Lesson Two: The First Scale

So you have started to practice the Initial Tone and feel pretty good about how your sound is progressing. Now you are looking for a more challenging technique … or at least more notes then just moving fingers up and down. So welcome to the world of your First Scale.

Depending on what type of flute you have purchased will determine what scale your flute can play. And there is a wide belief about what “keys,” or scales, exist for a particular flute, but that is not what we are going to focus on today. Today we should look at how to play your First Scale that will sound good enough for you to play the sounds you hear in your head. And remember … playing the Native American Flute (or NAF) is more about your expression then that of “organized music.”

There is a small difference between the 6 hole flute and 5 hole flute that we should discuss here momentarily. Generally speaking, the 6 holed flute variation has an extra hole over the “top-hand” bottom finger. So this variation looks like:

Top hand Bottom Hand

X X X | X X X

Where the five holed variation looks like this:

    X X | X X X

The big difference is that, with the missing hole, some of the sounds that you may want out of flute may not be readily available. This does not affect our First Scale, but it should be known so you as the player can see what to expect. For my examples I will be using the six holed variation of the flute. And for ease of note diagramming I will also be using an “A” flute.

So let’s show the first scale:

                         Extended Scale Tones

    x    x    x    x    x    o    | o    o |

    x    x    x    x    o    o    | o    o |

    x    x    x    x    x    x    | x    x | <- Notice the anchor finger on the 4th hole

    —    —    —    —    —    —    |–     –|

    x    x    x    o    o    o    | o    x |

    x    x    o    o    o    o    | x    x |    X = covered hole

    x    o    o    o    o    o    | x    o |    O = opened hole

    A    C    D    E    G    A    | B    C |

And there you go your First Scale is played. The interesting thing about this scale is that you maintain an “anchor finger” on the 4th hole (or bottom finger of the top hand). This is the same hole that is missing on the five holed variation of the flute, which is why the First Scale can be easily played on both six and five holed variations. So what is this scale? This scale, without the extended scale tones is known as the minor pentatonic scale: minor being the sound flavor, and pentatonic meaning 5 tones. The extended Scale tones add two notes above the “minor pentatonic” that are used to extend the sound quality of the scale. Now even though the flute you are playing may not be an “A” flute, the First Scale is still a minor pentatonic scale. So if you are playing an “F#” flute, you will be playing an F# minor pentatonic scale.

Playing the flute in this fashion will allow for numerous melodies and sound patterns to be created and enjoyed by the performer. Try playing the scale up and down at steady varying tempos.

If you have a metronome start with 68 beats per minute and play each tone in the scale up and down. Then increase the beats by increments of four (4) or greater until you can play steady and consistently around 220 beats per minute. A good NAF player would be able to consistently play each scale they learn at a wide range of tempos: from 40 BPM (Beats per Minute) to 220 BPM.

After you feel comfortable playing the First Scale ascending and descending try playing it in variations: Every other tone (i.e. A-D-C-E-D-G-E-A-G-B-A-C, etc), Every third tone (i.e. A-E-C-G-D-A-E-B-G-C-A, etc.), and other variation patterns. The trick here is getting a consistent sound no matter what notes you are playing and transitioning. Sometimes moving from one finger position to another finger position will make the sounds “squeak, buzz, hum or whistle.” This is usually because as you are transitioning between notes your fingers are not making solid seals on the sound holes. With practice and getting used to the feeling of the instrument, this sound quirk can be fixed.

Practice your First Scale. And enjoy the sound that it creates. Create your own melodies from slow tempos to fast tempos and let the sound envelope the mood you are feeling. And remember to have fun and enjoy.

Happy playing!!

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