Scales are boring – WRONG!!
You can get ahead of the music practice game by taking your scales seriously and realising that they are far from boring. In fact there is a huge range of possibilities when you begin to think about it. Those that think scales are boring are on the track to slow progression. Realise the potential scales have to improve your music practice and you will be in the fast lane.
Not convinced? Here’s 10 reasons why scales should be an integral part of your practice diet.
1. Timing – to play together with other people you need to have good time, good internal time. One of the best ways to develop this is to practise scales. Slowly at first, with a metronome if needed until you are placing each and every note exactly where it needs to be, not too soon or too late – just right.
2. Intonation – for most instruments (piano aside) there is a need to make sure we are playing in tune. This does not end when you have tuned a single note or string on your instrument – that only tells you that note is in tune. Scales are a great way to check the tuning of each and every note. The distance between each should be just right. Careful listening is very important here.
3. Co-ordination – during music practice we have lots of things to remember and the really difficult thing is to remember to do them all at the same time (breathe, sit up straight, bend those fingers, 4th finger, etc, etc). Scales give you an opportunity to focus on bringing all of those elements together. Once you have learnt the notes of a scale you can make sure that everything else happens just at the right moment to make the scale sound perfect.
4. Dexterity – one part of learning an instrument involves training parts of the body to do new things, to repeat them and then do them very quickly. Scales are a great training partner. They will help you refine and improve your speed. Slow careful practice of scales at the outset will have you whizzing up and down in no time.
5. Muscle Memory – this is a really big benefit of practising scales. When you have practised a scale for a while you will begin to ‘just get it’ and the scale will flow naturally from your instrument. What you have done is to begin to develop muscular memory. This is a very useful thing to have. When you see this scale again or indeed a similar one you will be able to rely partially on this muscle memory to help you play the scale. This also applies to snippets of scales, of which there are a lot in music.
6. Ears – if you can’t hear what is wrong you can’t correct it. This is true of all of your music practice. Learn to listen very, very carefully when you practice your scales and you will start to hear areas where you can improve your other playing. Pay attention to tuning, articulation, tone quality, consistency etc. Imagine what a perfect scale would sound like in every way and try to make each of your scales sound like that.
7. Sight Reading – if you can translate the notes you see on the page quickly into sounds on your instrument you can develop good sight reading. If those notes form patterns that you are familiar with then you will be able to do this even quicker. Knowing your scales will give your sight reading a boost as you will frequently come across patterns and groups of notes with which your are familiar.
8. Theory – key signatures, chords, modulations, modes and many other areas of music theory are much easier to understand if you know your scales.
9. Exams & Auditions – most musicians do these at some point and they invariably involve scales. If you already practise scales regularly you will have a head start on those that don’t. You’ll also ease the workload in the run up to the event.
10. Building Blocks of all music – If you hadn’t realised it, scales are the things from which most music is made. Just look at the pieces you are currently learning and you will see scales or parts of scales all over it. Their importance cannot be underestimated, be good at scales and you are likely to be good at your instrument.
It should be very clear from the above list how important it is to include scales in your music practice. However please don’t be one of those people that mindlessly plays up and down the same scales and in the same order – use some imagination. If you want some ideas you could try Scales Variations, Play Your Cards Right, Bag Full of Scales, Scale Poker or Dicey Scales. Or if you have some of your own ideas on how to practise scales we’d love to hear them – please use the comment form below.