The Native American Flute was traditionally made of red heart cedar wood. The Eastern tribes often used river cane to make their flutes. Today the NAF is constructed of any suitable material The traditional flute is a personal hand-crafted instrument with six or five holes. It can be found in a variety of ranges from bass flutes to high soprano flutes.
Commonly called the "love flute" or courting flute among the Plains people, this instrument was often used in context by young men to woo the affections of young women. In previous times, only males played the flute; today such cultural prohibitions no longer exist.
The Native American Flute resembles somewhat the European recorder but does not have half-steps or octave stops. The flute does not play the full chromatic well-tempered scale of European music, in which the distance between each note is equal. Additionally, each maker may follow his or her own specifications when making a flute, thereby endowing each flute with a slightly different set of notes. This gives the flute an idiosyncratic sound that doesn't always play "in tune" with European derived instruments. Nonetheless, the smooth and soothing tone of the flute, which resembles as much as possible the feel of the human voice, makes this a powerfully evocative and effective instrument.
A combination of both overt and covert cultural suppression diminished the use of the flute within native communities in the first half of the twentieth century. In the 1980's only a handful of known players were consistently playing the flute including Doc Tate Nevaquaya, R. Carlos Nakai, Tommy Ware and Keven Locke. Today, thousands, many who are nonnative, are active performers of this lovely traditional instrument.