(For those who wish to enhance their compositions.)

Copyright (C) 2007
by Lew Paxton Price

Back to Main Menu
There are, at last count, over eighty flute circles throughout the world.   Many of the circles are split into clans according to geographic area.   The number of individual clans at this point is well over one hundred, and the number is growing.   The clans are like clubs for those who create and play various types of old flutes indigenous to various cultures on this planet.   Most of the circles specialize in Native North American flutes, and most of these flutes use the mode one/four six-hole flute.

At this time (March 15, 2007) our clan of the Northern California Flute Circle is arranging and practicing some music for a performance for our first-time hosting of the SPRING FLUTE FESTIVAL in Georgetown, California.   What follows was originally a hand-out to the NoNahme clan members.   It is being placed on this website so that other beginning musicians throughout the world can benefit from it.


There are people in the various flute circles who are no longer beginners.   This is should help them to remember the fundamentals of musical composition.


In early prehistoric times, someone discovered that a sound could be made by clicking rocks together or pounding on a hollow log.   These discoveries eventually led to our modern percussion instruments.   Someone else discovered that a sound could be made with a hollow tube when one blew at one end in a certain way.   This eventually led to our modern woodwinds.   The evolution of instruments is a logical progression, but why did these early discoveries lead to what we have today?   Why were people interested in more variety of sound?

Those who first learned to pound on a hollow log could do so with the correct intervals between beats to induce a trance-like state.   Those who tooted on one hollow tube could also induce this trance-like state.   This was good for certain things, and similar techniques can be used today to aid in hypnotizing people.   Hynosis depends partly on boring the conscious mind so that the subconscious mind shuts it off.   Without the conscious mind interfering, the robot-like subconscious will take the directions of someone else's conscious mind.

In very early times, some people were not interested in being hypnotized.   Instead, they wanted to be entertained.   These people became bored with single notes and single beats, so they endeavored to alter some musical instruments and to create others so that the sounds could be varied.   These people also decided to alter the beat more frequently.   All this was done because one tone or one beat becomes boring.   Today, we have numerous ways to prevent boredom in music, and the best music is music that is not boring.

Nevertheless, people wanted a theme with their music, a melody, something that they could chant with and remember stories by.   This meant that a certain type of melodic repetition was necessary - a song.   The sameness necessary for a tune or song to be remembered had to be balanced properly with variation in the theme so that boredom would not set in.   So various techniques evolved to create a reasonable balance between sameness and boredom.

Various Means of Preventing Boredom in Music

1.   A pleasing melody for the major theme (verse) can be varied slightly with each repetition.   Zuni Sunrise makes slight variations with each repetition of its theme in most of its arrangements.

2.   The tempo (beat) can be altered as the theme progresses.

3.   Different rhythms and syncopation in the rhythm can be used.   Ragtime, the samba, and lullabies have very different rhythms.

4.   Chord changes can be introduced.   Almost all music uses chord changes today.   Unusual chord changes that are done in a pleasing fashion can be a means of enhancing the effect of song.   All the Things You Are is a good example of this.

5.   The use of chord progressions, either ascending or descending, along the transposition pattern from one repetition of the theme to the next is a good device.   Playing a repetitious song like Down in the Valley can become extremely pleasant when treated in this fashion.   Going from one song to the next in an album or on stage, this same device is recommended.

Transposition Pattern

6.   Volume variations can make an otherwise boring theme very pleasant.   Bolero is an example of this technique too.   However, other examples have more frequent and duo-directional volume changes.   Ravel's Bolero is a good example of this, beginning with a subdued volume and a few instruments, and gradually increasing its volume while adding more instruments.   Remember that for part of a composition to be relatively loud, other parts must be relatively soft.   Starting with the volume at its loudest is not always wise.   An abrupt, loud sound is one way to end a composition - as does Ravel in Bolero.   The opposite way to end is with a fade-out.

7.   The round can be used such as found in Row, Row, Row Your Boat, where each succeeding repetition of the theme begins before the last has finished.

8.   Echo can be introduced which is similar to the foregoing but only with parts of the theme.

9.   Countermelody is the result of counterpoint (the act of adding to a melody a part or parts that shall be related to but independent of it according to the fixed rules of harmony).   Two rather different examples of this are Malaguena and Lida Rose (from the Music Man).   Malaguena uses two themes superimposed by the same instruments, and Lida Rose is done by a barbershop quartet against a female solo on a different song entirely.

10.   The melody (major theme) of the song itself can be changed in various ways to prevent boredom.   One may:
      (A) Add a chorus which is used after each or every other verse.
      (B) Use a bridge after two verses and then finish with a third verse.
      (C) Use an introduction before going into the theme itself.
      (D) Use variations on the above.

11.   Combinations and variations in instrument types aid immensely in preventing boredom while allowing the theme to be maintained.   However, at some point it is wise to have an orchestra leader to keep the various instruments in concert with one another as the tempo changes, and to bring in new instruments at appropriate times or to stop other instruments from being played.

12.   With the exception of things like symphonies (which usually change themes within the course of their playing), drinking songs and marching songs (which are either heard by those who are intoxicated or who need a cadence), and perhaps a few other types of musical presentations, the best way to reduce boredom for the audience is to stop playing within a reasonable length of time.   The average person becomes very tired of listening to the same theme and/or the same player for very long periods.   Furthermore, it is best to leave the audience unsated - let them feel that a little more is wanted - then they might be more inclined to invite you back to play.   Also, when one player or group hogs the stage for too long, people begin to think of them as hams (which they are) and begin to wish that other players or groups would be allowed to play in the limited time available.

As a rule of thumb, four minutes is about the maximum that should be used for a particular song.   The average that works best is about two and one-half minutes for a stage presentation.   For things like albums that customers buy because the music on it sounds good to them, the songs might be longer.   Of course, for altering consciousness (such as going into the alpha state) where any change can cause "awakening", long periods of the same music are necessary because a certain amount of boredom is required.

Composing Music for the Pentatonic Scale

The Native American flute we use most is tuned to the pentatonic scale.   This scale allows one to do almost anything without conflict from one note to the next or in harmony with other instruments tuned to the same scale and key.   However, this scale can be very boring unless one is careful to use the techniques for preventing boredom.   So when one composes music using this scale, there are some steps that make the task easier.

1.   Choose a mood that you wish to convey.   A scene in the mind's eye will help.

2.   Choose a basic beat that connotes the feeling you wish to express.   This beat can be varied and need not include other instruments.   If a trance-like state is desired from the listeners, other instruments can be added.   This will cause the beat to remain the same unless there is someone to conduct the tempo for the group.   However, for maximum variation as the flutist conveys the intended expression of the theme, the flutist should work alone.

3.   Choose a theme (a tune).   You can let the flute do this for you if you are doing something on the spur of the moment.   If you plan to keep the tune and wish to have something that is original, you might have difficulty with the originality part.   This can be fixed by letting the universe take care of it for you.   You take a common die that is used in games - one with six sides and number of dots on each side, give each number a note of the pentatonic scale, and roll the die for each succeeding note in your theme.   There are five notes on this scale and the octave note for a total of six - so the die with six sides works just fine.   The overblown notes can be added later for variation of the theme.

4.   Decide the format you want for the song.   Do you want a bridge for it, a chorus, more varied repetitions of the theme, or something else.   Remember that the theme should remain in some form at places throughout the presentation because the listeners prefer a song with some degree of consistency - and meaningless variations, although sometimes good for the flutist, usually become nothing more than background noise for an audience.   Various time-tested formats follow.

      (A)   The theme repeated over and over again with slight variations each time.

      (B)   The theme, one repetition of the theme (sometimes with slight variations), the bridge, and the theme once more.

      (C)   An introduction that transitions well into the theme followed by the same format as in (B).

      (D)   The theme followed by a chorus, same format repeated as often as there are verses for the song.

      (E)   The chorus, followed by the same format as in (D).

      (G)   Variations of the foregoing formats.

      (F)   Any of the above but modified periodically by changing keys according to the dictates of the transposition pattern.

      (G)   For multiple flute songs, one can use overlap from one phrase of the song to the next - or a counter-melody.

5.   You should record your progress on paper.   It might be wise to add some words (even if they are nonsense words) because there will times when you wish to play this tune - and you will have an easier time remembering it if you use the word part of your mind as well as the musical part.

6.   There is a great way to write your song down that was developed by Joseph Madrid and published in the Volume 3, 1999, Voice of the Wind.   The second octave notes (what few there are) can be shown with a slight variation of Madrid's tablature.   Other variations can be added to show the length of time a note is held, etc., but sometimes other ways can be used by adding words and notes for the rhythm.

7.   A tape recorder is handy whenever you are ready for it to be used.   This can mean immediately if the tune comes spontaneously, or later if the tune to be written down and played again.

8.   Your song can be adjusted as it evolves in your mind over time, so that it can become a "classic".   You may want to add "incidentals" by cross-fingering or half-holing to get notes that are not part of the pentatonic scale.   If this is done properly, it creates variations in the theme that add richness.   You may want to change the tempo or the rhythm in parts of the song.   There are many ways to make minor adjustments while keeping the theme.

Beware of becoming too mechanical.   Electronic background instruments never sound quite the same as do the real instruments, and the steady mechanical beat prevents true artistic expression.   The echo-effect of electronics is handy to use at times, but can be done better with another flute if someone is there to do it.   Needless to say, performances to large audiences today usually require the use of electronic amplification.   The ancients were smart enough to use the proper construction in their amphitheaters for sound to be focused upon the audience in lieu of electronic amplification.   The effect was the same, but the sound was much better.

We Americans have a unique culture that has been influenced greatly by the native culture.   This becomes more obvious as one views the other English-speaking cultures.   Our governmental structure at the federal level (unfortunately, not at the county level) was created by people, some of whom had studied the Native governmental structure.   The food we eat comes, for the most part, from the natives - who excelled in agriculture and the development of nutritious food.   Today, we seem to be doing all we can to reverse their efforts by making food sweeter and less nutritious.   By popularizing the native culture through use of native instruments (the Native North American flute has a unique sound), perhaps some of our worst national habits can be reduced.   Education is the key to a successful republic.

The Native American pentatonic scale that I call "Mode One" is the most popular scale today.   But the native flutes also used "Mode Four" pentatonic and the diatonic scale.   Today, other scales are also available for this instrument.   The alternative scales should not be ignored.   It was my original hope that the Native North American flute could be improved sufficiently to be played with the symphony orchestra.   This actually occurred for the first time when Mary Youngblood made it happen.   Now it is not so unusual.   However, more can be done with the instrument as it continues to evolve, and the you are the ones who continually create its evolution.





In music, the part of a composition which both joins parts of and deviates from the major theme.

Combination of three or more tones sounded together according to the rules of harmony.

Chromatic scale
A scale of twelve notes, or thirteen with the octave note included, each succeeding note being one half-tone above or below the preceding note.

The part of a sound wave in which the molecules are compressed.

The art of adding to a melody a part or parts that shall be related to but independent of it, according to the fixed rules of harmony.   Counterpoint creates counter-melody.

Diatonic scale
A scale of eight notes composed of two tetrachords separated by a whole-tone.

The number of events per second.   In the case of music, the number of "slaps" on the eardrum during each second from a relatively pure musical sound.

A system of tones, according to which a piece of music is written, in which all the notes of a scale bear a definite and recognized relationship to the keynote or tonic.

The tonic or key from which it is named.   The fundamental.

Major scale
A scale derived from the diatonic scale, substituting semi-tones between notes 3 and 4, and 7 and 8.

The branch of musical science relating to the pitch of the tones and the principles of melody.

Agreeable to the ear.

Pleasing sounds or an agreeable succession of such sounds.

Minor scale
(1) A scale derived from the diatonic scale, substituting semi-tones between notes 2 and 3, 5 and 6, and 7 and 8,
(2) between 2 and 3, and 7 and 8 when ascending,
(3) or between 6 and 5, and 3 and 2 when descending.

A method of dividing an octave by placing steps (whole-tones) and half-steps of which it is composed in certain arbitrary relationships.

The pitch and relative position in a scale system.

(1) The interval between a note and one of double or half its frequency.
(2) The note that is double the frequency of the tonic.

Pentatonic scale
A scale composed of five notes.

(1) The dominant frequency of a sound wave perceived by the ear.
(2) Note of an instrument's reference (fundamental).

(1) An advance from one tone or chord to another.
(2) A succession of tones or chords.

Rarefication or Rarefaction
The part of a sound wave in which the molecules are farther apart.

All the tones or notes of a key in regular ascending or descending order in an octave or more.

A melodious utterance.

Sound wave
A wave of sound in which there is a condensation and a rarefication of molecules.

Interval or whole-tone.   A half-step equals a half-interval which equals a semi-tone.

(1) Relative speed at which a composition is rendered; time; rhythm of tune.
(2) Characteristic manner or style, rate of speed or general activity.

Literally "four tones".   Four notes composed of a tonic, a note one whole-tone above the tonic, another a whole-tone above the second, and a third that is half-tone above the third.

A melodic subject, usually developed with variations, in a musical composition.

Tone color - signature voice of an instrument.

(1) Sound in relation to quality, volume, duration, and pitch.
(2) The timbre, a peculiar characteristic sound - as of the source of an instrument.
(3) The interval corresponding to one degree of a scale or staff (two semi-tones or one whole-tone)

The keynote.

A melodious succession of musical tones adjusted to some measure and constituting a whole.

(1) A single metrical or rhythmical tone made up of a number of feet, arranged according to a specific rule.
(2) A group of metrical lines - a stanza.
(3) The solo part of a song - short division of a composition.

Back to Main Menu