The quena is a woodwind instrument consisting of a hollow tube with holes cut for notes. Typically made from clay, bone, or bamboo in the past, it is played by placing the mouthpiece notch under the bottom lip & blowing air through the instrument. Musicians place their fingers over a number of holes across the top, and one hole on the back, in order to create different notes. Today, many quenas are made from wood in addition to animal bone or bamboo shoots.
Quenas come in all different sizes, and flutes of different sizes often produce music in a different key. The smallest of these flutes is called a quenilla and the largest is called a quenacho, and while each flute may have the same hole positions on the front and back and will play similarly, each note can be of a different octave as a result.
Although its origin is unclear, the quena has been found in nearly all countries of Latin America and is likely to predate the rise of the Inca civilization.The sweet melody of the quena flute evokes images of tranquil Andean highlands, and in the hands of a professional quena player, the air can practically vibrate with joy, sadness, and every other note in between.
Quena means “many-holed object” in the Quechua language and it is said that those that play quenas have been able to entrance birds to soar above the person playing it. This may be no wonder, given that early versions of the quena were crafted from condor bone. These early quenas are often found engraved with the word “taki”, which, in Quechua, means song.
Quenas are challenging to learn and tough to master. Learning to play this ancient flute can help you attune to the world around you, deepen your understanding of your place in the universe, or simply aid in your meditation and ritual work in ways that other instruments simply can’t.