Fujara’s “other” scales
– by Bob Rychlik –
Fujara is a folk instrument, and has been used mostly in its basic diatonic scale, just like its little great grandfather, the medieval 3-hole pipe. To understand the term diatonic, you could tear out all the black keys from your piano, and you could still play most simple melodies on the white keys, but only in one basic key of C major, or Ami (A minor), or in other medieval modes of C, like Dorian, Lydian, Mixolydian, etc. Because most full size fujaras are made in the key of G, let’s suppose that the diatonic scale (all “white piano keys”) is playable on a fujara by a combination of different breath levels and fingering (you can find fingering charts elsewhere).
The G major diatonic scale is: G A B C D E F# G, and most Slovak folk fujara melodies are within boundaries of G Mixolydian mode: D E F# G A B C D. Or if you like to play in minor key, the basic minor key for G fujara is E minor: E F# G A B C D E.
|All tones of these diatonic scales are played on G fujara by combination of the basic overtone scale (played with all side holes closed), and additional tones (obtained by opening one or more side hole), without half-holing.
But if you want to play on G fujara in any other major or minor key, or if you like to play a more complicated melody such as blues and jazz (which would be like using the black keys on piano even in the key of C), you need to be able to play those “black keys” even on fujara. The complete scale, containing all the half-steps in an octave (from lower to upper G) is called the chromatic scale, and there is a good news: On a well made and well tuned fujara, you have at your fingertips the almost complete chromatic scale, with the only single tone missing in the G chromatic scale being C# (Db).
The G chromatic scale is: G G# A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G, or you could write the same scale as: G Ab A Bb B C Db D Eb E F Gb, G. The reason is that only the white keys have their own names while each black key is named by reference to the next white key. For example the half tone between C and D is called either C#, or Db, and in the modern equally-tempered scale it is the same tone (even when that was not the case in the distant past, but let’s not go into that right now!)
Now let’s suppose you only intend to play simple melodies, and you think, for that purpose, the original G diatonic scale would be just fine. Not so fast! Because of fujara’s “limited range”, the position of the tune on the range is critical. Melodies of different songs use different parts of a scale, so maybe the melody you intend to play would run uncomfortably low, or too high on the available 2 octave playable fujara scale, or would use some tones, which would not sound pleasant to you. Or perhaps you would like to sing that melody as well, and the song range is outside of your comfortable voice range. In these cases, you need to move that particular melody to the center of fujara range, move the melody starting point, and for that you need to change the key signature. When deciding on the key, keep in mind that using the least number of half holed tones (“black keys”) while getting the result you need, works best!
For G fujara and melody in major key, move it to C scale, or to F scale, and for minor key to A minor, or D minor scales.
To orient yourselves on the new scale, play a sequence of 3 tones, forming the major, or minor chord of the new key; this helps you to find the new starting point of the melody. Another prerequisite is to make sure that your melody doesn’t contain a tone which you couldn’t play, such as C#, or it is a tone which doesn’t sound right on your fujara, or it is one you simply haven’t learned to play properly yet. If you have a piano or a keyboard on hand, and mark for yourself all the tones playable by you on your fujara, you can easily find a key for almost any melody, except the most complicated, or the melodies with a huge range.
For G fujara, besides the mentioned key of C (half holing middle F, or as part of overtone scale for upper F), or the mentioned key of F (half holing lower and middle Bb), there is also key of D available, IF (!) the melody doesn’t contain C#, which is not available (yet?) There are certain melodies, which you could play even in some other keys, like E, or Bb, (but those keys are for very advanced playing during long winter evenings). The same applies to the corresponding relative minor keys (C / Ami, F / Dmi, D / Bmi, etc. Melodies which switch between the same major and minor key are the most difficult to play, but I found the combination G / Gmi as the most approachable.
Finally, the most important aspect of playing in other keys on fujara, is to have a feeling for the instrument, to listen to overlaying and underlaying overtones, and to choose a tuning in which the instrument is not fighting the melody, but where it naturally sounds great and fresh. When you chose the right key, then, as you finish playing the melody, you feel like playing that again and again. If you don’t have that feeling, try another key, until you are satisfied, or you can decide that this particular melody is not well suited to fujara, and that is O.K. as well! It is much better to skip unsuitable melodies rather than to force something which is not pleasing to you and your listeners!
For advanced players, all the recommended keys can be also used in their corresponding medieval modes mentioned at the beginning, and some keys will fit better than others to other world scales. For example, the blues scale is easiest in C, or D.
After all you’ve read, it is important to remember that while playing fujara in exotic keys increases your technical range, it doesn’t automatically make you a better musician. As my friend Peter Riley says: “Complexity is not quality!” and “Fujara is a folk instrument best suited to play folk tunes”. We all know the limitations of the fujara, but still love her for her beautiful voice! It is like when we dated a very pretty girl, who is not very smart, and can’t cook, but that doesn’t matter to us. The truth is, to bring out the beauty of fujara with your lips and fingers, you don’t need much more than the basic diatonic scale and you musicianship. Good luck!
For further reading I would like to direct you to my Fujara playing method manual, which many have asked for, but I can’t, because it’s still not on paper yet, sorry.
The best fujara is the one, which you play!