Lesson Three: Playing the Musical Skip
After a little bit of a hiatus I thought that I would continue my “Native Flute Lesson” series by bridging two ideas together. In the first Lesson we discussed how a strong “Initial Tone” is one of the most important ideas of playing great Flute. The Second Lesson, “The First Scale,” showed the notes that are played for the first scale a beginner can learn on the NAF. So we should continue the “Lesson Series” by building upon the previous lessons.
Most people, when they think musical thoughts, do not remain in a simple scale pattern. Usually the idea of “jumping” notes will show up sooner or later. This is because moving up and down a scale in single notes can get rather old after a while. But what is the jump, or skip, that is played. How far do we jump? Is there too far that one can go? This can usually lead to a great discussion of intervals and other musical terms, but let’s leave that aside for a moment. Music is about how you feel at that moment expressed into ranged pitches. So when you play your Native American Wood Flute the music that comes out should be drastically different then when I play it. However, we can both share simple ideas to make sure things sound good.
Let us take a look at the notes of a simple flute, the “A” flute:
x x x x x o o o
x x x x o o o o
x x x x x x x x
— — — — — — — —
x x x o o o o x
x x o o o o x x
x o o o o o x o
A C D E G A2 B2 C2
By studying this chart you can very easily play any note on your flute and then play any other note on your flute and be perfectly fine. None of these pitches are out of the ordinary and sound perfectly fine together. With the exception of the “B” tone we have a perfect minor pentatonic scale here. But let us see if we can create some rules to make the flow of our “Musical Skips” stronger.
- Rule One: Since we start with the “A” tone on our flute that must mean that the “A” tone is an important tone to the instrument. Because it is important, making a lyrical line start and end on “A” will sound melodic.
- Rule Two: Because we are in minor, the relative major tone, or “C” tone is also important. Just like rule one, because it is important making a lyrical line start and end on “C” will sound very melodic.
So let us start with these rules and see where they lead us. Play the following line using any rhythm that interests you. Slow or fast does not matter:
A – C – E – A2 | “pause” | G – D – E – A
That line should sound pretty fluid and clean. If you notice by adding simple skips into the mix we created a line that moves up without getting monotonous and returns to a base without feeling like we forced it to fit. The same idea can be created with using Rule Two:
C – D – B – C2 | “pause” | A2 – E – A – C
Notice that we took a stronger liberty with the skips in this melody. The skip lengths didn’t matter as long as returning to the end notes were on the “C”. However, even this can get a little boring so let’s create some more rules to make things sound a little more interesting.
- Rule Three: If you start on “A” then skipping to “E”, or starting on “C” and skipping to “G”, can sound very melodic and add tension by ending a melodic phrase on that note.
- Rule Four: Anticipation for a note can be created by playing the two notes surrounding the tone and then playing the surrounded tone.
Let’s show these in action. Rule Three is a tricky one to understand. By starting off on the “A” tone, the “E” tone can be used as a strengthening tone. Especially by ending a melodic phrase halfway on the “E” tone. Play this line for greater understanding:
A – D – G – E | “pause” | C – D – G – A
Without getting too technical, what is happening is the reinforcement of sound based on the fifth interval. The fifth interval is extremely important in music and I’ll probably discuss it a little later, but for now just know that it helps with strengthening the sound of the “A” tone. The rule also works with the “C” tone. By ending a half phrase on the “G” tone you get the same type of effect.
Rule four is a little more fun to play and a lot less difficult to understand. But it can really make the Rule Three stand out if used properly. It is best shown instead of discussed:
C – E – A2 – G | “pause” | E – D – A – C
Notice how the notes around the tone (“E” skip to “A2” then fall to “G”) make the target tone a little more emphasized. This can really help to emphasize a melody line. Try this long melodic phrase to see all of this in action:
A – D – G – A2 | “pause” | C – D – A2 – C2 | “pause” | A – C – G – E | “pause” | C – E – D – G | “pause” | A – G – D – E | “pause” | C – E – A2 – G | “pause” | A2 – D – E – A | “pause” | A <- I like to end on a strong initial tone
So I know that I didn’t really discuss how to skip, hopefully by understanding how to make the skip melodically better will help with your experimentation of the Native American Wood Flute. And really, playing the NAF is a wholly personal experiment anyways.