The importance of learning and practicing the 12 major scales cannot be overstated for serious musicians. These form the backbone of western music. However, most people are turned off by the idea of just repeating the scales over and over again. While that approach may work, it’s not the most engaging way to learn scales. I would like to share with you some variations on learning your scales that will be just as effective, but much more interesting for you in the practice room.
You can incorporate the following exercises into your practice routine in whatever way works well for you. They are not intended to be all utilized at one time within a practice session. Rather, choose ones you like and maybe do one or two for a few days/weeks, then mix some of the others in later.
In this exercise you play each scale up and down, but you use different articulation patterns. For example, a simple version is to tongue all notes going up and slur all notes coming down (or vice versa). You could also use legato tonguing on the way up and staccato tonguing on the way down. Alternatively, tongue 2, slur 2 (or group in 3’s or 4;s etc…) By changing articulation patterns like this you not only reinforce the scale pattern into muscle memory, you also gain the additional benefit of working on your articulation at the same time.
This exercise is similar to the first one only instead of changing the articulation you alter the rhythms. For example, play each scale in quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, etc… After that you can make them more complex by doing patterns such as: dotted eighth-sixteenth, sixteenth-dotted eighth, triplets, quarter-eighth, eighth-quarter, 4 sixteenth-2 eighth,….you get the idea. The possibilities here are numerous. This approach is good with scales you are already fairly comfortable with. It forces you to concentrate a little more, and again reinforces the fingering patterns into muscle memory.
Learning as many of the scales as you can 2 octaves is really ideal. Here is an exercise that will help with that. Instead of playing straight up the scale 2 octaves, try to jump and octave on each note before going to the next one in the scale pattern.For example, While playing your C scale begin with C below the staff. Your next note will be C in the 3rd space of the staff, Followed by D below the staff to D on the 4th line of the staff,….do this for each note of the scale all the way to C above the staff. Then, repeat coming down the scale. The additional benefit this has for you is that it helps you with embouchure adjustment and nailing intervals while you learn the scale.
Practice The Arpeggio
The arpeggios are, of course, the 1st, 3rd, and 5th pitches of any scale. These are the basis on which chords are built. By practicing the arpeggios you gain a deeper understanding of the tonality of each key. It’s true you aren’t playing each pitch of the scale, but it is beneficial because it makes you envision the scale in your mind in order to play it. I would recommend trying these without looking at them on a staff for the full benefit. In fact, that’s true of all these exercises. You want the 12 scales to be ingrained in your memory. So, the more you work them out by memory, the quicker you will gain full control of them.
I hope these exercises give you some ideas for your own practice. There are really an unlimited number of ways to practice scales. Begin with these. Later, you may try to combine 2 approaches into something new. Your imagination will soon begin to create other ways to practice. But the most important thing – find whatever engages you so that you will practice. The more you practice, the quicker you will hear results.
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