Flutopedia - an Encyclopedia for the Native American Flute

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Flutopedia Symposium

Modes

Scales that do not start on the Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed fundamental note of the flute bring us into the concept of modes and rotating scales.

A mode is a scale that uses the same notes as an underlying scale, but starts those notes in a different place. 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.

Take an underlying seven-note scale with the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. I've put the first note in red to make it easier to locate in these examples:

  • Mode 2 of this underlying scale would contain the notes B, C, D, E, F, G, and (wrapping around to the start of the underlying scale) A.
  • Mode 3 of the underlying scale would contain the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.
  • Mode 7 of the underlying scale would contain the notes G, A, B, C, D, E, and F.

Personally, I call this “rotating the scale”, but that's just my terminology. Maybe it will catch on and I will be cited centuries from now for inventing this revolutionary term … my stab at immortality … and you saw it here first.

Using modes works exactly the same with the scale steps of a scale. Take an underlying seven-note scale with scale steps of 2-1-2-2-1-2-2.

  • Mode 2 of this underlying scale has the scale steps 1-2-2-1-2-2-2.
  • Mode 3 of the underlying scale has the scale steps 2-2-1-2-2-2-1.
  • Mode 7 of the underlying scale has the scale steps 2-2-1-2-2-1-2.

So the general use of the term mode in music theory deals with getting a new scale from an underlying scale by using a different starting note. However, the use of the term mode in the Native American flute world is slightly different.

In the Native American flute world, you will hear the term mode used often, especially in the context of “Mode Four Pentatonic Scale”; or a “Mode One/Four Flute”. The term mode in the Native American flute world means a scale whose root note is not the Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed fundamental note of the flute. The Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed fundamental note identifies the mode number.

So, in the 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 openFinger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed) Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open, the Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed is the sixth note of the scale (the Finger diagram open open closed open open open and Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed notes are considered the same because they are an octave apart, so they count as one “note”).

In the Native American flute world, this scale would be called the Mode Six Hexatonic Major Scale. You will hear the term “mode” used often, especially in the context of “Mode Four Pentatonic Scale” or a “Mode One/Four Flute”.

Wrap Notes

The Native American flute has a limited range compared with most instruments played today. The span of playable note is not much more than one octave.

In most discussions of scales, you start on the root note of the scale and proceed in scale step up to higher and higher notes. However, we take a scale like 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 and add the lower notes that are in that scale (as well as the root note of the scale) back onto the end: 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.

I call these additional notes added to the end of a scale wrap notes (this is another term I invented). They are often added by Native American flute players because of the limited range of the Native American flute and also because melodies in a scale often end on the root note - adding the wrap notes onto the end of a scale make it sound more like a melody and make them nicer to practice.

 

 
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