New Passion: Anasazi Flute


I’ve recently discovered another new passion. It’s called Anasazi flute. If you don’t know who the Anasazi are (were, actually) they lived in the Four Corners area where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona come together, more than 700 years ago. They had a fascinating history, much of which we are only recently beginning to discover. Their descendants today form the Hopi tribe, and the Pueblo people of the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico, but they lived very differently than those modern people.


In 1931, some archaeologists in Arizona discovered four flutes in a cave, along with the body of an old man. They were dated to about 620-670 AD, and were actually from the Basketmaker period that predated the people we now call Anasazi, but Southwestern archaeology was in its infancy then, so they were named after the mysterious cliff dwellers.

This is Butch Hall’s rendition of the ancient rim-blown mouthpiece.

They are about 30 inches long and have six holes in a straight line. One thing I have discovered is that they are incredibly difficult to play. Because the holes are lined up straight, and the flute is pretty long, covering the bottom holes is a lot more difficult than on many modern flutes. In addition, they are rim-blown. There’s no mouthpiece and the player must blow onto the edge of the rim in a very precise fashion in order to get a sound. Butch Hall has made some exact replicas if you want to try it out.


This shows how Geoffrey Ellis modified the mouthpiece.

Because of these difficulties, some modern flutemakers have modified the original design a bit, making it possible for we who have not grown up with this instrument to actually play it. Geoffrey Ellis is an excellent example of this. He has modified the rim with a notch, similar to the Japanese shakuhachi, to make it easier to blow. He added a thumb hole, which apparently makes it better for playing an extra octave, and some of the finger holes are offset, making fingering easier, while retaining the notes and scale of the original flutes.

I have one of these modified flutes and I love it. When I first got it, I thought it was the hardest instrument I’ve ever tried to play. Then I got one of Butch Hall’s, modeled after the originals, and discovered it’s even harder. Finally starting to get a sound on that one. Some people report they took weeks, even months to even get a sound from it.

Bottom: Standard modern style Native American Flute, Aromatic Red Cedar in Am, Middle: Geoffrey Ellis Basketmaker Flute made of curly Douglas Fir, Top: Butch Hall Rainmaker, ancient Anasazi flute.

I love the authenticity of the Butch Hall flute. It makes me feel a connection with those ancient people. But the beautiful sound and gorgeous wood of the Geoffrey Ellis is even better in some ways. All in all, it has opened up a whole new world for me.

What new passions have you discovered? Let us know in the comments.


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