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How to Play a Quena

Play a Quena

The quena, or kena, is a handmade flute that originated in the Andes region in South America. It creates a low, dark and warm tone that some people describe as relaxing or haunting. Playing one is a skill that takes time to master, but, as a folk instrument, is not beyond the average person to learn how to play. The quena is an easily-portable instrument that you can carry with you even while traveling.

Finding the correct mouth position to produce a tone is the most difficult part of playing a quena. Begin by placing the U-shaped notch on the lower lip.

Blow across the top of the quena.

Much like a western flute, the tone is produced by air being directed at the precise location necessary for it to bounce off the mouthpiece and funnel into the tube. In order to find that precise location, slowly rock the flute back and forth to direct the air at slightly different angles. Once a tone is produced, try to remember exactly what that position felt like.

Once you have mastered how to produce the initial tone, it is time to learn the notes, or pitches. All music is produced using a scale, or a series of notes that are close to one another in pitch. The quena produces the pitches G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F and F#. The pitches are made by covering specific holes with your fingers. This tutorial will teach the first octave.

To begin, hold the quena with your right hand covering the bottom three holes and your left hand covering the top three, with the thumb covering the hole on the back.

With all holes covered, blow into the quena. This is the first note, a G.

To produce a G#, hold that position, but slide your finger slightly off of hole 6. This is called "half-hole" and is used by many instruments to produce half tones, or sharps and flats.

To produce the next note, an A, lift your finger completely from hole 6. As you lift your fingers, keep them hovering close to the instrument so that they can be used easily later. Many beginners flail their fingers around and lose their position, making it difficult to play quick pieces of music. The sooner you learn what proper position feels like, the easier your progress will be.

For an A#, keep your finger off of 6 and half-hole number 5.

Now lift finger 5 in order to produce a B.

For the next note, C, uncover all holes held by the right hand. Leave the right hand in place to help support the instrument.

For C#, half-hole number 3.

Now lift 3 entirely to produce a D.

Half-hole 2 for a D#.

For an E, lift 2 and hold just number 1 and the thumb in place.

Half-hole number 1 for an F.

For the last note in the scale, an F#, hold just the thumb on the back.


Try to purchase a quality quena from the start, since this greatly influences sound quality. A handmade one can be found at local music fairs or from various sources online. Spend time getting to know the exact position for blowing across the quena. Don't try to jump ahead to learn finger positions. Once the first octave described above is mastered, you can continue learning the next three octaves. Check the resources for more information.

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