Beyond the Realm of Major and Minor

Caitlin Ippolito | January 2011

    Our repertoire is filled with scale patterns other than traditional major and minor scales. In the standard flute repertoire, there are many examples of the acoustic, diminished, mixolydian, whole tone, and pentatonic scales. When we encounter these patterns, they are easier to play if we have included them in our scale practice. Without that, these less-used scale patterns present themselves as a difficult technical passage in a piece. Recognizing scalar passages as an actual scale takes the stress out of the passage and leaves us with a familiar pattern.

    After you are comfortable with and have memorized the major scales and all three forms of the minor scales, add modes to your practicing. There are two ways to learn them.

    1. Study all of one mode
    2. Learn them within a certain key.

    The first is a more thorough method, but either way, choose the approach that is most similar to how you learned the major and minor scales. Just like major and minor scales, you should be able to hear and feel the modes after you understand the formula.

Ionian: This mode is the same as the major scale pattern starting on the tonic.
    Formula: WWHWWWH

Dorian: Starts on the second scale degree or supertonic.
    Formula: WHWWWHW

Phrygian: Starts on the third scale degree or mediant.
    Formula: HWWWHWW

Starts on the fourth scale degree or subdominant.
     Formula: WWWHWWH

Mixolydian: Starts on the fifth scale degree or dominant.
    Formula: WWHWWHW

Aeolian: This mode is the natural minor scale. It starts on the sixth scale degree or submediant.
    Formula: WHWWHWW

Locrian: Starts on the seventh scale degree or subtonic.
    Formula: HWWHWWW

Example of Modes in Repertoire

    Howard Hanson’s Serenade for Solo Flute, Harp and String Orchestra includes several examples of consecutive modes used in runs. The example below is bars three and four after rehearsal number four. Hanson composed four runs consisting of G# Phrygian, C#  Aeolian and A Lydian.

    Malcolm Arnold’s Concerto for Flute and Strings also exemplifies the use of modes as runs. In the third movement, Arnold wrote a C Mixolydian that ends on a D eighth note to arrive at rehearsal letter C with the theme.

    In Flute Music by French Composers for Flute and Piano edited by Louis Moyse there are numerous examples of modes.
Of course there are two ways to looking at the appearance of modes in repertoire.
    1. You can view them as the major scale starting on a certain scale degree: this a straightforward, less time consuming approach.
    2. You can view them as the actual mode they represent. I prefer the challenge of this second strategy.

Acoustic Scale

     In the spring of 2006, I read 14 composer biographies and other music related books in a matter of three to four months. One of the biographies, The Master Musicians: Bartok by Paul Griffiths, sparked my interest in Bartok’s music and also introduced me to the acoustic scale.
     The acoustic scale is derived from the overtone series. If you take a major scale and raise the fourth and lower the seventh notes, you have the acoustic scale pattern. Another way to look at it is that it combines the Lydian and Mixolydian modes. After learning the modes, this is a fairly simple pattern to get under your fingers.
     Formula: WWWHWHW

     Again Malcolm Arnold’s Concerto for Flute and Strings provides a clear example. In movement three, two bars after rehearsal letter G, there is a long run of four and a half measures that is a  C acoustic scale.

Diminished Scale
     Jazz often includes the diminished scale. Vital Elements for the Jazz Flutist by Jordan Ruwe demonstrates this pattern. Once I was familiar with it, I started to notice it in classical repertoire.
     Formula: WHWHWHW


     In the first movement of Robert Muczynski’s Sonate for Flute and Piano, the measure before rehearsal number one contains a diminished scale starting on A flat.

Whole Tone Scale

     The whole tone scale is a series of six pitches built on whole steps. This is a great pattern during your daily warm-up because it lends itself nicely to experimenting with articulations and dynamics. I like to encompass three octaves where possible.
     Formula: WWWWWW

     This example from Jacque Ibert’s Flute Concerto is not a whole tone scale in its straight-forward form. Two measures before rehearsal number 55 in the third movement, Ibert wrote this wonderful sequence of four sextuplets. By dissecting the pattern, you will find multiple whole tone scales.

     Take the 1st and 4th notes of each group and the 2nd and 5th notes of each group to form a descending whole tone scale on Ab and G (with some enharmonic spellings). This actually occurs other times in the movement on different starting pitches.

Chromatic Scale
     The chromatic scale pattern is built on a sequence of 12 half steps ascending in sharps and descending in flats. The real benefit to having chromatic scales under your fingers is recognizing when a pattern in a piece is only partially chromatic.
     Formula: HHHHHHHHHHHH

     This example from Aram Khachaturian’s Concerto is 17 measures into the first movement’s cadenza. It is one of those devious passages that looks chromatic but is actually not entirely chromatic. The whole step from F to G on beat four breaks the chromatic pattern.

Other Scale Patterns

     The following scale patterns are also worth learning because they often appear in flute literature and have an interesting sound quality. A variety of scale patterns for warm-ups breaks up the monotony of the daily routine. These scales are fun, and sometimes more of a challenge than the major and minor scales!

Major Pentatonic

Formula: WW m3 W m3

Minor Pentatonic

Formula: m3 WW m3 W

Gypsy Scale

Formula: WH A2 HH A2 H

    Although some of these scales have only one or two possible note patterns, it is possible for them to have any starting note, so it is worth learning them on every note. Different fingering patterns coming from or going to certain notes can cause difficulties. During scale work, focus on these new patterns, so that they are quickly remembered when you encounter them in the literature.