A compression wave of air particles with alternating high pressure (more tightly packed) and low pressure (less tightly packed) that radiate out from a source. When the wave reaches our ears, it begins the process of being perceived as sound.
The graphic at the right helps visualize the air pressure changes moving out from a central source.
“As Much As Possible From As Little As Possible” – a technique of music practice developed by W. A. Mathieu in The Listening Book for reducing music to it's basic elements in order to enhance how each note is played.
[ah-nah-sah-zee floot] A type of indigenous flutes from North America that have historical context (back to about 625 CE) and are produced by some flute makers today.
Anterior Air Chamber Port — see SAC Exit Hole
The general area of how notes are begun and how they are separated. These techniques can involve the breath (breath articulation), the mouth and tongue (mouth articulation), and even the finger (finger articulation). Another area, called vocal articulation, involves how musicians use articulation while singing. Experimenting with vocal articulation is a great way to find new techniques to use on the flute.
The way that a note is begun.
The amount of air pressure that a player feels when he or she breathes into a flute. This is typically a matter of flute construction, but could possibly be due to obstructions in the flue or slow air chamber. This term is equivalent to breath pressure, but this term is often used in situations when discussing the design of a particular flute.
A classic ornament for the Native American flute that emulates animals barking.
Flutes made in the tradition of the European line of Western Concert Flute development from about 1600-1760.
Bell Note — see Fundamental Note
Bend — see Pitch Bend
Bird — see Block
Bird Tie — see Strap
A separate piece from the body of the flute that is almost always removable. The block plays a critical role in creating the sound of the flute, since it directs air from the slow air chamber to the sound chamber.
Also called the “bird”, the “fetish”, the “saddle”, and the “totem”.
Note that the term “slide” has also been used to denote the block ([Skinner 1915], page 356).
Boehm Flute — see Western Concert Flute
Bore — see Sound Chamber
Bottom End — see Foot End
A type of Native American flute that is made from a tree branch and which retains at least some of the physical shape and look of the original branch. Crafting methods vary widely.
Note that flutes made from bamboo or cane are not typically considered branch flutes.
See Branch Flutes.
Breath Chamber — see Slow Air Chamber
Where you breathe into the flute. Air flows from the breath hole in to the slow air chamber. There are many possible configurations for the breath hole, varying widely in size and shape.
Also called the “mouth hole”.
A symbol placed above the music staff that indicates a pause between musical phrases or passages. This marking is used particularly in parlando style of notation for the Native American flute ([Nakai 1996], pages 41–44).
The pressure over and above ambient air pressure that is experienced inside the mouth. High breath pressure generated when playing some wind instruments, such as trumpets and oboes, has been linked to a variety of health issues.
Also called “intraoral pressure”. Another equivalent term is back pressure, which is often used in situations when discussing the design of a particular flute.
Broken Scale — see Woven Scale
C Flute — see Western Concert Flute
The caesura [seh-zoor-ah] symbol (also spelled “cesura” and “cæsura”) can be placed above the music staff to indicate a pause between musical phrases or passages. This marking can be used particularly in parlando style of notation.
A classic duet or ensemble technique that is used in many forms of world music. Calls by one player are returned, as closely as possible by the duet partner or by a group of responders.
If you are doing a duet with two Native American flutes, call and response is one of the few improvisation structures that do not need the two flutes to be a harmonic pairing (see Harmonic Pairings, or … Which Flutes Go Together?).
A small unit of measure of musical intervals. The span of an octave — two notes that have a frequency ratio of 2:1 — is divided into 1,200 cents using a logarithmic scale. In the equal temperament system, each of the 12 semitones in an octave is divided into 100 cents ([Ellis 1885]).
Channel — see Flue
In an equal tempered tuning system, all the pitches of a chromatic scale are the same distance apart (as a ratio of their frequencies). This makes all intervals between pairs of notes in the chromatic scale the same distance apart, allowing arbitrary transpositions of melodies without changing the apparant intervals.
Classical Staff Notation — see Modern Music Notation
When you use a Taaa attack, some flutes will chirp at the start of the note. This effect varies dramatically from flute to flute, but once you know a flute well, you can get this chirp effect whenever you want with just the right amount of breath pressure.
See Articulation / Chirp.
A technique used on wind instruments for producing a continuous tone without interruption. Air is taken into the lungs periodically by breathing in through the nose while simultaneously maintaining air pressure on the instrument by pushing air stored in the cheeks using the cheek muscles ([Dick 1987]).
Also called “permanent exhalation”.
See the video showing the satara flute for an excellent demonstration of circular breathing.
An ornament that is used at the start of a note or a musical phrase that uses a short grace note just prior to the main note. The grace note is typically higher than the primary note.
Classical Flute — see Western Concert Flute
Color — see Timbre
Meters such as 5/4 and 11/16, where the top number is not divisible by two or three. Compound meters can be broken down into components of duple and treble meters.
Compression Chamber — see Slow Air Chamber
A wave of displacement of a medium that moves in the same direction, or in the opposite direction, to the direction of travel of the wave itself. The wave produces compression (higher pressure) and rarefacaction (lower pressure) as it travels through the medium.
An air pressure wave and a seismic wave are types of compression waves.
Also called a “longitudinal wave”.
An instrument where all the notes are tuned in relation to a given pitch standard, typically A4=440 Hertz. If you intend to play a flute with other contemporary instruments, it can help to have it concert-tuned.
A Native American flute tuned to what has become the predominant tuning arrangement since about 1980. If the flute is described as a “minor key flute”, “pentatonic minor flute”, or is “in the key of [something] minor”, then it is likely to be a Contemporary Native American flute.
This term is not currently in wide use in the commuity, but is useful in describing a class of flutes that all play basic songs using the same finger patterns.
A large collection of scored music is provided on FluteTree.com for Contemporary Native American flutes.
Courting Flute — see Native American Flute
The standard definition of a cross-fingering is where one or more finger holes are closed before an open hole. For example, , , and are cross-fingerings while is not a cross fingering. Cross fingerings give you access to more pitches than the straight-fingered sequence.
However, on most contrmporary Native American flutes the player keeps the third hole closed to get the primary scale, so and are commonly played. By the standard definition, these two fingerings are cross-fingerings. However, they are not typically considered cross-fingerings on the Native American flute.
Also called “forked fingering” and “split fingering”.
Cutting Edge — see Splitting Edge
Demitone — see Semitone
The phrase “diatonic scale” is used in two ways:
On Flutopedia, when I say “the diatonic scale”, I'm referring to the major scale. When I say “a diatonic scale”, I'm talking about the set of seven related scales:
A diatonic scale is a seven-tone, octave-repeating scale that has these characteristics:
Given all these restrictions, it turns out that there are seven possible diatonic scales, which are all modes of each other:
In the table above:
The word “diatonic” is from the Greek διατονικός (literally “progressing through tones” in English).
Most six-hole diatonic flutes get the diatonic scale with the primary fingering sequence .
One or more holes nearest the foot end of the flute that are not intended to be covered during normal play. Makers often use four direction holes to honor the four directions. The size, location, and number of direction holes alter the pitch of the flute when all the finger holes are closed.
Distal End — see Foot End
Distal Mouth Opening — see Sound Hole
The accent that occurs regularly in most rhythms. It usually corresponds to the first beat of each measure in written music. Sometimes the “The One Beat” (if you like counting “One two three One two three …”).
A flute with two sound chambers.
The typical arrangement is where one chamber (the “melodic chamber”) provides a standard five- or six-hole flute and the other chamber (the “harmonic chamber”) has no finger holes and provides a single drone note. The drone note is often tuned to the lowest note of the melodic chamber.
Aside from that typical arrangement, there are many other possibilities, including two chambers that each have three finger holes.
A double flute is also called a “drone flute”.
An attack at the start of a note where a single grace note precedes the main melodic note. Unlike a typical grace note which is done with fingering, the double tongue grace note is done with articulation.
See also Continuous Double Tongue.
A steady tone. Typically a drone provides the background or underpinning for another instrument to solo over, creating a solo-drone song form. The drone could be provided by another Native American flute or any number of instruments that can hold a steady tone, such as a cello, a shruti box, or a tamboura.
See Solo-Drone Song Form.
Drone Flute — see Double Flute
A flute where a narrow duct directs the stream of air to the splitting edge. A Native American flute is a type of duct flute.
Contrast with Embouchure Flute.
Meters such as 2/4 and 4/4 that are divisible by two. They are by far the most common rhythms heard in the Western tradition of music.
An amount of time or a particular time interval, such as the length of a note. A duration is a property of a note that becomes one of the bases of rhythm.
A tone may be sustained for varying lengths of time and it is often cited as one of the fundamental aspects of music, encompassing rhythm, form, and even song structure.
See also musical tone.
The term dynamics often refers to changes in loudness or comparitive loudness withing a piece of music.
The classical music of India, which includes Carnatic and Hindustani music, has a history spanning millennia and developed over several eras. It remains fundamental to the lives of Indians today as sources of spiritual inspiration, cultural expression and pure entertainment. India is made up of several dozen ethnic groups, speaking their own languages and dialects, having distinct cultural traditions.
One of the two types of acoustic tones produced on a flute (both duct flutes and embouchure flutes). An edge tone is generated by the interaction airstream with the splitting edge and is not coupled to pressure waves or sonic vibrations in the sound chamber. An edge tone can be produced and demonstrated by creating a focused airstream across the edge of a tautly-held piece of paper.
Edge tones can be generated on many Native American flutes by breathing extremely softly into the instrument. Edge tones are often produced at the attack of the note, as the airstream first arrives at the splitting edge. These edge tones typically produce frequencies that are much higher than the pipe tone that eventually results. Unline a pipe tone, the frequency of edge tone vibrations are proportional to the velocity of the airstream. Based on the design of the instrument, the edge tone may quickly transition into a pipe tone ([Fuks 2002], [McIntyre 1983]).
Here is a slightly more physics-oriented description from [Maclagan 2009], page 51:
The sound that is produced, in the absense of a nearby resonator, when a moving stream of air directed at an edge—such as at the edge of a tautly held piece of paper—divides in such as way that it moves continuously from one side of the edge to the other. In the case of paper, the sound produced is a feeble, high-pitched, airy whistle. The initial sound that a flute produces when a flutist blows at the blowing edge is an edge tone, but in this case, the pure edge tone is not usually sustained, because the resonances of the bore influence the air jet. Instead, the jet is “captured” and amplified by a resonance in the tubing that has a similar frequency.
Also called a “pre-whistle”.
Embellishment — see Ornament
A flute where the player's lips direct a stream of air to the splitting edge.
Contrast with Duct Flute.
A calculated length caused by an opening in a sound chamber, such as open finger holes, the sound hole, or the end of the chamber. When you add all the end corrections of a sound chamber to the physical bore length of that sound chamber, you get the acoustic length.
It is customary to denote the end correction at the foot end of the flute as k1 and the end correction at the sound hole as k2.
See Acoustic Length of a Flute for a full description of this phenomenon, including detailed calculations.
A system of tuning the notes of a scale where the frequency ratio between each pair of adjacent notes is the same.
Equal temperament has several advantages. If you have an instrument tuned to equal temperament, you can transpose a melody from one key to another and the notes will have the same relative tuning when played on that instrument (i.e. the instrument does not need to be re-tuned for the transposed melody to sound the same as the original melody).
However, equal temperament involves compromises. The tuning that sounds best to most people's ears involves using frequency ratios between notes that are simple ratios, sich as 2:1, 3:2, 4:3, 5:3, etc. The notes in an equal tempered scale are always slightly off from those ideal ratios, except for the octave interval, which is fixed at 2:1.
In Western countries, the term equal temperament by default means a 12-note scale. However, in other musical cultures the scale of notes within an octave could be divided into 24 musical tones (Arabian music, see [Marcus 1993]), 19 musical tones ([Mandelbaum 1961] and [Bucht 2004] ), or 31 musical tones ([Keislar 1991]).
See the article Right in Tune.
A branch of musicology defined as “the study of social and cultural aspects of music and dance in local and global contexts” ([Pegg 2008]).
A poetic movement and also a subfield in linguistics and anthropology that is based on two interrelated concepts:
On one hand, it refers to non-Western poetry, often that of indigenous people (although it could apply to the study of all-kind/source folk poetry), and on the other hand, it is poetry showing such influence and written in manner to manifest the qualities of indigeneousity; ethnopoetics also refers to the study within the field of linguistics of poetic structures particular to specific culture.
It is also defined by Dennis Tedlock as “an attempt to hear and read the poetries of distant others, outside the Western tradition as we know it now.”
Two ornaments that involve playing four grace notes before the main note. The main note is played briefly, then the next lower or higher note, then the main note, then the next lower or higher note, then back up to the full main note. If you use the lower note, it is an extended lower mordent and if you use the higher note it is an extended upper mordent.
Also called a “lower mordent” to distinguish it from an upper mordent.
A flute that has been designed specifically for play up into the second register.
Face — see Flat Face
A sequence of four grace notes before the main note, in a particular pattern. This ornament travels a total of two notes in the scale.
A drop in pitch at the end of a note. Unlike a slide, it is typically not done with the fingers, but with reducing breath pressure gradually to let the pitch (and volume) fall.
Also called simply a “fall”.
A fermata [fur-mah-tah] symbol can be placed above a note on the music staff or below the staff to indicate a long pause before the next musical phrase or passage. This marking is used particularly in parlando style of notation.
Fetish — see Block
The holes on the body of the Native American flute where you rest your fingers, or lift them off of, when playing.
Also called “note holes”, “tone holes” (Dr. Richard W. Payne in [Bee 2006]), and “playing holes”. Also called “stops”, as in “a flute with two stops” meaning “a flute with two finger holes”. The use of the term “stop” is often in archaeological contexts when talking about simple flutes and whistles.
The finger layout for a particular flute says which fingers you place of which holes on the flute.
See the Flutopedia Finger Layout page.
Fipple — see Splitting Edge
First Chamber — see Slow Air Chamber
A complex, fast run played before or between melodic notes.
The space formed by the top of the plug and the bottom of the block. This is a very shallow (but often wide) channel that routes air to the sound hole. The shape of the flue is very important to the creation of the flute's sound.
The flue is a primary place where condensed moisture collects. When this happens the shape of the flue is changed, which has a dramatic effect on the sound of the flute, even to the point of silencing the instrument.
Also called the “channel”, “focusing channel” (Timothy Jennings of 3 Feathers Flutes), or “windway”.
A musical instrument where the player's breath is directed either by the player or by the instrument against a splitting edge that causes the air to vibrate.
Note that this definition may differ from usage in other places — in particular where a writer will reserve the use of the term flute only for an embouchure flute.
Flute Bore — see Sound Chamber
Traditional beliefs, legends, customs, ceremonies, and music centered around the flute ([Buss 1977] , page 19).
An ornament on wind instruments that is done by “rolling your R's” while breathing into the flute.
Also called “rolled tongue” or “rolling the tongue”.
Focusing Channel — see Flue
Also called the “bottom end”, the “distal end”, and the “South End”.
Forked-Fingering — see Cross-Fingering
Frame — see Spacer Plate
A measure of how many times some repetitive or cyclic action happens over some time period.
In the context of sound, which is often conveyed through the air as as cycles or waves of alternating higher and lower air pressure, frequency is a measure of how many cycles (or peaks of high air pressure) occur per second. When frequency is measured in cycles per second, it is typically called "Hertz", abbreviated "Hz".
If you close all the finger holes on a woodwind instrument and use a normally soft breath technique that avoids playing in the second register, you are playing the fundamental note of that instrument (or simply the “fundamental” of the instrument).
Playing the fundamental note on any particular Native American flute might be challenging: you might have trouble completely sealing the finger holes or the block might be adjusted so that it is difficult to play in the first register. However, those issues aside, you should be able to get the fundamental note of the flute fairly easily.
Also called the “bell note”.
Gasket — see Spacer Plate
A glissando [glis-ahn-doh] (sometimes called a “gliss” for short) connects two main melodic notes with a smooth pitch bend. The bend is often done fairly slowly to emphasize the effect.
This term is sometimes used as a synonym for portamento. However, when trying to distinguish between instruments without the ability to do smooth pitch bends, such as a piano or a harp, and instruments that can bend pitch smootly, such as a cello or trombone, the term glissando is sometimes used for “discrete pitch bend” and portamento is used for “smooth pitch bend” (Dolmetsch Online – [Blood 2011]). However, [Nakai 1996] established the term glissando as the preferred term for this type of pitch bend in the context of Native American flutes.
In modern music notation, glissandos in the context of the Native American flute are indicated as based on [Nakai 1996], page 30. However, in a more general music context, they are often shown as (Dolmetsch Online – [Blood 2011]).
A very short note played immediately before a main note. Grace notes are not typically part of the melody of the song … they just accent the main notes.
A traditional method of placing the finger holes and direction holes using the body measurements of the maker or player.
See Finger Hole Placement / Grandfather Tuning for a description of this method.
A soft attack at the start of a note, done using the entire volume of the respiratory system.
A technique where some portion of a finger hole is closed. The technique can be used to get a note that is between two notes, such as which can get you a pitch between and .
Half-hole techniques can also be used on the upper finger holes, such as the fingering, to get the flute to resonate in the second register.
The term does not imply what portion of the finger hole is covered. In some cases, a finger diagram might suggest how much to cover. For example, suggest just “cracking” the finger open a bit, might be used for uncovering a significant portion of the finger hole, and suggests covering only a small portion of the hole.
This technique is also referred to as “shading” the finger hole.
Half Step — see Semitone
A pair of flutes where most combinations of notes from the primary scales of the two flutes sound consonant.
Music than has more than one note at the same time is said to have harmony. Even two notes of the same pitch, played at the same time, create harmony (this is an interval that is called unison). One of the basic components of music: melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, and silence.
See the general discussion on Intervals as well as Guitar Chords to accompany the Native American Flute.
The end of the flute into which you breathe.
Also called the “North End”, the “proximal end”, and the “top end”.
Any scale that has seven notes within the span of one octave.
Any scale that has six notes within the span of one octave.
A short phrase that you build a song around, but taking excursions from the home phrase, but always returning back.
Internal Wall — see Plug
Intraoral Pressure — see Breath Pressure
An interval tells you the relationship between the pitch of two notes.
Western music theory, which uses a twelve-tone chromatic scale, has a set of names for the relationship between any pair of notes in the twelve-tone chromatic scale.
Those names, and the topic of intervals in general, is explored on the Flutopedia Intervals page.
A medium-sharp attack at the start of a note, done from the back of the throat.
Konnakol — see Solkattu
The key of a Native American flute is the lowest pitch that is normally played on that flute, together with a general indication of the mode of the primary scale of the instrument.
The pitches are: C, C# (same as Db), D, D# (same as Eb), E, F, F# (same as Gb), G, G# (same as Ab), A, A# (same as Bb), and B. The the mode of the primary scale on a Native American flute is typically “Minor”, but flutes can be made in “Major” (also called “Diatonic”), “Byzantine”, “Blues”, and many other tunings.
See Keys of Native American Flutes for sound samples of various keys.
Labium — see Splitting Edge
Lacing — see Strap
Languid Lip — see Splitting Edge
A classical music term that means that the notes are played smootly, without any breaks between the notes. This Italian word literally means “tied together”.
Sometimes music is written with a tie over the notes …
See Legato Articulation.
Longitudinal Wave — see Compression Wave
There are a number of concepts from acoustics and physics that are beyond the scope of Flutopedia. They address various aspects of loudness, such as sound (or acoustic) intensity, sound power, amplitude, sound pressure, and sound pressure level.
See also musical tone.
Love Flute — see Native American Flute
Lower Mordent — see Mordent
For versions of the major scale that can be played on the Native American flute, see The Pentatonic Major Scale.
Major Second — see Whole Tone
An interval of four semitones. The first two notes of “(Oh) When the Saints Come Marching In” are an ascending major third interval. the first two notes of “Summertime” as well as “Here Come the Sun” form a descending major third.
The fingering is sometimes called “the major third” because it is four semitones above the fundamental note.
On most contemporary Native American flutes, these pairs of fingerings give you an interval of a major third:
The musical notation system used in European music from the later part of the 13th century until about 1600. “Mensural” refers to the ability of this system to notate complex rhythms with great exactness and flexibility. Mensural notation was the first system in the development of European music that systematically used individual note shapes to denote temporal durations. In this, it differed from its predecessor, a system of rhythmic modes, which had been the first way to notate rhythm. Mensural notation is most closely associated with the successive periods of the late medieval Ars nova (“The new art”) and the Franco-Flemish school of Renaissance music. Its name was coined by 19th-century scholars with reference to the usage of medieval theory, going back to the treatise Ars cantus mensurabilis (“The art of measured chant”) by Franco of Cologne in about 1280 CE.
See Membertou's Three Songs for an example of a song that was originally scored in mensural notation.
A perception of the rhythmic nature of a piece of music that “involves our initial perception as well as subsequent anticipation of a series of beats that we abstract from the rhythm surface of the music as it unfolds in time” ([London 2004], page 4).
Meter (also spelled “metre”) is a term that music has inherited from the rhythmic element of poetry, where it means the number of lines in a verse, the number of syllables in each line and the arrangement of those syllables as long or short, accented or unaccented. Hence it may also refer to the pattern of lines and accents in the verse of a hymn or ballad, for example, and so to the organization of music into regularly recurring measures or bars of stressed and unstressed “beats”, indicated in Western music notation by a time signature and bar-lines.
This perception and abstraction of rhythmic measure is the foundation of human instinctive musical participation, as when we divide a series of identical clock-ticks into “tick-tock-tick-tock”. “Rhythms of recurrence” arise from the interaction of two levels of motion, the faster providing the pulse and the slower organizing the beats into repetitive groups. “Once a metric hierarchy has been established, we, as listeners, will maintain that organization as long as minimal evidence is present”.
An older unit of measure of musical intervals. The span of an octave — two notes that have a frequency ratio of 2:1 — is divided into 1,000 millioctaves using a logarithmic scale. In the equal temperament system, each of the 12 semitones in an octave is divided into about 83.3333 millioctaves ([Coul 2003] ).
An interval of ten semitones. Since it's such a large leap, there aren't a lot of songs that begin with this interval. The original theme from Star Trek goes up a minor seventh and the jazz standard “Watermelon Man” descends a minor seventh.
The fingering is sometimes called “the minor seventh” because it is seven semitones above the fundamental note.
On most contemporary Native American flutes, these pairs of fingerings give you an interval of a perfect fifth:
The fingering is sometimes called “the minor sixth” because it is eight semitones above the fundamental note.
On most contemporary Native American flutes, these pairs of fingerings give you an interval of a perfect fifth:
The fingering is sometimes called “the minor third” because it is three semitones above the fundamental note.
On most contemporary Native American flutes, these pairs of fingerings give you an interval of a minor third:
A musical scale that uses the same notes as some other underlying musical scale, but starts those notes in a different place. For example, if you start with an underlying seven-note scale with the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, then the scales B, C, D, E, F, G, A and F, G, A, B, C, D, E are both modes of the underlying scale.
The number of the mode tells you which note of the underlying scale begins the new scale. Mode two starts on the second note of the underlying scale, mode three starts on the third note, etcetera. The first example above (starting from B) is mode two and the second example (starting from F) is mode six.
A system of notating aural music developed from the European classical music tradition and now in wide use throughout the world.
The system uses notes placed on a five-line staff to indicate pitch and duration. In addition, many special symbols are used to indicate the attributes of music, including rests, dynamics, tempo, meter, rhythm, articulation, and many other aspects of performed music.
Also called “classical staff notation” and “modern staff notation”.
Modern Staff Notation — see Modern Music Notation
An ornament that involves playing two grace notes before the main note. The main note is played briefly as a grace note, then the next lower note as a grace note, then back up to the full main note. It can be represented in modern music notation as: ([Nakai 1996], page 31 and Dolmetsch Online ([Blood 2011])).
Also called a “lower mordent” to distinguish it from an upper mordent.
Mouth Chamber — see Slow Air Chamber
Mouth Hole — see Breath Hole
The opening where you breathe into the flute.
Also called the “Mouth Pipe” ([Nakai 1996]).
A reproduction of another instrument, typically an artifact, that conforms to the highest possible standards of replication of the original in measurements, materials, and construction techniques.
In some case, these three criteria are in opposition — in particular, for instruments crafted of naturally hollow materials such as cane or bamboo. Crafting a museum replica that faithfully reproduces the original material as well as the exact bore dimensions and wall thickness of the original may not be attainable, and the “highest possible standard” involves a balance of these goals.
In the case of artifacts that are incomplete and no supporting evidence is available for the construction of the incomplete portions, a museum replica or working replica might not be possible.
A term that can mean:
Musical notes played on instruments, especially woodwinds, often consist of a musical tone with additional attributes such as the attack on the note, the use of vibrato and other effects, and dynamics (a change in loudness) within the duration of the note.
A rule that, given the frequency of a given pitch, specifies how to calculate the frequencies of all the other notes.
The various rules for musical temperaments are also a major rabbit hole topic. One very common musical temperament is called equal temperament, which places each note so that the ratio of frequencies between neighboring notes is the same. Equal temperament has various benefits and shortcomings.
A musical note is more complex than a musical tone, since it includes additional attributes such as the attack on the note, the use of vibrato and other effects, and allows for dynamics (a change in loudness) within the duration of the note.
A system of writing music for the Native American flute developed by R. Carlos Nakai, as described in The Art of the Native American Flute ([Nakai 1996]).
The system is based on (and is a subset of) modern music notation. Note that Nakai tablature does not include finger diagrams, which are often added below the staves of the written music as an aid when playing the music.
Also called simply “tablature” or “tab” in a Native American flute context.
See Nakai Tablature.
As defined by R. Carlos Nakai in 2002: “A front-held, open-holed whistle, with an external block and an internal wall that separates a mouth chamber from a resonating chamber.”
See also: Anatomy of the Native American Flute.
A term for a Native American Flute that is used in commercial situations, when a flute offered for sale was crafted by a person who does not satisfy the requirements of The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, to distinguish it from a Native American Flute.
The area of the body of the flute where the block rests.
Also called the “roost” (Todd Chaplin) .
Nest Plate — see Spacer Plate
An acoustic situation that is sometimes encountered during flute design where the location of maximum chainge in air pressure inside the sound chamber is close to a finger hole. The finger hole “interferes” with the changing pressure in the sound chamber by allowing air pressure to “leak” in and out from the area of maximum pressure change through the finger hole. This tends to have undesirable acoustic effects such as weakening the resonance of the note.
North American Flute — see Native American Flute
North End — see Head End
Note Holes — see Finger Holes
See Interval / Octave.
An instrument with open finger holes allows the finger to directly contact the finger holes. Contrast this with a saxaphone where the fingers generally touch keys or levers that connect to pads that close the hole on the body of the instrument.
Instruments with open finger holes allow a set of pitch bend expressions that are more difficult or impossible on instruments that use keys and pads.
A playing technique that is used to enhance a melody. An ornament can be done with the breath, the mouth, with finger techniques or any combination of these.
Ornaments add a character to the music that (in addition to the pure sound of the Native American flute) gives the instrument its characteristic sound. They also bring the instrument closer to emulating the sounds of nature.
Also called “embellishments”.
An ostinato is a repeated pattern – something simple that is played over and over. The word comes from the same root as “obstinate”, literally a musical passage that refuses to go away.
A piano or guitar are ideal instruments to set up an ostinato. If you have a willing piano player or guitar player, have them play a simple sequence of notes (an arpeggio) in the key of the flute player. Having them repeat that arpeggio sequence over and over is an invitation for a flute player to soar over the top.
When a flute plays in the second register, especially if it is not intended or unexpected, it is called an overblow.
An accidental overblow can be caused by many things:
Any frequency higher than the fundamental frequency of a sound. The fundamental frequency and the overtones together are called partials. Harmonics are partials whose frequencies are whole number multiples of the fundamental frequency (including the fundamental frequency, which is (1 × itself)). These overlapping terms are variously used when discussing the acoustic behavior of musical instruments. Due to a translation error in its coining, Alexander J. Ellis strongly suggested avoiding the term overtone in deference to upper partial (simple) tones ([Helmholtz 1912]).
When a resonant system such as a blown pipe or plucked string is excited, a number of overtones may be produced along with the fundamental tone. In simple cases, such as for most musical instruments, the frequencies of these musical tones are the same as (or close to) the harmonics. An example of an exception is a circular drum, whose first overtone is about 1.6 times its fundamental resonance frequency ([Prestini 2003], page 140). The human vocal tract is able to produce a highly variable structure of overtones, called formants, which define different vowels.
Examples of overtone flutes include the Slovakian fujara, the Slovakian pistalka / koncovka, the Russian / Ukrainian kalyuka, the Scandanavian seljefløyte (“willow flute”), and the Choctaw overtone flute.
A style of notating music that is to be played with very free meter. The overall durations of notes (whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eigth notes, etc.) are maintained in relation to each other, but the notes are not confined to an overall rhythm. To represent a pause between passages, a caesura symbol is placed above the music staff.
See also the Zuni Sunrise song for an example of tfhe parlando style of music notation.
Partition — see Plug
Passive Air Chamber — see Slow Air Chamber
Any scale that has five notes within the span of one octave.
The fingering is sometimes called “the perfect fifth” because it is seven semitones above the fundamental note.
On most contemporary Native American flutes, these pairs of fingerings give you an interval of a perfect fifth:
The fingering is sometimes called “the perfect fourth” because it is five semitones above the fundamental note.
On most contemporary Native American flutes, these pairs of fingerings give you an interval of a perfect fourth:
Permanent Exhalation — see Circular Breathing
A gross measure of the length of the sound chamber. The location of the center of a finger hole is sometime shown as a percentage of the physical bore length, for gross comparison purposes.
Care is needed in using these measures, because of the variations in the way the length of the sound chamber can be measured (eg. from the plug versus from the splitting edge versus from the center of the sound hole; and to the end of foot of the flute versus to the center of the direction holes). Also, the measurement of the physical bore length has limited use in flute design, since acoustical effects that occur at the ends of the sound chamber (both at the sound hole and at the foot of the flute) are not taken into account.
Pipe — see Whistle
Pipe Body — see Sound Chamber
One of the two types of acoustic tones produced on a flute (both duct flutes and embouchure flutes). A pipe tone is generated when an air pressure wave is created in the sound chamber of the instrument. The creation of a pipe tone is highly dependent on the design of the instrument, particularly the sound hole and sound chamber ([Fuks 2002]). A pipe tone may be preceeded by an edge tone, which is the other type of acoustic tone produced on a flute.
The quality of a musical tone that relates to the frequency of the sound. Various muscal traditions and assign names to discreet frequencies of sounds, so that they can be dealt with more easily by musicians. For eample: C, C#, D, …; Do, Re, Mi, …; Ga, Ma, La, …; Ro, Tsu, Re, ….
See also musical tone.
A standard frequency that is fixed to a given pitch.
There have been many pitch standards over the years, and the use of pitch standards is a major rabbit hole topic. One very prevalent standard is to assign the note A4 to the frequency 440 Hertz. This is often written as A4=440 or simply A440.
A term intended to describe style of Native American Flute construction, in contrast with Woodlands Style Flute. However, there is no general consensus on the specifics of what these two terms mean.
Playing Chamber — see Sound Chamber
Playing Holes — see Finger Holes
A pressurized chamber containing gas or fluid at a higher pressure than its surroundings. One function of a plenum chamber is to provide for even distribution of the gas or fluid, because of an irregular supply. Note that a plenum chamber can act as an acoustic silencer device.
The slow air chamber of a Native American flute acts as a plenum chamber.
Part of the body of the flute that separates the SAC from the sound chamber. This may be constructed of the same material as the body of the flute, or it may be another material such as a cork that is inserted late in the construction process.
The top of the plug is often used to form the bottom of the flue.
An ornament that is typically used at the end of a phrase or song. It is a very short, emphatic grace note that is usually higher than the note before it.
A way of connecting to melodic notes smoothly. This term is sometimes used as a synonym for glissando. However, when trying to distinguish between instruments without the ability to do smooth pitch bends, such as a piano or a harp, and instruments that can bend pitch smootly, such as a cello or trombone, the term glissando is sometimes used for “discrete pitch bend” and portamento is used for “smooth pitch bend” (Dolmetsch Online – [Blood 2011]).
Pre-Whistle - see Edge Tone
Primary Chamber - see Slow Air Chamber
Each flute has a sequence of fingerings that is most natural on the instrument, or produces the most commonly used scale or the primary scale. The primary fingering sequence is typically the first sequence that is taught to new players.
On contemporary Native American flutes, that sequence is .
On on diatonic flutes, the sequence is typically .
Each flute has a sequence of notes that is most natural on the instrument. It corresponds to the primary fingering sequence and is usually the first scale that is taught to new players.
Since Native American flutes are a large family of flutes with many different sizes (or “keys”), the actual notes of the primary scale change from key to key. However, the intervals between the notes are consistent across most contemporary Native American flutes.
The primary intervals are the intervals between the notes of the primary scale.
On most contemporary Native American flutes, the primary intervals are: root – minor third – fourth – fifth – minor seventh – octave, corresponding to the primary fingering sequence .
On diatonic flutes, the primary intervals are typically: root – major second – major third – fourth – fifth – major sixth – major seventh – octave, corresponding to the typical primary fingering sequence .
A document, speech, or other sort of evidence written, created or otherwise produced during the time under study. Primary sources offer an inside view of a particular event. Examples include: original documents, creative works or artifacts. (This definition is from [Smithsonian 2004], page 29.)
See Sources for more information.
Proximal End — see Head End
Pulsation — see Warble
The part of the plug that directs airflow out of the SAC and into the flue. The shape of the ramp affects how turbulant the air is in the flue, and has a substantial effect on the flute's sound.
One of a variety of modes that describe how the air column on a wind instrument resonates inside the sound chamber. The first register is the lowest mode of the vibrating column, with hither registers produced by overblowing. The timbre of different registers tend to be markedly different on wind instruments.
Flutes made in the tradition of the European line of Western Concert Flute development from about 1400-1600 CE.
Replica — see Museum Replica and Working Replica
An instrument crafted to be similar to another instrument, typically an artifact.
Resonating Chamber — see Sound Chamber
Any aspect of music having to do with time. At the simplest level, rhythm may be thought of as the distribution of strong (or accented) and weak (or unaccented) beats in a piece of music.
Set patterns of long and short durations (or rhythms) used in medieval music.
The value of each note is not determined by the form of the written note (as is the case with more recent mensural notation and modern music notation), but rather by its position within a group of notes written as a single figure called a “ligature”, and by the position of the ligature relative to other ligatures. Modal notation was developed by the composers of the Notre Dame School from 1170 to 1250 CE, replacing the even and unmeasured rhythm of early polyphony and plainchant with patterns based on the metric feet of classical poetry, and was the first step towards the development of modern mensural notation. The rhythmic modes of Notre Dame Polyphony were the first coherent system of rhythmic notation developed in Western music since antiquity ([Apel 1961]).
A technique for using the double tongue ornament repeatedly and continuously to create a rhythmic structure.
A flute where the player's lips direct a stream of air to the splitting edge that is formed by a sharp rim at the upper open end of a single tube.
The term is synonymous with class HS 421.111 Individual End-blown flutes.
Rolled Tongue - see Flutter Tongue
Roost - see Nest
The first note of a scale is the root note. The root note of a scale might be the same note as the fundamental note of the flute, but there are many scales on the Native American flute that do not begin on the fundamental note.
Also called the “tonic” or “tonal center” of the scale.
An Italian word meaning literally “stolen time” in English. The core idea of rubato is to adjust tempo and feel by accelerating some areas of a piece or phrase and retarding others, but the idea basically boils down to a free interpretation of the written rhythm.
A sequence notes in a scale, typically played very quickly. When used as an ornament, a run is a sequence of grace notes that ascend or descend a ladder of notes in a scale, before landing on the main note.
SAC — see Slow Air Chamber
The path that the air takes out of the SAC and into the Flue.
Also called the “Anterior air chamber port” ([Nakai 1996]).
Saddle — see Block
Scale Ladder — see Woven Scale
A technique of moving from playing simple scales to beginning to improvise melodies in that scale.
See From Scales to Songs.
The number of semitones between each of the notes in a scale. Since virtually all scales repeat when they move into upper octaves, by tradition only on octave worth of scales steps are given.
For example, the scale steps of the Pentatonic Minor scale are 3-2-2-3-2.
On many flutes, particularly Native American flutes and recorders, the entire octave's worth of notes can be played in the low register of the flute. However, other flutes such diatonic Irish whistles and East Indian bansuris need to go into the second register to get the last note in the sequence. On these flutes, the last interval of the scale steps is shown in red, such as this: 3-2-2-3-2.
Note that some woodwinds, such as clarinet, will tend to resonate at a different frequency, such as an interval of a twelfth, when playing in the second register.
Also called the “the upper register”.
The smallest interval in the Western classical chromatic scale. When using equal temperament, all other intervals can be composed of semitones. On most contemporary Native American flutes, the two notes and give you an interval of one semitone.
Also called a “half step” and a “demitone”.
Shade — see Half-Hole Techniques
Side-Blown Flute — see Transverse Flute
The absence of sound. Silence can be a powerful element in music.
Silver Flute — see Western Concert Flute
A pitch bend up to or down to a main melodic note
Also called the “SAC”, “mouth chamber”, “compression chamber”, “breath chamber”, “first chamber”, “passive air chamber”, “primary chamber”, or simply “air chamber”.
A technique for learning sight-singing where each note of the melody is sung using a syllable. Common syllables for the diatonic scale in English-speaking cultures are do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti (or si).
Solid Block Area — see Plug
The vocalizing of rhythmic and drum using syllables. The is a common technique used by East Indian vocalists.
Also called “konnakol”.
A song form that combines a melody playing with a drone. The drone could be provided by another Native American flute or any number of instruments that can hold a steady tone, such as a cello, a shruti box, or a tamboura.
See Solo-Drone Song Form.
A structure for a song, often laying out what parts are repeated using letters 'A', 'B', … such as "A/B/A".
The tube that controls the pitch of the sound being played. Native American flutes are designed to create a vibrating wave of air, and the length of the sound chamber determines how fast the air vibrates. Opening and closing the finger holes effectively changes the length of the sound chamber, changing the pitch of the note. Note that the direction holes shown also change the effective length of the sound chamber.
Also called the “pipe body”, the “resonating chamber”, the “tone chamber” (Dr. Richard W. Payne in [Bee 2006]), the “playing chamber”, the “bore” or “flute bore” (Timothy Jennings of 3 Feathers Flutes), and the “variable tube” ([Nakai 1996]).
The ratio of the length to the diameter of the sound chamber has a dramatic effect on the playing characteristics of any wind instrument. Flute makers typically call the diameter of the bore (which forms the sound chamber) “D”. The length of the sound chamber that is called “L”. However, this length is really the acoustic length of the sound chamber — a number close to, but not exactly, the physical length of the sound chamber.
The ratio L:D is called the sound chamber aspect ratio of the flute. For example: 18.6:1 is a typical ratio. It is often expressed as a single number by calculating L/D … for example: 18.6.
Native American flutes tend to have lower sound chamber aspect ratios (i.e. fatter sound chambers for their length) than other wind instrument designs … typically in the range of 12 to 22 with a sound chamber aspect ratio of 18 typically quoted as a good starting point in for novice flute makers. In contrast, the Western concert flute has a sound chamber aspect ratio of about 38 and the fujara, an ethnic wind instrument from Slovakia, typically has a sound chamber aspect ratio of about 55.
Generally speaking, here are some effects of the sound chamber aspect ratio:
For more on acoustic length, see Acoustic Length of a Flute.
Sound Edge — see Splitting Edge
The sound hole is the most critical part of the flute in terms of creating sound. On a Western concert flute, the sound hole serves the same function as the breath hole that the player breathes into. If the sound hole is damaged, the sound of the flute will be substantially affected.
Also called the “distal mouth opening”, the “whistle hole”, the “window”, and the “true sound hole” or “TSH”.
South End — see Foot End
This is a common variation in the design of the nest area. A plate, often made of brass, sits between the block and the nest. In this design, the splitting edge is often part of the spacer plate, rather than part of the body of the flute, and the flue is formed by a slot in the spacer plate.
Split-Fingering — see Cross-Fingering
Your breath travels through the slow air chamber, down the flue, and across the sound hole, and then hits the relatively sharp splitting edge. The job of the splitting edge is to set the air vibrating … alternating between going above and below the splitting edge. This is similar to what happens when a flag flutters in a stiff breeze.
An Italian word meaning literally “detached” in English. Staccato notes still hold their musical length (quarter notes, eigth notes, half notes, etcetera), but are played briefly and with tonguing articulation between each staccato note.
A type of Native American flute that is made from a plant stalk such as yucca, sunflower, sotol, or agave.
Note that flutes made from bamboo or cane are not typically considered stalk flutes.
Standard Pitch — see Pitch Standard
A longitudinal location along the length of the sound chamber or bore of the instrument. The station may be measured from either end of the sound chamber, or may be given as a percentage of the overall bore length. When the term is used for the location of finger holes or direction holes, it is usually referring to the center of the hole.
See also Physical Bore Length.
An ornament that is possible on some flutes, especially flutes make with certain characters of the construction of the nest area that were common on flutes constructed in traditional styles. The warble is typically obtained only on the fundamental note of the flute and involves a rapid oscillation between the fundamental note and a tone approximately an octave higher.
This kind of a warble is generated by some flutes when they are played with a forcefully, but steady breath pressure. Although a steady-state warble does require increased breath pressure to initiate the effect, once in that “zone” the physics of the flute take over and the steady-state warble continues.
Flutes that can produce a steady-state warble are called warbling flutes.
See The Warble.
See also vibrato-induced warble.
Also called “true warble”.
Stops — see Finger Holes
A device whose size, shape, and markings tell the story of how to construct an instrument. They are like a three-dimensional plan that provide key markings and measurements.
A colloquial term for a flute where the primary scale on the instrument is played by picking up one finger at a time, from bottom to top. The primary scale on a six-hole straight-fingered flute would have the fingerings: . Most contemporary Native American flutes are not straight-fingered, since their primary scale keeps the third or fourth hole closed.
Part of a Native American flute that ties the block onto the nest. Traditionally made of leather. It's a good idea to remove the strap and block on your flute to examine how the flute is constructed. Doing this creates one of the first practical challenges of flute playing, tying the block back onto the flute.
Also called “bird tie”, “lacing”, or “lashing”.
A characteristic of some rhythms which contain emphasized beats in unusual or unexpected places. Syncopated rhythms deviate from the strict succession of regularly spaced strong and weak beats. These include a stress on a normally unstressed beat or a rest where one would normally be stressed. If a part of the measure that is usually unstressed is accented, the rhythm is considered to be syncopated ([Benward 2003], volume 1, page 12).
A sharp attack at the start of a note, done with the tongue.
Tablature — see Nakai Tablature
Temperament — see Musical Temperament
The pace or speed of speech and also the degree to which individual sounds are fully articulated or blurred together. The faster the tempo, the more likely sounds will blur or elide (from Dolmetsch Online ([Blood 2011])).
Any scale that has four notes within the span of one octave.
A word with several meanings in music. In Flutopedia, the use of the term relates to a sound that has no rhythm or pitch, such a a rainstick or sound of the wind.
[tahm-ber] The quality of sound that allows us to distinguish, for example, between a saxophone and an oboe, or a Western concert flute and a Native American flute.
Also called “tone quality” and “color”.
See also musical tone.
Tonal Center — see Root Note
Tone Chamber — see Sound Chamber
Tone Holes — see Finger Holes
Tone Quality — see Timbre
Tonic — see Root Note
Top End — see Head End
Totem — see Block
A given name of Dr. Richard W. Payne.
A particular flute design of Toubat, Dr. Richard W. Payne. The primary fingering sequence of Toubat flutes are the diatonic major scale, and all Toubat flutes are designed to produce the warble effect on the fundamental note.
The process of moving a set of notes up or down in pitch by a constant interval. One might transpose a melody, a harmonic progression or an entire musical piece to another key. Similarly, one might transpose a set of pitches such as a chord so that it begins on another pitch.
Also called a “side-blown flute”.
Meters such as 3/4 and 6/8 where the number of beats in each measure (the top number in 3/4 and 6/8) is divisible by three.
An alternating pair of notes repeated many times. Trills can be played as grace notes leading into main melodic note, or as their own separate stand-alone part of the melody.
A flute with three sound chambers.
Also called a “drone flute” or a “harmony drone flute”.
An attack at the start of a note where two grace notes precedes the main melodic note. Unlike a typical grace note, which is done with fingering, the triple tongue grace note is done with articulation.
An interval of six semitones. There aren't a lot of songs that begin with a tritone, but the ones that do are distinctive: “Maria” from West Side Story and the theme from “The Simpsons” both begin with an ascending tritone.
On most contemporary Native American flutes, these pairs of fingerings give you an interval of a tritone:
Any scale that has three notes within the span of one octave.
True Sound Hole — see Sound Hole
TSH — see Sound Hole
Tuning Holes — see Direction Holes
A flute crafting and tuning technique of removing material from a finger hole underneath the external surface of the instrument. A finger hole that is undercut has a larger opening to the sound chamber than to the outside of the instrument.
An ornament that involves playing two grace notes before the main note. The main note is played briefly as a grace note, then the next higher note as a grace note, then back up to the full main note. It can be represented in modern music notation as: (Dolmetsch Online ([Blood 2011])).
Note that [Nakai 1996], page 31 calls for the symbol to indicate a trill rather than an upper mordent. However, this is non-standard notation, based on Dolmetsch Online ([Blood 2011]) and other resources that I have seen.
Upper Register — see Second Register
Variable Tube — see Sound Chamber
An ornament that involves a gentle, sometimes subtle cyclic change in volume and pitch. It is usually used on a long note. On Native American flutes, it is usually produced by a repeated change in breath pressure to the flute.
A type of warble that is produced by the player using vibrato technqies. By varying breath pressure, the player can edge the flute close to an overblow, without letting the flute fully transition into the second register. The vibrato techniques can approximately mimic the sound of a steady-state warble, but not precisely.
See The Warble.
See also steady-state warble.
Also called “pseudo-warble”.
Spoken or sung speech that has the sound and cadence of syllables and words, but without any meaning. Vocables can be mixed with meaningful speech (e.g. "Ta ra ra boom de-yay, Today's a Holiday, ...") or stand on their own (e.g. "bippity-bippity-doo-wop-razzamatazz-skoobie-doobie-bee-bop-a-lula-shabazz").
See Nudge, Nudge for references to vocables.
An ornament or effect that involves a rapid oscillation between the fundamental note and a tone approximately an octave higher.
See The Warble.
A situation where condensation forms in the flue to the point where the sound created by the flute is severely affected, or even silenced.
In this situation, it is typically necessary to remove and re-tie the block.
Also called “wet out” or “wetting out”.
For tips on designing flutes that reduce the water-out problem, see the FAQ Flute Crafting page.
The distance over which an osciallting wave, such as an air pressure wave, repeats.
The music tradition developed from Western liturgical and secular music beginning about 1000 CE and predominant in much of the Western world.
Also called the “Western European Music Tradition”.
Present-day flutes that are descendents of the European line of flute development, played in classical music settings and orchestras as well as many other types of music.
Also called the “C flute” (because it is typically tuned to the key of C), the “classical flute” (although this term really refers to an earlier version of the Western concert flute), the “silver flute” (because it is often made at least partly of silver), and the “Boehm flute” (because of the huge impact of Theobald Boehm during the 19th century).
Wet Out or Wetting Out — see Water Out
A flute without finger holes. The term is not always used precisely, even by researchers — we have many examples of Eagle-bone Whistles that have finger holes.
The term “pipe” sometimes means the same as “whistle”, but not always. There are Uilleann Pipes, which have finger holes.
Whistle Hole — see Sound Hole
Whistle Tone - see Edge Tone
This alternate name was suggested by Kathleen Joyce-Grendahl since it is often use in the world of classical music and the western concert flute.
An interval of two semitones. The first interval of “Happy Birthday” is a major second, as well as “Doe a Deer” (both between “Doe” and “a” as well as between “a” and “Deer”). The first interval of “Eight Day a Week” (“You Know I need …”) form a descending major second.
On most contemporary Native American flutes, these pairs of fingerings give you an interval of one whole tone:
Also called a “major second”.
Wind Holes — see Direction Holes
Window — see Sound Hole
Windway — see Flue
A term intended to describe style of Native American flute construction, in contrast with Plains Style Flute. However, there is no general consensus on the specifics of what these two terms mean.
A reproduction of another instrument, typically an artifact, that is designed to reproduce the sound and tuning of the original instrument.
In the case of artifacts that are incomplete and no supporting evidence is available for the construction of the incomplete portions, a museum replica or working replica might not be possible.
A way of playing a scale that involves changing directions rather than playing the scale in strict ascending or descending order. Woven scales make good finger dexterity exercises as well as providing a basic melody that is more melodically interesting that a straight scale.
Also called a “broken scale” and a “scale ladder”.
See Woven Scales.
The study of the musicality of animals as well as how music affects animals.