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How do I find out my Flute’s scale?

How to find out the scale of Flute?

It is a very common dilemma of many who are new to Flutes. Picking up a flute is easy, blowing it correctly to get the right sweet tone is a bit challenging, but then, playing your flute in sync with a particular scale is the most daunting task for those flutists who have not taken formal flute lessons from any Guru or Teacher.

So, if you want to know the scale of your flute, do the following:

1. Download any ‘Tuner’ app on your mobile phone. There are hundreds of free digital tuners available on ‘Google Play Store’. I use ‘Swar Meter’.
2. Go to a noise free location around you, Open the app
3. Pick up your flute. Close the first three holes from top and play “Sa”…
4. Hold “Sa” steady and look into your tuner app which will indicate which scale of flute you have

So, the “Sa” that you play on your flute is generally the scale of your flute. It can be a ‘C’, or ‘A’, or ‘B’ and so on depending upon the shape, size, and the quality of your flute.

Does the scale change the sargam?

To find out answer to this question, you can do two experiments:

  1. Sargam will change with the scale of flute.

Pick up your flute and play some song on it. After that, keep your flute aside and listen to that same song on your music player.  Now try to play the same song on your flute again while listening to it.  If your flute sounds good with the song that is playing on the music player then you are doing well, otherwise you’d be sounding ‘out of scale’. Suppose, you played the first note of the song on your G Scale flute with “Sa” (Closing the top three holes). But, when you tried to play along the song on your music player, you find out that the song is not sounding good at “Sa”. Rather, it is sounding better when you’d start at “Re” on your flute.  Then, you would either have to reshuffle your fingering taking “Re” on your G Scale Flute as “the first note” or you’d rather take another flute to match the correct scale of the song.  So, yes, if you choose to play that song on your G Scale Flute, then the whole Sargam would change.

2. Sargam will NOT change with the scale of flute.

Pick up a song which includes Sa Re Ga Ma as its lyrics, for example, the song from old Hindi movie Chupke Chupke sung by Kishore and Rafi that goes like, “Sa re ga ma, ma sa re ga, ga sa re ma, ma ga re sa”, or the song from a new Hindi movie Wazir song – Tere Bin Tere Bin…, sung by Sonu Nigam and Shreya Ghoshal that has lyrics in between like, “Pa pa papa, Pa pa papa, ga ma pa sani sani sani…”

Now, for the time being, without worrying about the scale of your flute, play the song “Saregama” on the top three holes of your flute; or play “Papapapa” on the last hole of your flue. Pick up another flute and play these songs. You will sound good on any flute, if you follow this in-lyrics sargam.  So, in this experiment the Sargam will not change with the change in scale of flute.  However, you may sound offbeat if you play along these songs, if the scale of your flute does not match with the actual scale of the song.

Similarly, when you play Raagas, you play them as per their fixed notations.  So, it does not matter on which scale of flute you are playing a Raag.  Hence, the sargam does not change with change in scale.

What is the importance of playing in scale?

Unlike other String or Key instruments like, Guitar or Keyboard, where you can easily set those to a particular scale, Flute is one instrument which does not need to be tuned. But this feature of Flute is both good and not so good for a flute player. How? Good, because you do not have to ‘wait’ to play your flute.  Bad, because if you do not sound in sync with other instruments or vocalists then your flute will sound awkward.  So, it is important to understand which scale of flute you are playing.

Playing in scale is especially important in such cases where you have to play along with other musicians or with Karaoke tracks.  Otherwise your flute, or any instrument for that matter, will not produce the magic that one would expect you to do.  For example, suppose you are accompanying a vocalist who is singing in C scale and you are playing a G scale flute then the harmony will be missing from your music and you will miss out on appreciations.

To practice this aspect of playing your instrument in scale, it is advisable that you always practice your flute playing along with a Tanpura, either an electronic one or an App-based one.

Good luck!

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How to read SARGAM notations

  • CAPITAL LETTERS = Shuddh Swars (Pure Notes)
  • small letters = Komal Swars (Flat Notes)
  • A Note with # [hash] = Tivra Swar 
  • Letter/Alphabet ONLY = Medium Pitch/Normal blow on flute
  • Letter/Alphabet PRECEDED BY a ” . ” [full stop] or  a ” , ” [comma] = Low Pitch/Softer blow on flute
  • Letter/Alphabet FOLLOWED BY a ‘ [single quote] = High Pitch/harder blow on flute
  • Notes in { } = “murki” or “khatka” which have to be played very fast without any pause
  • A Note in ( ) = “kann swar” has to be just touched before moving on to the next note
  • A “~” between two Notes = “Meend”. That is, you have to glide from one note to another slowly to produce that wavy effect.
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