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Beyond Pentatonic Minor

The intervals and finger patterns we've seen so far fit into the primary scale of the Native American flute and give us the five notes of the pentatonic minor scale plus the octave note. These notes serve very well well for many people's music.

However, at some point in many players' journeys on the Native American flute, people get hungry for more notes. Some players want to explore melodies in other scales to get out of a rut, explore the traditional scales of other world music cultures, or just add an occasional "unusual" or "tension" not to their existing pentatonic minor scale melodies.

The intervals we explore on the rest of this page can do all these things for your music. They typically require "cross fingerings" - new finger patterns that are unfamiliar at first and may work differently on different flutes that you have. However, the musical variety they add to melodies can be dramatic.

When you get hungry to go beyond pentatonic minor melodies, read on ...

Minor Sixth

The most versitile note beyond the primary scale on the Native American flute is probably the minor sixth. It is easily available on virtually all contemporary six-hole Native American flutes and offers an easy way to add interest to melodies. It has the added benefit of making available a complete second pentatonic minor scale on any Native American flute as well as giving us access to melodies that are in major keys.

The minor sixth has a frequency ratio of 8:5. A 480 Hz note played over a 300 hz note is a minor sixth interval.

In the sargam system, this sixth musical degree is "Dhaivata" (shortened to "Dha"; Sanskrit: धैवतं). It originated from the horse and is related to the third eye chakra (Sanskrit: धैवतं, “ājñā”). Since this is the minor sixth, it is called "Komal Dhaivata"

The first two notes of the Beatles song "Because" are a minor sixth jump, and the first two notes of the "Love Story" theme descend a minor sixth.

Most contemporary Native American flutes get a minor sixth interval with the fingerings Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open on six-hole flutes. On five-hole flutes you will probably get a minor sixth interval with one of these pairs: Five hole finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed Five hole finger diagram closed open closed open open or Five hole finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed Five hole finger diagram closed open closed open closed or Five hole finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed Five hole finger diagram closed open closed closed open or .

Minor Sixth interval in Nakai Tab NotationThe Nakai Tablature for this minor sixth interval is shown at the left.

The interval is called "minor" because it is the lower note of the pair of "sixth" notes called "minor sixth " and "major sixth". We'll explore the major sixth on a later page.

Here is the sound of the minor sixth interval and harmony on a Native American flute:

Minor Sixth Interval

Clint Goss. E minor flute of Spalted Maple by Barry Higgins. E minor flute of Spalted Maple by Barry Higgins

On a keyboard, you can locate the minor sixth by going up an octave interval and then coming down two keys:

Minor Sixth  interval on a piano

The minor sixth interval represents eight semitones.

In music terms, here are pairs of notes that are a minor seventh apart:

Root
Note
Minor
Sixth
Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open
A F
Bb (A#) F# (Gb)
B G
C G# (Ab)
C# (Db) A
D Bb (A#)
Eb (D#) B
E C
F C# (Db)
F# (Gb) D
G Eb (D#)
G# (Ab) E

The Hexatonic Minor Scale

Armed with the minor sixth, we can now go off and create new scales. The first thing we'll do is add the minor sixth into the pentatonic minor scale and create a six-note scale, called the hexatonic minor scale.

The hexatonic minor scale contains the root note, the minor third, the perfect fourth from the root, the perfect fifth from the root, the minor sixth from the root, the minor seventh from the root, and the octave from the root.

Most contemporary six-hole Native American flutes will play this scale with the fingerings 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 closed open closed open open Finger diagram closed open closed open open open Finger diagram open open closed open open open. However, since it can be challenging to switch back and forth between fingerings, many players prefer to play this scale like this: 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 closed open closed open open Finger diagram closed open open closed open open Finger diagram open open open closed open open (notice the change in the last two fingerings).

Exercise: If you have trouble playing the Hexatonic Minor scale, take a few minutes to practice this exercise: play Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open etcetera. Start slowly and evening, with the two fingers changing precisely at the same time to make clean transitions between the notes. Build speed very gradually and slow down if the notes become sloppy or imprecise. After a bit of practice with this exercise, the hexatonic minor scale should become easier to play cleanly.

The scale steps of the hexatonic minor scale are 3-2-2-1-2-2, and for the first time we have a scale with a single semitone separating two notes in the scale.

These are the notes of the hexatonic minor scale written in Nakai Tablature:

Hexatonic Minor Scale written in Nakai Tab notation

Here is an improvisation in the hexatonic minor scale:

HexatonicImprovRoot

Clint Goss.

... which uses the extra note occasionally for added complexity, making it sound (to my ear, at least) less traditional. However, notice that this melody uses the Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed note as it's root (beginning and ending on that note). What happens if we change the note where the song is rooted?

The Hexatonic Major Scale

Here is an improvisation that uses the same notes as the hexatonic minor scale, but uses the second note of that scale as the root note rather than the first note.

Improvisation in Hexatonic Minor

Clint Goss. E minor flute of Spalted Maple by Barry Higgins. E minor flute of Spalted Maple by Barry Higgins

This gives an entirely different feel, and it should because it's an entirely different scale! What we have is an example of the principle that the root note around which you center your melody, typically beginning and ending on that note, not only influences the feel of the melody, it changes the scale!

The melody above was played with this scale: 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 closed open closed open open Finger diagram closed open closed open open open Finger diagram open open closed open open open. You could also play it like this: 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 closed open closed open open Finger diagram closed open open closed open open Finger diagram open open open closed open open.

This scale has scale steps of 2-2-1-2-2. This is 6 of the 7 steps of the diatonic major scale, which has scale steps of 2-2-1-2-2-2-1. And the improvisation in this scale has much more of a classical / major / Western feel to it (even with the bark at the end). Part of this is the scale and part of it is the playing style, but (of course) the playing style was probably influenced by the feel of the scale I was using.

One of the magic things about this scale is that it gives us access to playing melodies that are in a major key. Try playing these notes: Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open Finger diagram closed closed closed closed open open Finger diagram closed closed closed open open openFinger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open Finger diagram closed closed closed open open openFinger diagram closed closed closed closed open open Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open Finger diagram closed closed closed closed open open Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open. If that sounds like the start of the melody "Doe a deer, a female deer" from Rogers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music, then you've got your first melody in a major key.

What Happened to the Fundamental Note?

An interesting this about the way I've shown the Hexatonic Major Scale above is that it does not even use the Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed fundamental note of the flute. It's pretty rare not to use Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed in a melody, and since this scale contains the octave note Finger diagram open open closed open open open, it certainly should not disturb the Hexatonic Major scale to put Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed into the lineup of notes, as long as we don't put it at the start of the scale. So, the full hexatonic minor scale is:

 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 closed open closed open open  Finger diagram closed open closed open open open  Finger diagram open open closed open open open  Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed  Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open 

The Hexatonic Major Scale

I've added the root of the scale Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open again at the end to reinforce that this is the important note to begin and end this scale.

These are the notes of the hexatonic major scale written in Nakai Tablature:

Hexatonic Major Scale written in Nakai Tab notation

Here's another improvisation on this expanded Hexatonic Major Scale:

Improvisation in Hexatonic Major

Clint Goss. E minor flute of Spalted Maple by Barry Higgins. E minor flute of Spalted Maple by Barry Higgins

What Key Are We In?

Minor Key Relative
Major Key
Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open
A C
Bb (A#) C# (Db)
B D
C Eb (D#)
C# (Db) E
D F
Eb (D#) F# (Gb)
E G
F G# (Ab)
F# (Gb) A
G Bb (A#)
G# (Ab) B

So the hexatonic major scale lets us play melodies in a major key. Yes, we're quite limited in range, but at least we can get a major feel to melodies, simply by centering on Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open and adding Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open into the sequence of notes.

But what key are we playing in when we play in the hexatonic major scale? Since the root of this scale is on the Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open note, it is whatever pitch that note produces. In music terms, the key of the hexatonic major scale is the relative major to the minor key of the flute. The table at the right lists the relative major for each minor key.


The Red Hot and Blues Jazz Club, Prague

The Red Hot & Blues
Club, Prague

From that incident I learned that virtually all musicians, regardless of their experience and even if you tell them "Minor", will assume you are in a major key unless they've worked with a Native American flute before. One easy solution is to tell them that your key is the relative major key on your flute.

What if you don't happen to remember the relative major for that flute? Just say "I'm in this key ..." and play the Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open note.

 
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