All You Want to Know About How to Play the Kwela Flute

by Madonna

The Kwela flute is a wooden pennywhistle flute that holds a prominent place in South African music, particularly within the vibrant genre of Kwela music. Known for its lively, jazzy African sounds, the Kwela flute has become synonymous with the upbeat rhythms and improvisational spirit of the Kwela style. Originating in the townships of Johannesburg in the 1950s, Kwela music emerged as a fusion of traditional African melodies, American jazz influences, and local dance rhythms. The flute, with its affordability, portability, and distinctive sound, quickly became a hallmark of this musical genre.

Basic Techniques

1. Holding the Flute Correctly

Proper technique begins with holding the Kwela flute correctly. Hold the flute with your left hand at the top and your right hand towards the bottom, ensuring a comfortable grip. The fingers of your left hand cover the top holes, while those of your right hand cover the bottom holes. This allows for smooth transitions between notes and ensures stability while playing.


2. Finger Placement for Producing Different Notes

The Kwela flute typically has six finger holes, with the thumb and five fingers of both hands used to cover these holes selectively to produce different notes. Practice placing your fingers firmly over the holes to create airtight seals. Experiment with uncovering holes in various combinations to produce different pitches and explore the range of the flute.


3. Importance of Proper Embouchure

Achieving a clear sound on the Kwela flute relies heavily on proper embouchure, which refers to the positioning of your lips and mouth around the flute’s mouthpiece. Form a small, firm opening with your lips and place this opening over the flute’s blowhole. This controlled positioning ensures that air travels directly into the flute, producing a clear and resonant sound.


Breath Control and Sound Production

1. Blowing Air and Controlled Airflow

To produce sound, blow air from the center of your lips towards the flute’s blowhole. Imagine gently blowing across a cup of hot tea to create a controlled airstream. Adjust the force of your breath to control volume and intensity of sound. Opening your mouth slightly, as if pronouncing the letter “P,” helps regulate airflow and prevents a sharp, harsh sound.

2. Exhaling for Notes

Mastering the Kwela flute involves exhaling a deep breath in a steady stream to create sustained notes. Practice maintaining a consistent airflow while controlling the pressure and speed of your exhalation. This technique allows for smooth transitions between notes and enhances the expressiveness of your playing.

Playing Techniques

1. Simple Melodies and Scales for Beginners

Start with simple melodies and scales to familiarize yourself with the flute’s range and capabilities. Begin with exercises that span only a few notes and gradually expand to cover the entire range of the instrument. Practice playing these exercises at different tempos to improve your dexterity and familiarity with the flute.

2. Tonguing Techniques

Experiment with different tonguing techniques to vary the articulation of your notes. Practice both legato (smooth, connected notes) and staccato (short, detached notes) tonguing styles. Use your tongue to interrupt the airflow briefly to create distinct sounds and rhythmic patterns, adding depth and dynamics to your playing.

3. Improving Finger Agility

Enhance your finger agility and coordination through targeted exercises. Practice scales, arpeggios, and sequences that challenge your fingers to move swiftly and accurately between different holes. Consistent practice improves muscle memory and enables faster, more precise finger movements while playing melodies and improvising.

SEE ALSO: 5 Most Expensive Flutes

Kwela Music Style

1. Characteristics of Kwela Music

Kwela music is characterized by its infectious rhythms, syncopated melodies, and lively improvisation. Syncopation, where accents occur on unexpected beats, gives Kwela its distinctive groove and energy. Explore rhythmic patterns that emphasize off-beat accents, creating a buoyant and danceable feel that is central to Kwela’s appeal.

2. Examples of Kwela Tunes Featuring the Flute

Explore iconic Kwela tunes that prominently feature the flute. Songs like “Tom Hark” by Elias Lerole and “Skokiaan” by August Musarurwa showcase the flute’s role in driving the melody and contributing to Kwela’s joyful and celebratory atmosphere. Listen to recordings of these tunes to appreciate how the flute interacts with other instruments and shapes the overall sound of Kwela music.

Practice Routines

1. Practice Routines and Consistency

Develop a structured practice routine that focuses on technique, repertoire, and musicality. Dedicate time each day to practice fundamental exercises, scales, and melodies. Consistent practice not only strengthens your skills but also builds confidence and endurance while playing the Kwela flute.

2. Listening to Kwela Music

Immerse yourself in Kwela music recordings to deepen your understanding of the style and its cultural context. Pay attention to flute passages and how they contribute to the overall rhythmic and harmonic textures of Kwela compositions. Listening actively enhances your musical interpretation and inspires creativity in your own playing.


In conclusion, mastering the Kwela flute involves dedication, practice, and a deep appreciation for its cultural significance within South African music. By honing basic techniques, refining breath control and sound production, exploring playing techniques, understanding Kwela music style, and utilizing educational resources, you can embark on a rewarding journey of musical discovery with the Kwela flute. Embrace the flute’s unique sound and rhythmic vitality to express yourself creatively and authentically within the rich tradition of Kwela music.


You may also like


Musicalinstrumentworld is a musical instrument portal. The main columns include piano, guitar, ukulele, saxphone, flute, xylophone, oboe, trumpet, trombone, drum, clarinet, violin, etc.

【Contact us: [email protected]

Copyright © 2023