The Mojave Flute

A look at a flute
of the Ancients


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The Mojave flute
by Scott August

During last July's INAFA convention Michael Graham Allen played what he called a Mojave Flute. It had a sound very similar to an Anasazi flute but the scale was quite different. Michael didn't have any to sell at that time but I put in an order and got my flute a few months later.

I didn't mention to very many people that I had one, but surprisingly the largest number of emails I've gotten lately with flute questions have been about this flute. So instead of responding to each one, one at a time I thought I'd post a short article about them here.

THE OVERALL DESIGN
These flutes are shorter than Anasazi flute being 24-3/4" long with a proximal (the playing end) bore width of 7/8". They also only have four holes instead of six.

mojaveflute0654-f800.jpg

THE MOUTHPIECE
The "notch" on the mouthpiece is smaller, or less pronounced, than on a Anasazi flute.

mojaveflt0646-f.jpg

As you can see in the photo above the notch is very shallow. However given the shorter length of these flutes they are a little easier to play than their bigger cousins. Nevertheless they are still hard to play and do not compare at all with the ease of play found in a NAF.

mojaveflute0656-f800.jpg

Here is another view of the mouthpiece. Again a very subtle notch. In truth this style of mouthpiece is more traditional for so called Anasazi flutes. The original artifacts that were found by Earl Morris and others in the early 20th century didn't display any of the notch designs employed by modern makers.

THE SCALE
As one would expect, a flute with only four holes, compared to six, would play less pitches and Michael's Mojave flutes are no exception. The flute I have is in the key of B and can't play any notes above the fifth of the scale, which is F#.

mojaveflt0648-f800.jpg

The main notes are B-C#-D-E-F# a Hemitonic pentatonic scale as it has a half step. As we have seen pent is Greek for five. Compared with the pentatonic scales found in modern Native American flutes and Anasazi flutes the Mojave flute's is quite different. However since it does have a basic five note scale it is therefore a de facto pentatonic scale.

A hole by hole breakout of the notes produced by the different fingerings goes as follows:

FINGERING

PITCH

INTERVAL

All holes closed

B

Root

Bottom hole open

C#

Maj 2nd

Bottom 2 holes open

D

Min 3rd

Bottom 3 holes open

E

Fourth

All holes open

F#

Fifth

The second octave can be played up to the E, but the next notes, the octave + fifth and the second octave B have to be over blown with all holes covered. There are also a few crossed-fingered extra notes hidden in this flute.

Listen to the Mojave Flute

If you do not see the QuickTime player above click here to play the sound file.

Watch a video of a Mojave flute improvisation

CULTURAL USE
In addition to being used in the Mojave culture these flutes were played in the cultures of the Coco-Maricopas, and Yumas, or Cuchans; tribes of the Colorado River. Like modern plains style Native American flutes young men would serenade their female friends with them for entertainment, for example during corn grinding, and courtship. Although this modern recreation is notched to play over the top an historic photo show a member of the Yuma culture playing their flute to the side.

The Yuma have a strong flute tradition which can be found in some of their origin storys. There is a version in which one story involves supernatural twins whose mother has made flutes for them. (Twins are a commom ancient Pueblo and Meso American theme.) While playing their flutes two girls are attracted to the sound and follow it. After encountering several imposters that claim to be the flute player they find the boys. When the girls return home the boys follow them and are killed by the girls father.

If you want to learn more about the Anasazi flute check out these articles
The Basic Scale of the Anasazi Flute
The Minor Scale of the Anasazi Flute
The Extended Scale of the Anasazi Flute

© Cedar Mesa Music.
This article and all images and sound files are the property of Cedar Mesa Music. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication (copying) in any form with out written consent from Cedar Mesa Music is illegal and is a violation of all copyright laws.


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