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Rhythmic Chirping (aka Rhythmic Grace Notes)

Rhythm and melody make a fantastic combination. If you have ever played flute with a percussionist, at a drum circle, or over one of the many rhythm background tracks, you have probably experienced an added dimension that even a basic rhythm can provide.

But what if you are playing solo?

This page describes a straightforward technique for playing rhythm on your flute, at the same time you play melody. You can hear the technique played on a wide range of flute recordings, including some of the older ethnographic recordings. However, I have never heard a definitive name for the technique, so I just call it “Rhythmic Chirping” or “Rhythmic Grace Notes”. You'll see why in a minute.

You can read about the technique on this page and/or watch our FluteCast on this video:

The Rhythm

While seated, place three fingers — the ones you use to cover the upper three finger holes — on your thigh. Now say the word “Chirp”. When you say “Chirp”, pick up your middle finger very briefly and place it back down. Your middle finger should be off your body no longer than it takes to say “Chirp”. Work with that exercise until it feels natural to lift your middle finger for the smallest miniscule fraction of a second.

Now start tapping your opposite foot at a slow tempo. Lift your middle finger on each tap of your foot.

Your flute has rhythm!

Melody

After playing rhythmic chirps for a while, try closing the next lower hole while playing the rhythmic chirps on the upper holes. Then try closing another hole and finally all three lower holes.

Can you ascend on the bottom three notes while playing rhythmic chirps?

Can you change bottom notes every eight chirps? Every four chirps?

Can you progress to a basic melody on the low finger holes while continuing with the rhythmic chirping on the upper three holes?

With a bit of practice, some songs begin to emerge …

Challenges

On some flutes, you might find a tendency to squeek, overblow, or jump into the second register, especially if you are playing the lowest note. If that happens, try chirping using the top finger, or the top two fingers simultaneously.

What happens if you want to incorporate Finger diagram closed open closed open open open into your melody? On most flutes, you can switch to rhythmic chirping just using the top hole.

Adding the melodic note Finger diagram open open closed open open open presents even more challenges. I usually switch to very fast notes in the second register, but this is hard to keep up for more than a few chirps.

Other Contexts

Check out this YouTube video that demonstrates the customary satara playing style and also demonstrates a variation on the rhythmic chirping technique:

 
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To cite this page on Wikipedia: <ref name="Goss_2017_rhythmic_grace_notes"> {{cite web |last=Goss |first=Clint |title=Rythmic Chirping on the Native American Flute |url=http://www.Flutopedia.com/rhythmic_grace_notes.htm |date=15 April 2017 |website=Flutopedia |access-date=<YOUR RETRIEVAL DATE> }}</ref>