Caring for Native American Musical Instruments
Whether you’ve purchased a Native American musical instrument for yourself or as a gift for a musician in your life, we’ve prepared this instrument care and maintenance guide to help you properly maintain your cherished instruments that celebrate the beauty and spirituality of Pueblo culture.
Native American Flutes and Drums
Handcrafted Native American instruments are delicate and should be treated with care, both flutes and drums are sensitive to changes in climate and temperature and without proper attention may crack, disfigure, or become permanently damaged when exposed to extreme heat, cold or humidity.
To maintain your flute for years to come, we recommend you do not wear lipstick, lip balms or lip gloss when playing the flute as this may damage the mouthpiece or stain the flute. Additionally, it’s important to refrain from chewing gum or eating immediately before playing. If played for an extended period of time, drops of condensation may form in between the “bird” and the “nest” on the flute’s body. This can cause the flute’s timber to become muted or stop resonating all together.
After playing, remove the flute’s “bird” and wipe its underside and sound holes. Wipe off any remaining moisture with a soft non-abrasive cloth and let the flute completely air dry before storing. When not in use, store your flute in a fabric sleeve or inside a flute case. Do not store in direct sunlight or near a heating or air conditioning vent. To preserve the instrument’s tonality, we recommend oiling once a month depending upon the climate and how often your flute is played. Oil prevents moisture from penetrating the wood and helps maintain tonality. Non-toxic mineral oil or linseed oil may be used, however do not use vegetable oil or chemicals to clean your flute.
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If using your drum as decoration, do not display in direct sunlight. Be mindful not to place sharp or heavy objects directly on the drum head, this may cause damage to the rawhide. If playing, use the appropriate drumstick, typically these are made of soft leather so as not to damage or puncture the drum. When not in use, store your drum in a cool dry place in a cloth drum bag or plastic bag.
Dust your drum with a soft cloth or feather duster. To keep your drum healthy, we’d recommend oiling the leather drum head and laces with an oil leather conditioner being careful not to saturate the hide as this will alter or destroy your drum’s tonality.
In drier climates, you will need to oil more frequently. Be vigilant and watch for over drying because if the rawhide becomes too dry, the drum head may split or become permanently damaged.
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If your drum begins to lose its tone due to humidity or moisture exposure, you can restore it by placing the drum in front of a fire or heating slowly with a hair dryer on high. You may also place the drum in direct sunlight for a short period of time to tighten the drum head. Be careful not to overheat the drum head.
We hope this guide helps you get the most out of your Native American instruments, whether you regularly play them or enjoy them as cherished pieces of art. If you have any further questions about how to care for Native American instruments, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here for you.
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Oiling your drums should be a yearly and we think neat’s foot oil is the best! However you can even use cooking oil, but only use very little, less than a dime size on your palm. Only draw back is it will darken your drum head.
Thank you for your comment and we hope this information is helpful.
Thanks for the questions!
The “bird” of the flute is the wooden or metal tuner used to adjust the flute sound from airy to cleaner sound. It is called the “bird” of the flute to pay homage to the woodpecker that started pecking the hole on the chamber. On Native American flutes, artists often carve tuners as animal figurines.
Please describe the “bird” of a flute. Thank you
On the drum head what oil do you recommend? I’m using neatsfoot oil on my other leather goods
I have a large Raramuri drum (from one of their Easter ceremonies in the early 2000’s), but the stick was lost. Traveling to the Tarahumara region isn’t doable for me at the moment, is there a place locally where I can get an appropriate stick? Thank you.