The versatile instrument known as the Native American style flute is most commonly found in either five hole (Mode 1) or six hole (Mode 1 & 4) versions. These tunings are most often used to create traditional sounding Native American songs. Both of these tunings are pentatonic, meaning the musical intervals between the notes are like those of the black keys on a piano or keyboard. The six hole (Mode 1 & 4) can be played in a cross-fingering manner to produce notes that would not normally be a part of this pentatonic scale.
In addition to these two common tunings for the Native American style flute, there are three other pentatonic scales and a diatonic scale available. The construction of flutes tuned to these alternate scales is identical to the two previously mentioned versions. During tuning, however, the hole placements and diameters become noticeably different to create the musical intervals between the notes to achieve these scales.
The diatonic major tuning is a scale that can produce music familiar to Western ears, including many Christmas songs, Amazing Grace, and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. This tuning utilizes six holes arranged in two groups of three with a substantial space between the groupings. Playing sequentially up the scale produces the familiar do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do sound, familiar to many. The “do” at the upper end of this scale, the beginning of the second octave, is achieved by covering all holes and causing an octave shift by over-blowing. The next three notes of the second octave, re, mi, and fa, can be achieved by maintaining the octave shift and sequentially uncovering the three lower playing holes and progressively increasing the air flow.
Another delightful pentatonic scale is Mode 5 or Celtic. Flutes tuned to this scale have five playing holes and create music of a playful, joyous nature. One can easily lapse into a spontaneous Irish jig. Amazing Grace, mentioned previously, is played on this scale with even greater ease than the diatonic scale since there is no octave shift required for the highest note of this beloved song.
Flutes tuned to Mode 2 pentatonic, also with five playing holes, have somewhat of an Oriental sound and may have been a traditional Chinese tuning. To quote Lew Paxton Price, from his booklet, Creating and Using the Native American Concert Flute, “It has a soothing, happy sound that seems to make one feel glad to be alive, and is very appealing.”
The pentatonic scale referred to as Mode 3 is known to be used for Gaelic or Scottish bagpipe tunings and also utilizes five playing holes. Flutes tuned to this scale can be used to create uncommon music of an uplifting or mystical nature.
Flutes tuned in what one might call the non-traditional Native American tunings, including the diatonic major scale and the pentatonic scales of Modes 5, 2 and 3 are available in most mid to high range keys. Due to the necessity of larger finger spreads on non-traditionally tuned flutes below the key of D above middle C, it becomes difficult, but not impossible to play these flutes. All requests will be considered and researched.