Native American Flute in Film Scoring. Part 3

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In the second part we talked about various virtual instruments that allow you to create mockups for Native style flute when scoring, and then we talked about music notation. In this third and final part, we will discuss how to find the flute players and how to work with them.

Finding Players and Working with Them

There are many Native flute players out there. You can find them on the Internet, or in groups on websites such as Facebook.

It is important to understand that while there are many brilliant flute players, not all of them are capable of reading traditional notation – many of them are familiar only with Nakai’s tablature, and many of them are not familiar with notation at all, and they play intuitively. And many of them are not very skilled with extended fingering, yet they are brilliant with Minor Pentatonic scale and traditional flute’s ornaments and articulations. I mention this, because you may be looking for players on YouTube, as an example – some of them can be brilliant players to totally improvise their music. Thus, you need to ask the player “can you do this, or that” :).

Sure, you can find a professional flute player fully capable of transposing music, working with MIDI and traditional notation, and with his own recording studio. But, in case you can’t do that, you need to be a bit more considerate.

Personally, I feel very comfortable with minor pentatonic scale and I also read traditional notation (since I actually write for orchestra as a hobby), but I’m not very good when it comes to playing a NAF in specific tempo – I’ve been taught to always improvise and play from the heart. Yet there are players who are very capable of playing in a given tempo and rhythm. Thus, it’s yet another thing to keep in mind when discussing the project with an artist. 

Yet this is quite interesting, because Native flute’s music sounds best when it is played naturally, and not strictly within a given tempo. Sometimes, composers like to ask the orchestra to ignore the beat provided, and just play naturally, like in the old days. Scores for the fifth act of Diablo 3 video game, or the newest Mad Max film used this technique, in which the orchestra played more naturally, by listening to each other and observing the conductor and ignoring the beat in their headphones. 

A NAF is quite similar to this – it is best played when the artist focuses on his own natural feeling of rhythm, instead of listening to the beat. And thus, NAF works best in solo passages, or with gentle, subtle accompaniment. 

The best way to get a recording of a NAF is to be considerate and actually prepare a couple of resources for the potential player: mainly the composed piece in traditional notation, and a mockup of a composed piece so that the player can actually hear the piece before recording it, played by a placeholder instrument. 

Thus, it is important to discuss these things with the player. Some composers will prefer an all-skilled player with a home studio ready; others may simply look for a skilled NAF player who plays well and reads Nakai’s tabs well, but may need some help with typical traditional notation.

Learn How to Play a NAF Yourself

Sometimes you can’t find a player with enough knowledge, skills and recording gear to record your music. Don’t worry.

There is one more option when it comes to recording live flutes – learn how to play it yourself! Many film composers are also instrument players. I build Native style flutes, I play them, but most of all, I teach others how to play them – I have a book and a video course, and I taught people in person. Let me tell you, there are few instruments in the world that can be learned from a book – a NAF is one of them. I actually learned how to play it from a book, the one by Carlos R. Nakai. If you’re interested, I also wrote “Calm Forest” songbook available on Amazon, probably the simplest teaching guide for NAF in a paper and ebook form.

How to learn? Well, first buy a flute, for example on Etsy, or from High Spirits, or Southern Cross Flutes.

The instrument is extremely simple. You have to learn how to control your breathing – higher notes require more air, lower notes require less air. It’s a wind instrument – you blow the air into the mouthpiece and the sound mechanism, similar to the one in a recorder or a whistle, does the rest. Which makes the NAF a very simple instrument to play.

Then, learn the scale. NAF is tuned to minor pentatonic, a very simple and very intuitive scale – the fingering is simple and takes very little time to memorize. 

And then learn some articulations, like the grace note, a quick “jump” in the middle of the note – and you’re done.

You can learn how to play a NAF within a few days. In many cases, this can make you an even better film composer, especially if the only instrument you play is a piano. I have free tutorials on my blog, FluteCraft.org, as well, you may want to check them out. 

This by far is the best choice – you already know how to produce music, you know how to compose for films, and learning additional instruments simply makes you a better composer. 

Summary

Native American style flute is an instrument with beautiful sound and it is worth using more in scores for films and video games, both in a traditional sense of the sound, and in more experimental ways. Since it is rarely used in film scoring, it may add a bit of originality to your scores.

If and when you use a NAF in your film score, or video game score, please let us know in the comments. I, personally, would love to hear what you can do with the sound!

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Wojciech Usarzewicz

Wojciech Usarzewicz

Wojciech Usarzewicz is a music composer from Poland. He enjoys studying cinematic scores. He composed music for TailQuest: Defense, an indie tower defense game coming soon on Steam. He published a completely free course, Interactive Game Music for Beginners in which he teaches how to work with FMOD and adaptive game music.

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