Every instrument must be properly maintained in order to serve its purpose for many years. Native American Flute is no exception. In this article I will explain how to take care of your flute. There are few “dangers” for this instrument, like temperature or moisture.
A typical flute is made of wood, a natural material. Flute’s maker makes sure to protect the wood by applying proper finish – usually, some kind of natural oil. But even the best finish won’t protect the flute if the owner will forget about proper maintenance.
So here are things to watch out for.
Watch the Temperature
A native flute plays in various temperatures, but changes in temperature may not be good for the instrument. For example they may affect the moisture issue.
If you play a cold flute, or you play a flute when the temperature around you is low, then moisture will condense in the flute faster than normally. The lower the temperature of the flute’s body, the faster moisture condenses, thus it may block the air channnel (the wind way) faster. It’s a good idea to warm up the flute before you play it by covering the air chamber and the nest with your hands for a couple of minutes first.
Generally, the differences in temperature may also affect the sound of the flute and its tuning. Sometimes, small changes in wood’s size may affect the tuning, because as the temperature changes, the wood is either contracted or expanded. As the temperature goes down, the wood contracts; as the temperature goes up, the wood expands. It’s a normal law of physics.
Thus, avoid playing a flute in very low temperatures, and warm it with your hands before you play it..
Also, never leave your flute in direct sunlight, whether its outside, or just under a window. Do not live the flute in a car in a sunny day. Direct sunlight may cause the flute to warm a lot. The wood may expand too fast, and crack as result.
Finally, be careful with dramatic and fast changes in temperature – moving from -30 Celsius envoirnment to a room +25 Celsius may sometimes results in flute’s cracks if the flute was kept in cold for too long.
Watch the Moisture
When you play a flute, you blow in the air from your mouth into the flute. Along with the air, you blow in small amounts of water particles. These particles condense in the flute’s air chamber and air channel. After 5-15 minutes, it may result in the air channel being blocked, and the flute stops playing. This is when you should cover the splitting edge with your finger, and blow strongly into the mouth hole to blow out the moisture from the air channel under the block. Then, just hold the flute near the end of the sound chamber, and shake the flute a bit and you should be able to play for a couple more minutes.
This entire process of moisture condensation is perfectly normal, it’s called “watering out“. Depending on wood’s finish and temperature, watering out takes more or less time to occure.
But – you should limit the use of the flute per day. Numbers given by people are different. Some people suggest to play the flute no longer than 15 minutes a day. Others suggest no more than 30 minutes of playing a day. All of this is because even the best finish may not protect the wood against moisture entirely.
Sometimes, moisture may find its way into the wood’s grain. So far it’s both normal and all right. But the more you play, the more moisture gets into the wood. If there’s too much moisture, things may happen:
- If there’s too much moisture in the wood, and the wood dries too quickly, the entire flute may crack and break. Not good.
- If there’s too much moisture and the flute doesn’t dry fast enough, it will stimulate the growth of bacteria, which may cause the growth of mold or fungus.
To counter this, this is what should be done:
- Limit the amount of playing time to 15-25 minutes per day.
- Always take off the fetish (block, totem) from the flute’s nest after you’re done playing, and leave the flute and fetish separately to dry.
- After taking the fetish off, cover the sound hole with your finger, and blow out as much moisture as possible off the flute’s air chamber.
- Let the flute dry on its own in normal room temperature.
- Allow the flute to dry as much as possible before putting it away into a drawer or flute case.
- Never dry a flute in direct sunlight, or on a heater/radiator.
Often, I take hygienic stick and put it on the water drops on the flute’s and fetish’s body, letting the stick suck in the moisture. This way I make sure I won’t rub the moisture into the wood.
Regarding the growth of bacterias:
- Try to avoid playing the flute after eating. And try to wash your teeth before playing the flute, too. This will limit the amount of bacteria finding its way into the flute.
If some kind of mold or fungus develops in your flute, you may try few different methods of dealing with the problem. The most popular method include use of a tea tree essential oil. A drop or two of this oil near the air chamber should drive the mold/fungus away within few days.
Keeping the Flute Safe
You may wish to purchase a hard case for your flute for the purpose of transport. A hard case protects the flute against physical aggression of the envoirnment :). Don’t leave the flute in places where it can be stolen, stepped upon, eaten by your cat or buried by your dog, too.
Until it’s dry, the flute must be stored in a place that is airy enough. This will help ensure lack of mold or fungus growth.
All right – while the above tips are usually “mandatory” if you wish to keep your Native American Flute safe, the matter of storing the instrument is a bit different. The Internet is full of pictures and photos of walls with flute racks, filled with wonderful native flutes. You may wish to show your flutes this way, too.
But personally, I’m not a fan of such flute racks. As the flute is left like this, it may collect dust over time. And since it’s a natural wood material, it’s not like you can clean it with a wet cloth, right? Thus, personally, I prefer to store the flute in a drawer, safe from dust. And if I wish to show my flutes collection, I think I will create a glassed locker :).
Some flutes must be oiled from time to time. Usually, we use natural oils like mineral oil, tung oil or linseed oil, and we oil the instrument both on the outside and on the inside, using soft cloth, for example. It’s not universal, so the best thing to do here is to ask the flute’s maker how to deal with that thing. Some flutes require regular oiling, some don’t. The maker of the instrument knows the best.
- Before playing the flute, take a look inside the chambers – look for mold, fungus or spiders (they may get inside, really). If you spot a mold or fungus, apply tea tree essential oil. If you spot a spider, try to blow it out, or shake it out.
- Avoid using alcohol on the flute – if you wish to clean the flute or disinfect it, first contact the flute’s maker and ask him/her about the best way to clear or disinfect the instrument :). Pure alcohol may destroy the wood’s finish and cause the wood to dry too much, thus crack.
If you keep these guidelines in mind, your native flute should stay with you for many, many years.
Featured photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Native_American_Flute_by_Chief_Arthur_Two_Crows.jpg
If you have any other tip for taking care of the native flutes, please share them in the comments below.