How To Learn Your Scales
Musical scales are the foundation to playing pieces of music really well. Without learning our scales and allowing our body and mind to ‘become one’ with them, it is difficult to develop sound musical technique and stability in our playing. Scales give you resilience for the pieces of music you are learning. Think of them as gym exercises for an athlete.
But how do you make them interesting and how do you have motivation to learn them? And how can you make it easy for yourself?
Tip 1: Every note is important!
Recognise that each note in the scale is a living thing! It has its very own frequency and every note is just as important as the next note.
Problems occur in the scale when we give some notes more importance than other notes. For example, it is easy to skip over notes that feel more uncomfortable or require a more sophisticated finger change than other notes. An easy finger change is from middle B to C. A complex finger change is from high E to high F#. Not only is the finger change more complex, but we have to treat the air flow differently too and make sure our fingers are perfectly synchronised otherwise the air flow gets interrupted and may result in the F# not speaking properly.
So, when we play a scale, every note must be important, have consistent air flow and consistent rhythm. Enjoy the sound of each note as a single living and breathing entity in the universe.
Tip 2: Slow and steady
Don’t be the Hare-be the Tortoise
I often say to my students-especially the ones who are particularly bright and dedicated who want it mastered ‘yesterday’ as opposed to in a few days, after they have given themselves some consistent practice and time, to be the Tortoise, not the Hare. Why? Because as the story goes-‘slow and steady wins the race’.
So pick a slow metronome marking to learn your scales. Don’t go any faster than your brain will allow you to go as you take in each note. Pay attention to the area in certain scales where you consistently make mistakes. Zone in on those 3-6 notes and repeat them correctly a few times, then add in more notes around that section until you are back to playing the entire section. Only bump up your tempo once you are completely secure in your notes and playing them consistently with accuracy.
Tip 3: Write in your accidentals
Write in your sharps and flats in the scale as you read the notes in the scale. Circle where these notes are! DO this before you even try to play the scale, so your brain is alerted to the sharps or flats before you get there.
Take note of the related minor/melodic scales because they have the same key signature. See each group of major, minor and melodic scales as a ‘family’. They ‘live’ together-or are at least cousins.
Tip 4: Make it musical
Play your scales musically. Put different emotions into them once you have them well under your fingers. For example, play one slow and romantically and smoothly with lots of expression. Then play another in a fun and quirky way. Have fun with them and make them come alive with character! Don’t just approach them blandly and ‘only’ as a technical exercise.