THE TRANSPOSITION PATTERN
(For those who wish to enhance their compositions.)
Copyright (C) 2007
by Lew Paxton Price
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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.
A chord is a combination of three or more notes sounded together according to the rules of harmony. Chords are named according to the numbers of the notes in the diatonic scale. The fundamental or base note, usually referred to as the tonic is the starting point and is called number one. If one is looking at the keyboard of a piano, with middle C as the tonic, D would be number two, E would be three, F would be four, G would be five, the A above the G would six, the B above the A would be seven, the C above the B would be eight, and the D above that C would be nine. The diatonic scale is the pattern of sounds, the melody, that these notes play. On a keyboard in which one begins with middle C to establish this melody, all of the keys in the melody are white ones.
There are five black keys, one of which is in between all but two sets of the seven white ones in each octave. The total number of twelve keys per octave is called the chromatic scale. The black keys allow us to play the melody of the diatonic scale regardless of where we begin on the keyboard. They also allow us play various chords that do not use notes on the diatonic scale itself - even though the diatonic scale is still used in the note-numbering scheme. To number the notes of the black keys or their equivalents (when we start with a base note other than C), we use halves. For example, the one between notes 2 and 3 can be called "2 1/2", and the one between 4 and 5 can be called "4 1/2".
The diatonic scale need not begin with middle C. When it begins with another key the melody it plays is the same, but the notes change so that they are no longer on only the white keys. This means that some of the black keys must be used in the scale. Various chords that are numbered according to the diatonic scale must use black keys or their equivalents as well.
The pentatonic scale used in most ancient and modern music has a pattern (a melody) established by starting points on the black keys only. But when starting points are on white keys, of course there are white keys involved as well - the same melody but with another key as the base. When we change from one base key to another while keeping the same melody, it is called transposing. Transpose is the word from which the transposition pattern is derived.
The melody of mode one of the pentatonic scale begins with D# on the keyboard and goes to the next octave of D# using only the black keys. The melody of mode two of the pentatonic scale begins with F# and goes to the next octave of F# using only the black keys. The melody of mode three of the pentatonic scale begins with G# and goes to the next octave of G# using only the black keys. So mode, in this instance, is just a word for where in the pentatonic scale a person begins. If one begins on the first key, it is mode one. If one begins on the second key, it is mode two - and so on. There are five keys in the pentatonic scale and, therefore five starting points or modes. For the purists in music, there are other modes going back to ancient times, and they can be found in The Oldest Magic (written by me), along with a lot of other information.
I used D# as the start for mode one because the melody played when starting on this key is found most often incorporated into the scale of flutes of ancient times from many areas of the world. For instance, it is the mode of many of the Native flutes of North America, the endblown flutes of South America, and the Shakuhachi of Japan. Mode two is the mode of Chinese music from ancient times. I found no evidence of mode three anywhere in the world. Mode four was found on ceremonial flutes of the Hopi. Mode five is the mode of Keltic and other ancient Indo-European music.
The notes of mode one of the pentatonic scale form a chord when sounded together. The notes of the mode four pentatonic scale form another chord when sounded together. Although the notes are not sounded together when only one flute is being played, the succession of notes is heard by the human mind as something like a chord. In the case of the mode one and four six-hole flute, when the fourth hole from the foot of the flute is closed at all times, mode one is heard. When the third hole from the foot is closed at all times, mode four is heard.
Using pentatonic mode one, the first note (all holes closed) is the tonic or fundamental. The second note of the mode one pentatonic scale (first hole open) is note 2 1/2 of the diatonic scale which is called a "minor". The third note of the mode one pentatonic scale (first two holes open) is note 4 of the diatonic scale which is called the "fourth". The fourth note of the mode one pentatonic scale (first three holes open) is note 5 of the diatonic scale which is called the "fifth". The fifth note of the mode one pentatonic scale (first three holes and hole five open) is note 6 1/2 of the diatonic scale and is called the "dominant seventh". With all holes open except hole four, the octave note is heard (one octave above the tonic or fundamental). If all of the notes could be heard at one time, the chord would be called a "minor dominant seventh with the fourth added".
Using pentatonic mode four, the first note (all holes closed) is the tonic or fundamental. The second note of the mode four pentatonic scale (first hole open) is note 2 1/2 of the diatonic scale which is called a "minor". The third note of the mode four pentatonic scale (first two holes open) is note 4 of the diatonic scale which is called the "fourth". The fourth note of the mode four pentatonic scale (first two holes and hole four open) is note 5 1/2 of the diatonic scale. The fifth note of the mode four pentatonic scale (first two holes and holes four and five open) is note 6 1/2 of the diatonic scale and is called the "dominant seventh". With all holes open except hole three, the octave note is heard (one octave above the tonic or fundamental). If all of the notes could be heard at one time, the chord would probably be called an "augmented minor dominant seventh." This strange name is used because a major chord is usually notes 1, 3, and 5 of the diatonic scale, and when 3 is replaced by 4, and 5 is replaced by 5 1/2, it is called an augmented chord. The minor in the name comes from note number 2 1/2. The dominant seventh is from note 6 1/2.
Each of these chords plays a melody when its notes are played in succession. The melody can be "transposed" to other fundamental tones (different "keys"). This is how the same song can be sung by people with different voice ranges. But some transpositions sound pleasant and others do not. The explanation for all this in more detail can be found in The Oldest Magic. Suffice to say, that due to moving along a sequence of fundamentals (tonics) that places tonics together which sound pleasant together, we can see which ones we want to use when we go from one chord to another. If "#" means sharp (one half-tone high) and "b" means flat (one half-tone low), the sequence of tonics in the transposition pattern is E (which is the same as Fb), B (which is the same as Cb), Gb, Db, Ab, Eb, Bb, F, C, G, D, A, E, B, F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, F (which is the same as E#), and C (which is the same as B#). This may become clear when you look at a keyboard. You can see that you can move to the right from F and encounter F again just after A# (which is the same as Bb). So you are looking at a circle - a "circle of fifths".
This sequence is used when playing chords for songs on different instruments and when moving from one key to another. With Native American flutes, for instance, playing a tune in C, then changing to G to play the tune again will add "spice" to the song and prevent boredom. This is called moving up the circle of fifths because G is the fifth note in a diatonic scale with C as the tonic. Moving from G to D is again moving up to the fifth note in a diatonic scale - with G as the tonic. And so on - each time you move up one along the transposition pattern, you are moving up to the fifth note - so it is called a circle of fifths. Going down the pattern, one is moving to the fourth note down each time and this is moving down a "circle of fourths" - but this is not usually the way it is stated - moving up the "circle of fifths" is most common. If we were to play a song on a flute tuned in the key of D (D is the tonic), and then play the same song on a flute tuned in the key of G, we would have moved down one fourth. Remember that the diatonic scale is used as the reference scale in which the notes are numbered.
So you may use the transposition pattern to determine what would sound best when you want some variation in a tune. If you are making an album on a tape or CD and want the album to sound most pleasant to the listener, it is best to choose each succeeding flute you are playing so that its key is either up or down circle from the key of the preceding flute. If you play one tune in B and wish to change keys for the next, the next should be played either in F# or E, because playing next in F# is going up the circle from B, and playing next in E is going down the circle from B. Or when playing Zuni Sunrise in G, it is best to use either C or D for the introductory key when variation is needed.
Of course, if you want an obnoxious sounding album, you can change from a C flute, for example, to an F# flute. This is going diametrically across the circle so that you are choosing the key least compatible with C. The modern "sirens" on emergency vehicles are meant to sound obnoxious to catch your attention. They usually alternate in keys that are diametric opposites across the circle. There are many flute players who create albums without understanding this principle. Often, their succession of songs in the album move from one key to another in the worst possible way. Even though their compositions and playing may be excellent, the transitions from one song to the next tend to ruin the album for the listener.
So when making a album, use the transposition pattern in a way that is pleasant. Likewise, when playing live to an audience you should use the transposition pattern to choose your succeeding keys - and the same is true when changing keys in the same song.
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