MARY YOUNGBLOOD’S NATIVE AMERICAN FLUTE EMBELLISHMENTS
westernized musical education, definitions, and notation are presented in a
standardized manner and method. Not only
does the Native American flute traditionally
not have a westernized scale,
but our verbiage and definitions for various notation, techniques and
embellishments are new, and vary among players, geographical areas and flute
groups! Some of these are shared by
others, and some are definitions of mine, which I gladly share…
of these embellishments can and should be used when practicing “the scales”
(moving up and down the flute in order from bottom to top). These embellishments can easily be applied to
the 5-hole NA-style flute as well.
Control is our number one embellishment!
The following exercises will teach you various ways to increase, improve
and fine tune your playing technique.
When all the
holes are covered/down, the fundamental is the lowest of the notes you get when
you play into the flute. It is the “key”
the flute is in. (A, G, D, F#, etc). The top fundamental is the higher note
(when all of your fingers are up, except the 3rd hole from the top),
but one octave higher.
RIGHT- OR LEFT-HANDED
classical, woodwind instruments are taught and played with the left hand on the
top, and the right hand on the bottom.
Many of you have learned the other way around, or are naturally
left-handed. Although we’ll not ask you
to change that (unless you’re comfortable doing so), you may have to pay closer
attention to descriptions, hand positions, or details written or visually
taught, but you’ll be just fine!
THE WINDOW OF SOUND
note on your flute from the bottom/lowest note (all 5 or 6 holes covered) to
the top/highest note.
notes from the very softest/flattest it will play, to
the very loudest/sharpest that particular note will play (even to the point
where the note is compromised, and sounds horrible!). This is your “window of sound.” You will
notice every flute and every note on every flute sounds different and has a
smaller or bigger window of sound.
THE SWEET SPOT
After you get
to know the “window of sound” of each flute and each note, you can begin to
hear and feel when the note is in pitch.
Musicians use a tuner, or another instrument to validate this (some
folks have perfect pitch). And
especially as you play your first note, you will get used to the air pressure
it takes to make each note sound “right.”
are playing a fairly simple instrument with one octave, and 5 or 6 holes, we
need to really show the contrast in sounds on the N/A style flute: The subtle differences of the notes in terms
of softer and louder or slower and faster.
Dictionary 4b: A pattern of musical sound created by tones or lines played
together. Basic theme
STAYING CLOSE TO HOME
I don’t take
my fingers physically far from the flute. I usually try and keep my fingers “at
the ready.” I keep my fingers pretty
close to the holes, so I can get there quickly.
This is especially important when doing the bark, or in using
moving your finger(s) up and down over the various holes.
notes together without any articulation.
of each individual note (also double & triple tonguing).
your tongue while blowing into the flute. (Like rolling your “R’s” to speak another language).
LETTING THE NOTE “FALL”
I visualize a
shooting star, dissipating smoothly into the horizon. Get a good solid note
going, then lessen the breath until the note seems to
disappear. . . .
visualization on this one (the “flat-line” visual).
single, big breath, and having all your fingers down, blow air through the
flute, (finding the “sweet spot”) then lifting up the bottom three fingers (at
the SAME TIME!), thrust/blow a huge
amount of breath through the flute. The
force should make the flute almost shriek--reaching those very highest
registers of sound. Then I come back to
the same “sweet spot” IMMEDIATELY, as if I had never left that original note.
This embellishment takes lots of
(This is one
of the more advanced embellishments).
Pushing and lessening the breath to form smooth waves of sound. I choose to teach the classical style of
vibrato, using my diaphragm. Traditionally, many players use a throat vibrato.
There is no wrong way to use vibrato!
And be very patient with yourself:
Each flute and individual note will react and sound very differently. (I
also use visualization on this embellishment).
smaller, softer version of The Bark.
the fundamental (bottom note) for a few dramatic seconds, then lightly
releasing all the fingers except the 3rd hole, so you lightly hit
the top fundamental note.
Usually done at the end of a musical sentence.
BENDING THE NOTE
usually only use my index fingers while “bending the notes.” This is because these fingers offer more me
more “control” over the bends. I either
roll my finger off, or slide it off the hole.
This technique can be done slowly and dramatically, or quickly, for a
blues- or jazz-style bending of the note.
In doing this embellishment, be mindful of the “contrast” you intend to
bring to the musical sentences you create.
A more advanced technique is adding more air pressure to the “center” of
this bend, to create more “texture.”
only half of a hole to obtain the half note between whole notes, or the quarter
notes between half notes. (More advanced).
PASSING NOTES/GRACE NOTES
consistently use my top, left index finger to present what I call a “smidgeon”
of a note before an actual note played. Just a “hint”of a note prior to landing
on an intended note. It’s to be
played very quickly. Sometimes, it’s almost
unnoticeable. . . .
THE “ANDERSON ATTACK”
from the band Jethro Tull,
has this unique technique of almost spitting these huge amounts of air through
the classical flute that sound like this enormous, spitting wind, but with
tonality. I’ve attempted to emulate this
technique for the NA-style flute and credit him for introducing me to this
unique, textural, and bigger than life
take my mouth a little bit away from the sound hole, and almost ‘spit’ air in
and around the sound hole. Sometimes it
can be a whisper of sound, and at other times, a passionate, windy breath with
more tone. And I always “tongue” the notes and air I spit into the flute. It gives the embellishment texture as well as
creating a really interesting, intense sound.
Ian Anderson also incorporates rolling his (“R’s”) tongue throughout
this embellishment, which I hear as, and would title, THE GROWL. . . .
THE HIDDEN NOTE
If your flute
does not have the four directional
holes at the bottom of the flute (symbolic &/or decorative): If you place the end of the flute close to
your knee (sit for this one, or use a friend’s shoulder!) and slowly cover the
hole with your knee/friend’s shoulder.
In this way, you can get almost a full note below the fundamental. At the very least, a half note below, thus
being a hidden and fun note to use!
MODE 1 (6-hole flutes)
scale from the bottom to the top, leaving the 3rd hole from the top
MODE 4 (6-hole flutes)
scale from the bottom to the top, leaving the 4th hole from the top
covered. (It’s almost like having two flutes/scales in one!).
the basic scale). Starting from the bottom fundamental (low),
and moving towards the top fundamental (high), as smoothly and as quickly as
you can, count how many “reps” you can do (going from the bottom, to the top
and BACK) in one single breath.
is wonderful for the continual building of breath control. Make it fun and have
a friend count, or use it as a friendly competition!
If you have
access to a swimming pool, make it a competition of seeing how far or how many
times you can swim underwater from one end of the pool to the other.
circular breath with the didge . . . LOL!
good. Hone your craft and your
passion. Play, learn, grow. . . . I will reiterate: All of these embellishments can be used with
the scales, so work on the things you want to get better at. Play with others, be disciplined; but my
number one rule is: HAVE FUN! When you get tired, put the flute down. It will call to you again. These are not our old-school music
lessons! This is about the journey . . .
(but practice is still GOOD!).
start to play a song in concert, you will usually see me close my eyes, and
take a cleansing breath before I start to play.
Then I go away. I take myself
someplace beautiful and/or meaningful.
Always someplace I’ve been before, that touched my heart and my visual
memory: Watching an eagle soaring above
the redwoods in Northern California; listening to jazz with the top down;
driving through the Smokey Mountains; watching humpbacks on my ancestral land
on Nuchek Island, Alaska; looking out from the Pyramid
of the Moon in Peru; to listening to the birds in my own backyard; or kayaking
the lakes and rivers near my home. I
picture those beautiful places, and try to bring that memory back to my
audience in the form of a song.
GETTING OUT OF YOUR HEAD
Like myself, most of you have raised your kids, built
your careers, and have had considerable life experiences under your belt. You are spiritually-minded, lovers of nature
and music, and are ready to embark on another
journey. . . it’s our time!
discover that this amazing instrument will take you to places you’ve never been
before. From composing and/or playing in
front of others, to playing for your communities, perhaps for someone
transitioning, or for a grandchild or child’s classroom. Maybe your church, social groups, or perhaps a wedding or
memorial. Even if
you’re playing to the critters in your own backyard. . . .
Most of us
have had to be very task-oriented, so it’s challenging to get outside of
ourselves--our heads--so we can become that vessel,
and an instrument for our intentions.
eyes. Pretend everyone/everything
listening is just a friend sitting with you in your living room.
I always ask
that a song touch someone’s heart. I don’t play for myself, but for someone else (sometimes that’s easier to
do). Take the focus away from YOU or any
fear you may have about playing. Get out
of ego. Take yourself to that sacred place in your mind, as you remember we’re
all simply vessels, so follow your heart. . . .
believe they must fill all the space with sound. As a visual artist, I understand that the negative spaces, or holes without
subject/sound, add “texture” and a level of completeness and resolution to any
composition. This is especially
important when dueting, as you must leave space for
your partner to fill with his or her sound, and musical sentences and
phrases. And even when playing together,
you should allow space for nothingness . . . a pause. Don’t be too “busy.” Leave some open space, which will give your
piece a fullness, maturity, and dramatic flair.
well with others. Developing an unspoken
musical experience with another player.
Some dueting styles incorporate a “call and
response” technique which gives each player time to “strut
their stuff” and contribute to the overall vibe of the song, while at the same
time, creating some structure in the musical sentences of bantering back and
forth. In jazz we call this “trading
eights.” The more one plays duets with
others, the more one gets a sense of “how” to do this. It simply takes time and
SHARING THE STAGE
from the last subject of dueting as, in order to play
well with others, you must develop a musical sensitivity, if you will, so as to
“feel” out how to best share the musical experience with others. Perhaps even others whom you have never
played with before. It requires active
listening skills, and the ability to be in the moment, and “go with the flow. .
. .” Setting ego aside
for the continuity of the overall performance. For example, often I am performing somewhere
where the opening act has the bigger/louder sound. Perhaps it is just myself
and my guitarist, where the opening act has a 5-piece ensemble! So for the fluidity of the show, I will
usually suggest that I open the show, and the other band plays second, so the
overall concert has a nice flow. “It’s
all good” is my motto in those situations.
leads with a strong musical sentence, and the other player responds in kind,
but perhaps changing a little something
in that sentence.
“tie into” the composition somehow, with the other person’s musical sentence.
Players can use non-verbal communication to decide who takes the lead,
and who follows. This is interchangeable
throughout the composition, and is recommended, so as to make the song
interesting, by incorporating and showcasing both players’ playing styles!
If you “over
blow,” or play the bottom fundamental with a lot of breath, some flutes will
give you a couple of extra notes above the fundamental. I do this covering ALL
the holes and blowing pretty darn hard.
Sometimes these extra notes are in pitch, others are not there at
all. You will have to experiment with
this, and see what other fun surprises your particular flute has in store for
Bless your Flute Journey. . . .
Native American Mary Youngblood, half Seminole and half
Aleut, is the first woman to professionally record the Native American Flute,
and the first woman to win not just one, but two Grammy Awards for "Best
Native American Music Album".
About her second Grammy Award, Silver Wave Records said, "...Mary
Youngblood has always had the talent to stand out above the crowd, and with
this honor she stakes her claim as the number one star of Native American
Mary’s sixth album for Silver Wave Records is
a compilation produced by Silver Wave's staff. Of “Sacred Place - A
Mary Youngblood Collection”, Silver Wave writes, “With rich vibrato and
notes that melt into your heart, Mary Youngblood takes the artistry of Native
American flute music to its highest level. Her song writing brings forth some
of the sweetest original melodies ever performed on this instrument, and the
collection herein showcases the most sublime.
“When this two-time Grammy Award winner reflects on her life, she resonates
with the peaceful warrior. Both softness and strength come through in her
deeply passionate music inspired by the wonders of nature. These peaceful and
vibrant songs have been carefully selected to quiet the mind, relax the body,
and inspire one to contemplate the Sacred
fifth album “Dance with the Wind” won the 2007 Grammy Award for “Best Native American
Music Album.” In an interview after accepting her award, Mary told the
media that "'Dance with the Wind' was created during the 2006 winter
storms in Northern California. The
storms brought extremely high winds; a tall oak lost a few good sized limbs and
the maples took a thrashing. Having an incredible affinity to trees, Mary
looked at them in her backyard, and thought it would be hard to be a tree right
then. But as she watched them, she noticed how the trees were almost
moving with purposeful rhythm, and with something that resembled . . . JOY.
Mary related her own personal stormy times to the dancing trees and realized
she could be like they were. She was not going to give in to the elements
either; she was going to learn to be more like the trees . . . and "Dance with
Mary’s fourth album “Feed the Fire” was nominated for the 2005 Grammy “Best
Native American Music Album”. Mary’s original melodies and lyrics spanned a variety of musical
styles and instruments: Her wood flutes,
piano, alto flute and sweet vocals. Special guest appearances by Ian Anderson
(of Jethro Tull), Bill
Miller, and Joanne Shenandoah, all contributed to Mary’s album full of energy,
warmth and passion. The tribute song ‘Feed the Fire’ for her birth parents and
dedicated to her birth mother will melt your heart.
Mary’s third album 'Beneath the Raven Moon,” won the 2003 Grammy Award for
“Best Native American Music Album.”
Silver Wave Records considered this a poetic
concept album--the title of each track being from Mary’s thematic poetry
reflecting the Human Journey. Mary’s beautiful voice harmonizing along with her
many flutes debuted with the instrumentation of award-winning producer Tom Wasinger. Of Mary's exemplary flute playing coupled with
two of her favorite American music styles, Classical and Blues, Dirty Linen Magazine stated, "Mary
Youngblood brings a fresh perspective to original melodies."
Mary’s second album “Heart of the World” found Mary weaving her flute melodies
with the lush accompaniment of guitar, percussion
and the exquisite voice of Joanne Shenandoah. “Heart of the World” won “Best
Native American Recording” by The Association for Independent Music (INDIE
Award), the New Age Voice (NAV
Award), and the 2000 Native American Music Awards (NAMMY’s) for “Best New Age
Recording”. The track “Cold Wind” will blow right into your chest and thump you
hard. It is amazing.
Mary’s debut album, “The Offering,” was a solo flute effort recorded “live-to-DAT”
in the huge underground chamber of the Moaning Cavern in California. The natural acoustics
lent an amazing echo and organic quality to the distinctly memorable melodies
that Mary created with her flutes. The Monterey
County Herald News wrote, "In addition to the haunting sounds of
various handcrafted wooden flutes, the listener can occasionally hear the drip
of water in the cavern, which adds a surreal ‘you-are-there’ feeling."
In addition to Mary’s two Grammy Awards and three nominations, she was the
first woman to win “Flutist of the Year'” in both 1999 and 2000, and “Best
Female Artist” in 2000 at the Native American Music Awards (NAMMY’s).
started piano lessons at age six, violin at eight, and classical flute and
guitar at ten. As an adult, when Mary
received her first wooden Native flute, she was driven to pursue the mastery of
this instrument so tied to her own heritage.
Now years later with five unique and accomplished albums under her belt, Mary
owns over 250 hand-carved Native American-style flutes in her collection and
uses a wide variety of them throughout every one of her albums. Each of her
flutes is masterfully crafted from different types of wood, bringing a unique
sound and texture to each song.
When Mary performs, it takes only a moment to acknowledge the profound
spirituality of the sacred Native American flute and its historical courtship
and wooing attributes. Her haunting music is much more than a song . . . it's liquid poetry, a prayer.
Mary Youngblood takes little credit for the intense emotions people feel when
they listen to her music. "I am only a vessel between Creator and this
instrument. As a sculptor would tell
you, the clay has a spirit of its own and decides what it will become; so it is
with the flute. These songs came from those who walked before me."
Mary and her family currently reside in Northern