This blog is dedicated to the sublime instruments called nose flutes and which produce the most divine sound ever. We have chosen to discard all the native models from S. Pacific and Asia, for they need fingering to be played. We'll concentrate on "buccal cavity driven" nose flutes : the well patented and trademarked metal or plastic ones, plus, by a condemnable indulgence, some wooden craft or home-made productions.

Aug 13, 2014

Sheepdog Nose Flute

I had the opportunity to put the hand over a brass/copper nose flute. The seller only specified « it's coming from a farm background ». Indeed, it is a old British sheepdog nose whistle.

In Great Britain, sheepdog handlers use whistles to send orders to their herding dogs. Most of them use what called a "sheperd whistle", which are totally handsfree and can provide different tones (like this one or like the one used by Mr. Job Te Pas in this video)

Anyway, some sheepdog handlers used to whistle a nose flute for their job, but as we previously noticed in this post, they were (are) very few, because the nose whistles « obviously did not become popular ».

However, it was not the first time I met a shepherd nose whistle: I had previously "missed" this one:

It is interesting to notice that my sheepdog nose whistle was made with two metals: brass for the body and copper for the airway. Why that? I don't think this was done on acoustic reasons. So, either the bi-metal choice was made on an aesthetic purpose, or maybe, it was simply the result of "what is left in stock", as Mr. Heinrich Handler is used to crafting his Nasenflöten with residual wood pieces.

The flute was handcrafted, and some of the lines that have been drawn with a awl on the metal sheet are still visible. Even the nose hood shows some of those tracés, and we can still see a middle circle that was engraved between the two air holes.

I have no clue of the age of this instrument, but its shape is a pure imitation of a metal Humanatone (or Humanaphone since we are in Great Britain), with a much longer mouth shield (and the double air entrance).


  1. Where on earth do you get all these wonderful instruments from? I just love this beautiful and beautifully made nose flute! I agree that the reason for the two types of metal is simply what material was left. I am always amazed how craftsmen in general tend to use as little material as possible, so as not to spoil too much. For instance, I couldn´t believe just how the small the sheet of silver was that my silver swan was made out of. (I like the fact that this one here also has two holes, one for each nostril.) The templates on this blog by RON and UkeHeidi are also very telling in that respect. Similarly, my brass swan was made from a few tiny little scraps of brass left overs. I never thought it could ever be enough for a complete instrument, yet those little bits were all that was needed. Working metal or wood is a special craft!

    The brass and the copper seem very good quality. I think the details of the cut of the plates, the solder, the flaps with its nails and the hole with the ring are well very executed. The same applies to the traces so as to have a symmetrical object. It suggests to me that the instrument was made by a senior craftsman, who probably knew the Humanaphone as a child. I dare say he had an original Humanaphone at his disposal, for it is a very well executed copy. He probably made the instrument into brass and copper to improve the sound quality. I did exactly the same. I am positive the brass and copper flute here sounds much better than the aluminium Humanaphone, as the basic material produces a richer tone. Moreover, the plate is thicker, so the nose flute has more body, and I am sure that this instrument was crafted much better. All would account for a superior tone.

    Considering the age of the instrument, all I know is that sheepdog trials had their heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. They were still hugely popular in the 1990s, but their decline in popularity has led the BBC to scrap its famous show ´One Man and his Dog´ just a few years ago, to the outrage of the countryside audiences.

    As a bit of a follower in the ´90s and ´00s , I have never actually seen any shepherd use a nose flute as a whistle to signal the sheepdog(s). It also doesn´t really make sense to use it, as a shepherd needs both hands to shed and pen the sheep. I can imagine though that at distance, the nose flute reaches farther than whistling with or without fingers would. However, I don´t think that the nose flute sound travels further than an ordinary shepherd´s whistle, as this produces quite a shrill sound. One could state that this nose whistle was produced before the shepherd´s whistle, yet before the mass produced metal shepherd´s whistle these would be made from all sorts of materials, often by shepherds individually.

    Obviously, the great quality of the nose flute is its free pitch. It might be easier to perform on than a shepherd´s whistle. I might even have been used because of its softer tone, so as not to disturb or stress the sheep too much. Anyway, it seems like a really interesting experiment, which may have worked for a few individuals....

    This instrument seems very clean! Did you clean it, or was it cleaned by the seller with some sort of magic acid? My brass swan doesn´t look clean at all, even though it wasn´t ever really played at all. Was this nose flute ever played? I do think I notice a bit of wear and tear, where you would expect it, around the nose hole(s), above the lip rest and on the lower half of the mouth shield. One would expect the traces to have been erased had it been played or cleaned, right?

    What more do you know about the other brass nose flute?

    1. Thank you for your interestings remarks.

      Yes, I also guess it was made by a master craftsman, maybe the same than the one who build Tim Flood's ones...

      Yes, I cleaned it. With a ultra-sound cleaner and some sweet products for copper and brass. Then I will let it slowly get dull...

    2. Good job on cleaning, so as to reveal the beauty of the instrument!

      From the footage and the photos, the Tim Flood nose flute seems to be rather crudely made. What struck me, was that Mr Flood tells that he frequently lost the instrument, which is
      why he had it attached to a ring and chain.

      I find this amazing really, as he couldn't command his dogs without it! Mr Flood also tells that it got knocked about quite a few times, which only adds to the story.

      It's such a shame that we are losing, as we speak, those original characters who could have told us so much more about the nose flute. For years and years, I have been waiting for new information to turn up, and even as it does through this great blog and its owner's fabulous work, I still feel a bit let down, as we are getting to it just a little too late, which seems more than a bit ironic...

    3. I think Tim Flood's nose flute was nicely made, but then used as a tool with no special care...

  2. Could well be the case. I wish I could hold and see it from up close for myself!