It is a type of end-blown flute well-known all over Latin-America. Its origins (at least in the Andes) reach back to ancient times. However, there are strikingly similar musical instruments used all over the world. Such an example is the Japanese shakuhachi with a similar blow-hole and pentatonic scales, and I myself have seen very similar instruments in China which is diatonic, just like the quena flute. Besides, I have also often heard about (though I have never seen) a so-called rim-flute, which had been used in Hungarian vernacular music.
The shape and size of the blow-hole of the kena is of primary importance and significance concerning the potential volume, tone and the clarity of the octave. Its notch is shaped differently in various regions, and changes even according to tastes it may be U or V shaped, angular, featuring various proportions and transitory forms that even blend with each other. The angular air notch is identical with that of flutes. The most important difference between the common flute and the quena is that the upper end of the flute is closed by a stopper, and a narrow stream of air channels the blown air to the air notch; as a result, the shape and size of the air column remains the same. Because of this the various musical sounds can only be produced by changing the strength and intensity of blowing, and even so they are limited to a certain tone. The player covers the totally open upper end of the quena flute whilst supporting it with the chin and the lower lip. The thickness of the air column, its shape and direction are regulated by the lips; actually, one must learn how to sound the instrument, much in the same way as the traverse flute, which is known by everyone. However, the player may achieve a rich variety of volumes and tones owing to the wide range of possible ways of blowing. The quena flute allows to powerfully sound even the deepest musical sounds, as well as the highest ones wispily. It’s fingering is identical to the simplest (keyless) flutes (tuned to the diatonic scale): it has got six holes above plus a seventh at the bottom for the thumb with which the third octave range may be extended. As a result, a genuinely fine instrument allows us to sound three complete octaves plus one or two other extra sounds. A strikingly characteristic feature of the quena is that its holes tend to be quite large: they may be so big that the player needs to cover them with all his upper finger joints (not the finger pads!). There are two main reasons for this: 1. big holes = large sound volume, 2. sounds beyond the diatonic scale can be produced by so-called half-hole fingerings. In practice, it means playing on holes covered at least to their ¾, which leaves only 1/4 part of them open. However, with the appropriate mouthing, the player can produce colourful and powerful musical sounds even within the range of the first octave. Should someone finger a false semi-sound this way, they only have themselves to blame for it, as it is not the flaw of the musical instrument at all. 🙂