We all know scale practice is essential to good musicianship; it’s also a well known fact that many students simply dread scale practice. At Caroline Springs School of Music our teachers are always trying to make your practice as much fun as possible whilst still getting the job done. The following article may help you to find ways to instil this area of your practice with some more enthusiasm.
Scale practice is physical, not mental. Learn to enjoy the physical aspect of running scales like exercising in sport. Scales are great warm-ups, like warming up in sport, scales are not the game but an essential precursor to the game.
Recognize that; All music is built on scales, even the notes of a chord are notes from scales concurrently instead of consecutively.
A great way to practice scales is with rhythmic variation or different articulations. Some great variations include: hitting each note twice, practising with a swing quavers (as in Jazz), accenting notes in different groupings such as two, three and four. This is a great way to help improve your general phrasing when improvising, rhythmic content in solos is every bit as important as harmonic or melodic content.
Practice your scales around the cycle of fourths. Eg. in the following order: C, F,Bb,Eb,Ab,Db, F#,B,E,A,D,G.
Practice scales in 3rds, 4ths and 5ths, this leads to very musical ways of organizing melodic material, much more interesting than pure ascending and descending patterns.
Mix up the order of your scale practice. This is particularly important when preparing for ANZCA exams, who knows what order the examiner will ask for?
Practice at different speeds. Use a metronome every other day and vary the tempi of your scales. Practice each scale at least 3 times slow, medium and fast.
Vary the volume of your scales, try starting soft, ending loud and vice versa.
Practice legato (smooth and connected) and staccato (short and detached).
Practice in sequences up every 3 or 4 notes eg. C,D,E,D,E,F,E,F,G etc or C,D,E,F,D,E,F,G,E,F,G,A etc and the same descending.
Practice your scales in diatonic arpeggio patterns. A very useful and musical way of organizing sounds and great for negotiating chord changes.
Try practising your scales in different parts of you daily routine. Scales are often used as warm ups but why not try practising them last? If you already have all your scales memorized you don’t need to concentrate much, so the end of your practice can be a good time to consolidate scales.
There are many other ways to add variety to your practice, try the aforementioned or come up with your own variations. We would love to hear from you with any tips you could share. Remember there is no musician so advanced that he or she cannot learn from one who is less experienced. We want to hear from you all.
And don’t forget “He who practices scales never fails!”
Principal Instructor at Caroline Springs School of Music