Flutopedia - an Encyclopedia for the Native American Flute

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From Scales to Songs

The first goal of many novice flute players is to play the primary scale of the Native American flute cleanly and reliably. Just the exercise of playing Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open Finger diagram closed closed closed closed open open Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open Finger diagram closed open closed open open open Finger diagram open open closed open open open Finger diagram closed open closed open open open Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open Finger diagram closed closed closed closed open open Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed in many different styles can be deeply rewarding.

However, going beyond playing the primary scale and moving towards improvising melodies is often a stumbling block. For some, the suggestion to “just play any notes in that scale, in any order” is enough to get them started. But for others, this can be a daunting challenge.

This web page provides some ideas for small steps that can be taken (or taught to students) in a progressive exercise on the path from the primary scale to creating improvised melodies.

All the sound sample on this page were done on the same C# minor flute by Brent Haines of Woodsounds Flutes.

Dock Green Silverhawk

Dock Green Silverhawk at
Native Rhythms 2010 (photo Clint Goss) Larger image

The Scale Song

The scale song is a straightforward technique developed by Dock Green Silverhawk for creating songs on the primary scale. The game is simple:

Progress through the scale and repeat any notes you would like in your melody, as many time as you wish. However, you still have to progress “forward” through the scale - there's no going backwards!

Here's an example, first playing the primary pentatonic minor scale, and then playing a related scale song:

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Changing Duration

Each of the notes in the scale as well as in the scale song in the audio example above is held for the same length of time. Changing the duration of the notes you play - some short notes intermixed with longer held notes - is one of the easiest ways to add variety and interest, and is the beginnings of playing with rhythm.

Here is an example of a scale song played with varying note durations as well as adding rests - pauses between notes - of various durations:

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Adding Dynamics

The term dynamics in music means the volume of a note or a section of played music. There are terms in classical music for a full range of dynamics, from very soft (pianissimo) through very loud (fortissimo).

Changing dynamics can add dramatically to the music you play - adding power to your musical statements and drawing people in to listen to a quiet passage. Here's an example of a scale song with the addition of dynamics:

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Changing Articulation

Notice that each note of the audio example above used the same attack at the beginning of each note - a Taaa attack.

Of course, there are many articulations that can be used, including connecting all the notes (legato), various attacks (Haaa attack, Taaa attack, and Kaaa attack), and ornaments such as double tonguing and triple tonguing.

To begin working with these articulations, try the primary scale several times using one of these articulations for every note of the scale. Here are some examples:

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Once you're comfortable with these articulations, try using them in combinations in the same scale - some connected legato notes, some articulated notes with Taaa or Kaaa attacks, and maybe even a double or triple tongue ornament. Here's an example:

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And finally, try adding a mix of these ornaments to the scale song technique described above. Here's an example of a scale song using various articulations to help define the melody:

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Adding Rhythm

The last example above almost sounds like a “real” song. It is using all the techniques described, but it uses the duration of the notes rather haphazardly. There's little sense of where the song is headed.

What's missing?

The changes in note duration in a typical song are organized into a rhythm that quickly becomes recognizable to the listener. Here is a version that uses the durations of the notes in a more rhythmic style, with recognizable rhythmic motifs. It also uses a loose form of A / B / A style, with an opening that is repeated at the end, and a somewhat different style in the middle for the “B” part:

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Changing Scales

Another thing you can change is the underlying scale you are playing. The Native American flute has many scales that can be played (see the Scales section of Flutopedia). Experimenting with scale songs over these different scales is a great way to learn the scales as well as getting comfortable with playing music in them.

Here are some scale songs with duration, dynamics, and articulation played over various exotic scales:.

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Woven Scales

The restrictions of the scale song (only moving forward through the scale in steps) may seem too limiting. If you would like to experiment with reversing directions, you can simply change directions of scale steps any time you wish. Or you can look at a more prescribed way of changing directions with woven scales.

Here is a simple woven scale played with no changes in duration, articulation, or dynamics:

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To explore these further, visit the Woven Scales page on Flutopedia.

Steps and Leaps

The main restriction of scale songs and woven scales is to move the melody in steps — each note in the melody is followed by a neighboring note. Adding leaps to your melodies can add dramatic power and interest. To explore steps and leaps, visit the Steps and Leaps page on Flutopedia.

 

 
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