When I’m telling you about the notes my flutes play, I use a standard notation based on the piano keyboard. If you’re not familiar with it, the piano keyboard has groups of 8 white keys with 5 black keys between them; the five black keys are two together and then three together. To the left of the first of two black notes (from left to right) is the note “C”. As there are only 8 notes in each group, there is a “C1” at the left hand end of the keyboard, up to a C8 at the right. The first note in each group is always the “C”.
So – “Middle C” is the C nearest the middle of the piano keyboard – and it’s also called “C4”. It sounds quite a high, sprightly note when played on a piano – but when played on the Native American flute it’s an incredibly deep, resonant note – quite beautiful to hear. Most flutes of this type are between F4 and B4 – so quite a limited range. However, some flutes are made which go down to C3, and up to E5. Below C3 you would start to need mechanisms to cover the holes, like the valves on a metal flute; and above E5 the flutes sound shrill and not as pleasant.
So far, the lowest key flute I’ve made was an E4, and the highest a D5.
Now – the scale of these flutes is “Minor, Pentatonic”. A minor chord (as played on the piano) is a sad, slightly discordant sound; for instance if you played C, E flat and G together on the piano, that is a “C Minor”… G minor would be G, B flat and D. Pentatonic means that only 5 main notes span the octave, because there are only 6 holes and one of those remains covered for most of the time.
A “G” flute, then, would play G, A#, C, D, F and G. The “Steps” between the notes are the same on all Native American (Minor Pentatonic) flutes – first step is a tone and a half, then a tone, then a tone again, then a tone and a half, then a tone. This spacing of five notes (plus the top note) has two effects:
1. It makes the flutes really easy to learn; It’s hard, once you have the fingering down, to make a “bad” tune… of course there are tricks and extra effects – but the basics are easy.
2. It means the flute lends itself extremely well to mournful, sad songs, love songs, and other hauntingly beautiful music. Of course – you can make cheerful music too – but the haunting oozes from these instruments with no urging whatever.
I urge you to try these instruments of you get the chance – you won’t be disappointed!