Native American Flute Keys

A Guide to the Most Popular Keys

by Steven Schafersman

Native American flutes are tuned to minor keys, so in the list below, g means G minor or Gm.

Some Native American flutes have been made in major keys, such as G and E, but these are very uncommon and not recommended. If you want a fipple flute (also known as a block flute or duct flute, as are NA flutes) in a major key, buy a recorder. The traditional sound of Native American flutes requires that they must be made in minor keys so they play the pentatonic minor scale with open-fingerings. Recorders play the diatonic major scale with open-fingerings. Both flutes can play the full chromatic scale with cross-fingerings and partly-covered holes (see the NAF fingering chart), but a recorder has twice the range of a NA flute because it has a hole for the thumb which allows the upper octave to be easily reached by over-blowing.

Native American flutes are made in at least 26 different minor keys. I recommend buying Native American flutes in very popular and useful keys of a, g, f#, and low-e for a complete set for any amateur player. A child could start with a high-c or mid-a flute, an adult with a mid-f#. My personal favorites are f# and low-e. However, mid-g is the most popular key and is suitable for anyone with large-enough hands, so it has to be the recommended first Native American flute to purchase. Mid-g is also the flute that instructors want students to bring to a class or workshop in which students will play individually and together as a group. One could get by with just two flutes: a mid-g and f#, which are the most "authentic" or "historical" pitches, although many players prefer to have one or two lower ones, such as low-e, d, and c, because they sound great for meditation. Flutes lower than low-d are large and more difficult to handle and play, while flutes higher than high-c are very high-pitched.

If you become a collector or professional musician, you will want to purchase flutes in keys other than the popular four, but for an amateur player they are not necessary. The four most popular and recommended keys are highlighted in pale green. Less popular keys are highlighted in pale yellow.

high g Extremely small and rare.
high f# Extremely small and rare.
high f Extremely small and rare.
high e Virtually a whistle; rarely made; only for collectors.
high d# Very rare.
high d Rare; very high and small; usually for collectors.
high c# Rare; very high; uncommon.
high c This is the most popular and available of the high-pitched keys. High c is good for a very young child with small hands.
high b A collector's item but very nice and playable.
mid a# Playable but uncommon; also named mid b-flat
mid a Very easy to finger, especially for smaller hands; recommended. Second in popularity to g, with a very nice sound. Children can begin with this flute and use it for a lifetime.
mid g# Fairly scarce, wonderful sound, but not popular.
mid g The most popular key of all NA flutes; works great with piano; easy to finger; highly recommended for any person and as the first NA flute to purchase.
mid f# The traditional Native American flute key; very popular, middle range, versatile, easy to finger, and highly recommended for a first adult flute.
mid f Readily available, but not really popular; this flute is suitable for solo play.
low e Most popular of the low-pitched keys; sounds great with guitar; a favorite of mine and recommended.
low d# Very rare, quite nice, but a collector's flute; also named low e-flat.
low d This is is also a popular low key and used by musicians; some favor this key as a solo flute.
low c# Somewhat popular key for low flutes as a meditation pitch and solo flute play.
low c This is the lowest of the popular keys; this is a large flute and of moderate availability; popular with musicians.
bass b Large and rare; for collectors and musicians.
bass a# A very rare key; also named low or bass b-flat.
bass a Very large specialty flute; quite rare; only for collectors.
sub-bass g# Extremely large and rare.
sub-bass g Extremely large and rare.
sub-bass f# Extremely large and rare.
Created and formatted by Steven Schafersman. Comments, corrections, and improvements welcome. Send email to infoATcybercomputingDOTcom.
Last updated: 2008 June 22