Arabesque

A Spanish Gypsy song for Native American style flute
Spanish Gypsy Scale on the NAF
One of the most interesting alternative scales on the Native American style flute is the Phrygian Dominant, or Spanish Gypsy, scale. The distinctive sound of this scale seems to conjure up the cultures and places of the middle east, or Spain, especially flamenco music. Like many non Western scales, its unique sound is due to the placement of half steps where they do not normally appear in Western scales.

In the Phrygian dominant scale it is not only the half step between the root and the minor 2nd, but presence of an augmented 2nd (3 half steps) between scale degrees 2 and 3, that makes this scale immediately recognizable.
The first three notes are the most distinctive of this scale. From the root the next note is up a half step to a minor 2nd. Third note is up 3 half steps which is an augmented 2nd. These types of intervals right above the root note are not common in Western scales. The closest scale would be the harmonic minor scale which contains the same intervals, but starts on a different note. Therefore the harmonic minor scale has its augmented 2nd between scale degrees 6 and 7 and does not have a minor 2nd above the root.

Below is the Phrygian dominant scale starting on middle C. The second scale degree in most Western scales would be up a whole step (two half steps) from the root, which would normally be D in a scale based on C. However, the Phrygian dominant’s second note is Db, which is only half step up from the root.

From the root to the third scale degree (C to E) the interval is a major 3rd (four half steps) but since the second scale degree is lower, the distance between it and the 3rd is an augmented 2nd, (Db to E), which is 3 half steps.

Normally 3 half steps are thought of as a minor 3rd, but since the letters D and E are adjacent, they have to be defined as an interval of a 2nd. D to E would be two half steps apart, a major 2nd, but Db to E are 3 half steps apart, making them augmented.
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For those who would like to play “Arabesque” there is sheet music available to download with NAF finger diagrams and Number TAB. The download also includes two MP3 versions of the song.
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Arabesque Sheet Music and Two MP3 Recordings
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Phrygain Dominant in C: Track #1 below

Looking at the Phrygian Dominant scale displayed in NAF TAB we see that three of the notes are altered from the key signature. These are the minor 2nd (2b), the major 3rd (3#), and the minor 6th (6b).
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Phrygain Dominant in F#: Track #2 below

Unfortunately for NAF players, a minor 2nd above the root requires quarter holing the bottom hole, and is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to play consistently. However, the octave of this note, the minor 9th (9b), is very easy to play.
This means that the 2b can be replaced by using the 9b instead and still allow the NAF to get the same sound of the normal spelling of this scale. The diagram below show these two notes, which are an octave apart, thus in real music they are called the same note and are four lines as spaces apart. On a NAF this note would depend on the key of the flute. For example a NAF in the key of A would have Bb as a minor 2nd (2b) and minor 9th (9b), the 9th an octave above the 2nd. (see graphic right)
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minor 2nd (2b) and minor 9 (9b), an octave apart

The song “Arabesque” does not play the 2b but uses the 9b instead. Below are the notes as they are show in all three tablature systems for the NAF: NAF TAB, Number TAB and Finger Charts. The 9b, being above the octave needs a slightly harder air stream to sound properly.
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Phrygain Dominant for NAF: Track #3 below