One of the biggest paradoxes to learning a musical instrument is that one of the most effective practise tools is also one of the least popular - scales. How many teachers’ requests for pupils to play a scale in a lesson have been retorted with rolled eyes, or exclaims of ‘Must I?’? Although it is now possible for playing to progress down an ‘exam route’ without scales being assessed, there are still significant technical and musical benefits to be gained from practising them and understanding how they work. Hopefully this post can provide students some food for thought when that inevitable reluctance threatens to take over.
1. Understanding Keys
99% of the tunes we play will either be in a major or a minor key. In the same way that a good writer needs a good grasp of vocabulary, a good musician needs to develop a good grasp of tonality, and the most effective way to have that is through an understanding of scales. If you know the scale for the key you are playing your piece in, you will be in a position to grasp the notes of that piece much quicker.
2. Expanding Range
Scales are a very effective way of developing range. Younger learners, whose pieces will have a limited range of notes should practise scales over one octave; but as pieces become more advanced and the range between the highest and lowest notes becomes wider, practising scales over a broader range will help you become more confident with these new notes. Brass, string and wind players normally begin to expand their range by extending their scales to a twelfth above the tonic (key note), and, depending on you instrument this can later be expanded to two, three or, as is the case for pianists and string players, four octaves.
3. Improving Tone
Part of any good musician’s skill-set is to be able to produce an even, centered tone across their range. The nature of scales - moving stepwise from note to note - mean that they are a really effective way to practise moving across the range with a really even tone without jerks or bumps. Try recording yourself playing your scales and listen out for that really consistent tone as you play across the range!
4. Developing Technique
Practising scales can be beneficial in mastering some of those tricky technical patches in your pieces. Scalic passages are very common in music written for players at any level; so if you have, for example, a tricky section based around a scale in semiquavers in your piece, knowing that particular scale will mean that you will have subconsciously developed the muscle memory to master that challenging section of music.
5. Refining Articulation
Scales are a really useful tool to develop other aspects of your basic technique, such as articulation. If you would like your legato phrasing to become smoother, or to crispen up your staccato attack; or to develop other types of articulation, for instance, tongued legato for brass or wind players or spiccato bowing for string players, scales are an effective method as any for practising this.
It is possible that if you are preparing for an exam in the not too distant future you will have to play a selection of scales in your exam. Therefore if you are taking one of these assessments and want to do as well as you possibly can in your exam, you will need to have practised them! The various exam boards have not set them to be awkward or unkind; but the progressive nature of exams mean that if you diligently practise the set scales as you go through the grades, these five points we have addressed - key; range; tone; technique and articulation are likely to be developing really well, which should stand you in excellent stead as you continue in your musical journey.
I hope this has inspired you to include scales as part of your daily practice. If you’d like some help with planning your practice each week, you can download our FREE Practice Planner by clicking here: https://view.flodesk.com/pages/5e8c98e9b68c420026b64adc #scalepractice #instrumentallessons #musicexams