Written music

Contemporary written music for the Native American (Courting) flute is often in the key of F-sharp minor, with a non-conforming key signature of four sharps. This is known as the Nakai tablature, after highly influential flutist R. Carlos Nakai.

Examples of classical composers who have written for the Native American flute are Jerod Impichchaachaaha´ Tate, James DeMars, David Yeagley, Frank Martinez, Philip Glass, and Brent Michael Davids.

Notable flutists

Examples of Native American flutists:

  • R. Carlos Nakai
  • Mary Youngblood
  • John Two-Hawks
  • Charles Littleleaf
  • Josepth Firecrow
  • Kevin Locke
  • Rober Mirabal
  • Aaron White

The recordings of Navajo/Ute musician R. Carlos Nakai reached the mainstream in the 1980s, especially his 1989 Canyon Trilogy. Nakai represented a shift from traditionalism to a more eclectic New Age-approach to the Native American flute.

Another notable Native American flutist of mainstream fame is the Aleut/Seminole musician Mary Youngblood, who has received two Grammy Awards for Best native American Music Album. The first was for “Beneath the Raven Moon” in 2002 and the second for “Dance with the Wind” in 2006.

Flute circles

The United States is filled with a lot of informal community groups that meet to play the Native American flute together. They are known as flute circles. Examples of umbrella organizations for flute circles are the World Flute Society and the FluteTree Foundation.

Preserved recordings

Pre-1930s recordings

Several anthropologists – including Alice Cunningham Fletcher, Frances Densmore, Francis La Flesche, Franz Boas, and Frank Speck – made recordings to preserve Native American music, and some of these recordings contain Native American (courting) flute music. It is therefore possible for us today to listen to how this instrument was played prior to the 1930s.

1930-1960 recordings

Very few recordings of Native American (courting) flute music exist from the period 1930-1960. One notable exception are the Belo Cozad recordings made for the U.S. Library of Congress in 1941. Belo Cozad was a flutist belonging to the Kiowa tribe.


The late 1960s marked the start of a renewed semi-mainstream interest in traditional Native American music and new generation of flutists emerged into the spotlight, such as Sky Walkinstik Man Alone, John Rainer Jr., Carl Running Deer, and Doc Tate Nevaquaya.

This article was last updated on: September 2, 2020