Flutopedia - an Encyclopedia for the Native American Flute

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The Mode Four Pentatonic Minor Scale

Earlier I said that the minor six note Finger diagram closed closed open closed open open makes possible a complete second pentatonic minor scale on any Native American flute. The Mode Four Pentatonic Minor Scale is it!

The best way to explore this scale is by experience. Rather than forge ahead reading about this scale, I would encourage you to take some time playing with these notes:

Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open Finger diagram closed closed closed closed open openFinger diagram closed closed open closed open open Finger diagram closed open closed open open openFinger diagram open open closed open open open or 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 open closed open open Finger diagram closed open open closed open open Finger diagram open open open closed open open

Pick one of these fingerings and practice running up and down the scale for a while. Then try improvising some melodies. See where they take you. Then start to take notice where your melodies begin and end.

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Here's a recording of an improvisation in this scale:

Audio Player disabled - visit Troubleshooting.

... but it's really more fun if you try improvising yourself.

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Got some experience with the feel of this scale? In particular, what note of the scale feels like the tonic - where your melodies begin and end. If so, read on ...

First notice that Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open is not part of this scale. Since Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open is a perfect fifth above Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed and since the perfect fifth is part of most scales, it's a safe bet that Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed is not the root of this scale. Most people improvising for a while in the 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 open closed open open Finger diagram closed open open closed open open Finger diagram open open open closed open open scale will gravitate towards Finger diagram closed closed closed closed open open as the central note of the scale. There's a good reason for this: it is the root of a pentatonic minor scale - a separate pentatonic minor scale than 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.

Second, look carefully at the scale steps starting from the bottom: 3-2-3-2-2. These scale steps are a rotation of the Pentatonic Minor Scale of 3-2-2-3-2. I've highlighted the beginning/root note of both scales in red.

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

The Mode Four Pentatonic Minor Scale

As mentioned earlier, the term mode four isn't really correct from a music theory point of view, but it is a common term in the Native American flute community. So it's best not to go to your brother-in-law who spent his youth at a music conservatory and now writes symphonies for a living and say "Clint said that this is Mode Four …" In the Native American flute context, mode four means that the Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed fundamental note plays the fourth note of the scale.

These are the notes of the mode four pentatonic minor scale written in Nakai Tablature:

Mode Four Pentatonic Minor written in Nakai Tab notation

The wonderful (amazing!) thing about mode four is that it gives virtually every Native American flute a second pentatonic minor key with a different root note. Here's a table that lists the root note and key of that second pentatonic minor scale:

A flute that plays this
(Mode One)
Pentatonic Minor Scale:
... also plays this
Mode Four
Pentatonic Minor Scale:
A D
Bb (A#) Eb (D#)
B E
C F
C# (Db) F# (Gb)
D G
Eb (D#) G# (Ab)
E A
F Bb (A#)
F# (Gb) B
G C
G# (Ab) C# (Db)

Covering the Keys

Having mode four means that, if you want to cover all the possible keys, you don't need to haul twelve flutes around. Theoretically you need just six flutes.

Here's a set of six flutes keys that will cover all the twelve possible keys of the chromatic scale: F# (Gb), G# (Ab), Bb (A#), C, D, and E. Another combination that covers all the possible keys is: A, B, C# (Db), Eb (D#), F, and G. However, one problem is that each of these sets of flute keys has some keys that are rarely made by Native American flute makers, such as Eb (D#) and G# (Ab).

People often ask "What flute keys should I get?" My stock answer is "The next one that speaks to you!" While that's a good philosophy, players who want to jam with other instruments do need to cover the commonly used keys and move on to covering a large span of all the keys. So, here's my very very general guide to acquiring flute keys, considering what keys are most common on the Native American flute, what keys work with other instruments, and each flute's mode four key:

  • Core keys: F# minor and A minor. These are the keys that people usually purchase first and are frequently available on the Native American flute.
    • If you have small hands, an A minor is a good first choice because the holes are more eaily reached than the lower F# minor.
    • A minor works very well with pianos and guitars. It matches the piano mode of playing all the white keys.
    • These two keys play in the keys of B minor and D minor when played in mode four.
    • Even though these two keys are only three semitones apart, they have a substantially different feel. The higher key of A minor sounds to most people much higher and lighter and the key of F# minor sound much more and traditional and "substantial".
  • Supporting Keys: E minor, D minor, and C minor. These
    • x
  • Adding other registers: low and high keys to match existing keys … high A.
    • x
  • Filling out the set: Depending on what keys you have, I would be tempted to fill out the set so that all keys are coverec, either in Mone One or Mode Four. But there are other considerations:

 

Alternate Fingerings

Difference above between Finger diagram closed open closed open open open and Finger diagram closed open open closed open open

 

 
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