If you forget these pairings, here's a way to find a matching flute experimentally (for example, at a flute circle):
Play your note, and find a higher flute whose fundamental note matches your note. Those two flutes are a perfect fourth apart.
If you improvise on these flutes, they should sound largely harmonic. However, there is one pair of notes that is very dissonant ( on the lower flute and on the higher flute), and you might not like the result when you hit those notes. One way to avoid that is to play the lower flute in mode four. Insetead of the primary fingering sequence where you keep the third hole from the top always closed, try playing the lower flute with these fingerings:
If you play the lower flute in this way in mode four, the set of notes the two flutes are playing is the same. However, you also get the benefit of two flutes that have different ranges — the makings of a great duet pair.
Here's a duet with a pair of Native American flutes a fourth apart. The high flute in the right channel is the same track from the first improvisation above (done on the Little Horse flute by Butch Hall). The left channel is a lower E minor flute by Barry Higgins which I'm playing in mode four.
Harmonic Pairing — Fourth Apart
Clint Goss. Two flutes: a mid-range A minor by Butch Hall and a lower E minor by Barry Higgins.
Perfect Fifth Harmonic Pairings
Another beautiful relationship happens between flutes that are a perfect fifth apart (7 semitones). They also share all their notes except one:
You can also find a matching flute experimentally by playing your note, and finding a higher flute whose fundamental note matches your note.
To avoid the one dissonant pair of notes (which are on the lower flute and on the higher flute), you can play the higher flute in mode four, which will make the set of notes the two flutes are playing the same.
Here's a duet with a pair of Native American flutes a fifth apart. The high flute in the right channel is a high Am flute by Barry Higgins that I'm playing in mode four. The left channel is a lower D minor flute by Randy Stenzel played in mode one:
Harmonic Pairing — Fifth Apart
Clint Goss. Two flutes: a mid-range A minor by Barry Higgins and a lower D minor by Randy Stenzel.
A Trio of Flutes
We can use the symmetries of music theory and combine all the harmonic pairings discussed so far — octave, perfect fourth, and perfect fifth — to create a trio of flutes.
If you play the low and high flutes in mode four and the middle flute in the regular (mode one) scale, all the notes are consonant.
Here's the same duet as above (the perfect fifth pairing) with an added low Am flute in the center:
Harmonic Pairing — Trio
Clint Goss. Three flutes: mid-range and low A minor flutes by Barry Higgins and a lower D minor by Randy Stenzel.
Major Second Harmonic Pairings
As the last pairing that uses two Native American flutes with pentatonic minor tunings, here is a suggestion from Jeffrey Gegner of Branches Breath. I have not personally tried this combination, but it should be explored. From an email on November 8, 2010:
Here is something to try sometime: Play two flutes one note apart — for example, an E and an F#. The scales only have 2 notes separating them: the A# and the F. You do have to have a feel for the other player's style, but it works and can sound very cool.
Here are the flutes in that paring:
Adding a diatonic flute into the mix with flutes that are tuned to the pentatonic minor scale expands the harmonic possiblities.
First, let's look at the primary scale on a diatonic flute. It is usually the primary fingering sequence . If the fundamental note of the diatonic flute is a C, then the primary scale is C D E F G A B C.
It happens that if you play a Native American flute tuned to the minor pentatonic scale that is a minor third (5 semitones) lower than the diatonic flute, all their notes of the minor pentatonic flute will match most of the notes on the diatonic flute:
If you forget these pairings, you can find a matching flute experimentally: Play the note on the diatonic flute and find a pentatonic minor flute whose note matches the note on the diatonic flute.
What you are basically doing is playing the higher pentatonic minor flute as if it were a major-tuned flute.
Here's a duet with a diatonic Low D Irish Whistle by Phil Hardy of Kerry Whistles in the left channel and a lower Bm Native American flute in the right channel. Because the diatonic flute takes the lead, theres definitely more of a classical or Celtic feel to this improvisation:
Harmonic Pairing — Diatonic with Pentatonic Below
Clint Goss. Two flutes: Low D Whistle by Phil Hardy and a lower B minor by Barry Higgins.
Playing a Diatonic Flute in Pentatonic Minor
You can easily play a diatonic flute in pentatonic minor, and match the scale of a pentatonic minor Native American flute. On the diatonic flute, try these fingerings: . The root of the scale on the diatonic flute is the note, but you can also include the note, which is also part of this scale (as well as the note in the upper register, if that note resonates).
If you play a diatonic flute in this scale, you can then find a Native American flute tuned to the pentatonic scale that matches your diatonic flute. Just play the note on the diatonic flute and find a pentatonic minor tuned Native American flute whose note is matching.
Here is a table of keys that work in this way:
Here's a final duet on the diatonic Low D Irish Whistle by Phil Hardy of Kerry Whistles in the left channel being played in this pentatonic minor scale, and an Em Native American flute by Barry Higgins in the right channel:
Harmonic Pairing — Diatonic with Pentatonic Above
Clint Goss. Two flutes: Low D Whistle by Phil Hardy and a mid-range E minor by Barry Higgins.
When you are playing duets, it is particularly important to compare the tuning of the two flutes. This is especially true when the two flutes are in the same key, or a small distance apart.
See the discussion of Tuning for how to adjust the tuning of flutes played in duet.
Depending on how well the two flutes are paired harmonically, you can venture into more and more improvised harmonies. If they are note well paired, you could use a straight call-and-response technique with only one flute playing at once. For other techniques of playing duets, see Composition Techniques and Song Forms.
Even if the two flutes do not normally form a harmonic pair, they can sound good together. However, you usually have to arrange the music specifically for that pair.
For example, the duet I arranged for Silent Night uses two flutes that are a major third (4 semitones) apart. This is normally not a harmonic pairing if you are improvising in the pentatonic minor scale on those flutes, but it works well with careful arrangement.