Overtone flutes are quite simple in appearance, mostly resembling the tree branch they were sourced from. With a hole at the top and bottom, and one other windway opening, they do not come with the finger holes you might find on other types of flutes (pennywhistles, recorders, etc). This makes it one of the most accessible instruments to get started playing, since most of the change in pitch and tone is controlled by breath alone.
You might be wondering how you can make music without the finger holes. The answer is deceptively simple: the harder you blow, the higher the pitch. These instruments can span several octaves in range, following a natural harmonic scale. Some adjustments to pitch can be made by partially covering the bottom of the instrument (which will lower the tone, allowing for the use of vibrato and other techniques). Other ornamentation comes down to breath and articulation, allowing for a myriad of tonal possibilities to explore!
There exist a variety of overtone flutes around the world. Among these are a couple of varieties that originated in central Slovakia which date back at least to the 17th century: koncovka (example) and fujara (example). While the larger fujara was historically played by the herd leader or chief shepherd, the smaller koncovka was played by a shepherd's assistant (read more).
The Koncovka [pronounced "KON-SOV-KA"] is a higher pitched flute, about 50-80 cm in length, which can typically produce at least 16 distinct tones. It gets its name – translating to "termination" or "end" – from the way the hand is used to close and open the bottom of the instrument to change the pitch and tonal quality (read more).
In the contrabass category, the Fujara [pronounced "FU-YA-RA"] is a larger type of overtone flute, around 140-200 cm in length, often with three holes towards the end. These allow for access to more than one harmonic scale, enabling a musician to play diatonically. In this respect, the fujara resembles a tabor pipe (for example), however the difference in size makes it easy to distinguish the two! A fujara can span 2 and a half octaves in 11 overtone series, and due to its size, it is typically played vertically while standing (read more).
The fujara is the national instrument of Slovakia (read more), and both the koncovka and fujara are still popular today, both in Slovakia and around the world. The sounds produced by these instruments are haunting and ethereal, and are better heard than described. You can find sound samples on our website, or come into the store to try one for yourself!
Sound samples from instruments in our store:
Demonstration of the Fujara:Ľubomír Párička