon-orange tail feathers. It would be nice to try playing the
hawk's call over the base note of a Drone Flute.
Hear This Bird's Call:
Considering the fact that many Native American traditions point to Woodpecker
as the giver of the flute, it is only right to honor him as you are learning
to play bird calls on your Native American Flute. The Acorn Woodpecker dwells
wherever oaks are present, caching millions of the nuts in little holes in the
At 2:08 in this video, you can hear the Acorn Woodpecker's most
distinctive call and the rhythm of it can add an exciting touch to your own
Hear This Bird's Call:
Animals Can Play A Part In Your Native American Flute Music, Too.
Birds may be the masters of song, but wild animals have wonderful voices, too,
and here is a small selection of some animal songs which were well-known to
ancestral Native Americans. Here you will find Coyote, absolutely central to
the spiritual stories of so many Native American Peoples. Also, you will find
Wolf with his long, lone howl. Elk and Humpback Whales have songs that are
oddly similar, perhaps going back to a much earlier time when all animals
came out of the water. Their music is complex, ancient and beautiful. Finally,
the songs of little Crickets and Frogs set the tone of life in the quieter
North American places. Even if your Native American Flute doesn't have quite
the tone of some of these creatures, you can play their rhythms or just the
way their music makes you feel.
Humpback Whale Music
Pacific Tree Frog Music
Playing Native American Flute Music Can Increase Your Sense Of Connectedness
One of the most harmful side effects of spending most of your time in a man-made environment is that you can lose the vision that tells you that you are a part of life on Earth. Cities and towns tend to tell us that we are apart from everything - apart from dirt, apart from running water, apart from trees, birds, animals and insects. This is a distorted perception, and it is not helpful to us in feeling kinship with all living creatures. When you are looking at only human things and listening to only human voices and sounds, the sights and voices of all of the brother creatures can disappear from your consciousness and, considering how varied and abundant life is on our Earth, this is a real loss.
Can you find a place to go where the sounds of the other creatures aren't being drowned out by man-made noise? Go to this place with your eyes, ears and heart open. At first, you may feel like only a visitor. Western Man is schooled to think of himself as a mere observer rather than a participant in the natural world. But, soon, you may feel that your seat on that rock, that log, that little patch of ground is like the bird's perch in his tree or the skunk's den in the rocks. You belong here, and once you have listened respectfully to what all of the other creatures are saying, you can have your own say by singing with your voice, or by playing something on your Native American Flute. Play something and then stop and listen. Did everything around you come to a halt when you played? Maybe the first time, it will. But the more time you spend in harmony with natural surroundings, you will come to be accepted as part of the life that is going on there, and you will find that your fellow creatures accept you as part of the music of the Earth. What better use for your Native American Flute will you ever find than this?
Indigenous Peoples already have their own, very ancient traditions to draw on in creating native flute music. More recent comers to the land must, in a sense, start from scratch in creating a music that is authentic and truthful. The late Native American poet and author, Paula Gunn Allen, once gave her opinion that what makes an American Indian an American Indian is his generations-old connection to the land, "that imbues their psychology and eventually their spirituality and makes them one with the spirit of the land." Allen suggested that the longer people of European heritage remain in America, the more 'Indian' they would become. This is an extremely interesting statement, hinting at the potential in every resident of the Americas to go deeper into the unique experience of living amidst these mountains, plains, deserts and coasts. Some non-Indigenous Americans now have a history of some five centuries in this land, and while this is a mere blink of the eye in comparison to the far more ancient history of American Indian Peoples, it should have been more than long enough to begin being taught by the land. By becoming a little less man-and-thing-centric, and a little more land-centric, every person has the opportunity to feel what it is really like to live inside the spiritual geography of the Americas. There is so much to learn, and at Native Flutes Walking, we believe that learning to take notice of wildlife, plants, rocks, land features and sounds is a way to begin seeing these lands for what they are, rather than for what man has paved over the top of them. Do not underestimate the positive changes that can occur in your life once you start looking and listening.
Native American Flute Music Stories
One of the authors of Native Flutes Walking has agreed to share some of her stories about things that have happened when she has been playing her Native American Flute. We hope that these three short stories will give you a hint about the good times that can be enjoyed by anyone who works at learning how to be a part of the song of all Nature.
The Sea Song
First of all, it is not always easy to play a Native American Flute by the ocean. At least, it is not easy for me to play, but the wind has a lot of fun playing it for me. Sometimes, I cannot make even a single note of my own, but the wind plays all kinds of strange things through the holes of my flute and I like that. However, on this one afternoon, it was very calm in a little cove along a bay. This is a cove with a very big rock, with many little crabs hiding in the crevices, making a bubbling, crackling sound. Did you know you can sometimes feed a tiny piece of seaweed to a crab? Sitting on the big rock, looking out at the calm blue water, I played my song of what I was seeing - water, an island out in the bay with some still trees, a quiet time with no one around. I thought my husband and I were all alone. I didn't see any Pelicans or Seagulls or Osprey just then. The bay looked very silent and empty as I played my song. I finished my song and set my flute down in my lap, and at that same moment, I received a visitor. A Sea Lion rose up out of the water, just a few yards away from me, and he looked at me. He had been listening all along. I had never before seen a sea lion at this beach and I felt really good to know he had taken time to listen to my music. I had been to this beach so many times, but had never before seen this kind of creature there. Now, lots of times when I go to this beach, I hear sea lions barking somewhere out in the water. I always make the time, now, to listen to their music.
The Forest Song
There is a place in the forest that I love. It smells so wonderful on a warm afternoon and a cool stream runs through it, a home of Coho Salmon. I have been coming to this forest since I was a baby and I would go wading in the colorful water with my family. Little tiny minnows could be seen in the bright spots, and crawdads would lurk in the murky places. As an adult, I have come to appreciate this forest even more, because it is a haven for many kinds of wildlife and it is a very good place to spend time with birds. It is refreshing to go there. When the forest isn't too crowded with people, it can be a very lively place, full of rustles, songs and calls, but one drowsy afternoon, the forest was really quiet as my husband and I were walking along on the soft mulch of old needles. There were almost no other people around, but maybe it was such a warm, sleepy afternoon, all of the animals were having a siesta. So we sat down and listened for awhile and then I decided I would like to make music for just the trees, if no one else was.
Not 10 notes had come out of my Native American Flute before the entire wood erupted in song. It was like someone had flipped a switch. I guess it was me! A whole family of Acorn Woodpeckers burst into a chorus of rhythmic croakings, Dark-eyed Juncos jumped out of the ferns with Winter Wrens, chirping and snipping and the little Brown Creepers were doing their wheezy call as they scaled up and down trunks all around me. Best of all, a bright, inquisitive chipmunk came down a bank into the path and first went one way and then another way in front of me, fixing his shiny eyes on me and frisking his striped tail in curls and curves in what I can only call an interpretive dance. I felt very certain that everyone liked my music so much, they wanted to be part of it, and because of this, I felt very strongly how I was welcome with them and welcome in the forest.
Song Of The Grasshopper In My Moccasins
Every afternoon in the summertime, I spend time in our family garden. My favorite thing to do is to sit on the warm earth between the corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and other plants, soaking up the sun and looking at all the life that goes on with my plants and around my plants. For example, every year, a huge red dragonfly comes to live in our cornfield. It really loves perching there in the bright sunlight. The garden is always full of different butterflies - Cabbage Whites, Skippers and those little silvery blue ones. Birds are everywhere - Towhees under the bushes, finches and sparrows along the hedges, Scrub Jays nesting in the trees and a Mockingbird who sings for us every evening. Sometimes big hawks and kites pass by overhead.
Sitting down on the ground, I like to take off my shoes so the soles of my feet can feel the earth. I find this to be very grounding and healing. When you sit at ground level, you cannot help but notice all of the tiny bugs in your garden - lady bugs, sowie bugs and much smaller insects whose names I don't know. At a certain time of year, the grasshoppers come and nothing is warmer or more peaceful than their song. We get both little brown ones and very big jade green ones here. I like to take my Native American Flute out amongst the plants and animals and play for them. Scientists now say that music helps plants grow, but Native American Peoples have always known the truth of this and have always sung to their growing crops. It's just a good thing to do.
Anyhow, a few weeks ago, I was sitting in our garden with my shoes off and I felt like playing a little music. As soon as I began, a curious grasshopper landed on my leg, looking at me. I think that was a little too close for his comfort, so he jumped off onto the rim of my empty moccasin and sat there watching me and listening. I played for about 10 minutes and then I needed to go inside for a drink of tea. Well, he wasn't finished. I asked the Grasshopper to please jump off my shoe so I could put it on. Instead, he jumped onto my other shoe, saying, "You may be all finished, but I want another song." At least, that's what I thought he was saying. So, I played another song, but he still hadn't had enough. This insect was a real music lover! Either that, or he was thinking about eating my moccasin. Now, I was really thirsty by this time. Flute playing can make you very thirsty. So, in all politeness, I picked up my shoe and gave him a ride to the nearest sunflower. He had very good manners, seeing I meant business, and obliged me by hopping off onto the stem. "See you next time, Grasshopper," I said, and went indoors to drink my tea.
What Adventures Will You Have Playing Your Native American Flute Music?
People say it's the little things that matter most, and if you're finding that too much of your life's time is being spent worrying about big things like obligations, work, debts and global problems, you can take comfort in something as small and meaningful as the song of a bird, the gaze of a grasshopper and a little music on your Native American Flute. We hope that the effort we've put into making this page beautiful, useful and fun will inspire you to spend time on it, watching the videos, looking at the lovely illustrations and reading the stories and suggestions. We want your time spent on NativeFlutesWalking.com to be really good learning time. Listening to Native American Flute CDs or watching Native American Flute Videos is a wonderful way to relax and gain insight and inspiration into the beautiful uses of this instrument, but don't forget to make your own music, too. At Native Flutes Walking, we believe you have a unique song to share, and because it comes from you, we know it will be a good one.
Native Flutes Walking wishes you joy through music, and a good
journey along the Native flute path.