10 ways to . . . get better at scales

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Scales appear in all forms and styles of music. They are one of the fundamental building blocks of music. So weather you are playing a simple C major or complex half diminished you need strategies for getting better at scales.

1. Keep it slow

Don’t fall into the trap of playing too fast too quickly. Keep things very slow and steady until you are absolutely sure of the notes. Then build your speed slowly.

2. Learn the key not the notes

Knowing which notes to play will only take you so far down the path to learning scales. A far more effective method is to use keys or patterns. Once you’ve learnt the keys you can apply them to any scale or situation you need.

3. Recognise patterns

Patterns mean different things for different instruments. For string players it might be the shape of the hand or position of the notes on the fretboard. Wind players might notice recurring fingerings. Whatever your instrument these patterns can be the gateway to learning more scales more quickly. Learn them and then adjust by a position or note to get a completely different scale!

4. Vary it

Don’t practice the same old scales in the same old way. Simple. Try new ways of playing old scales and new keys.

5. Pick them out of pieces

Most, if not all music, will contain scales. Look at your current pieces. Spot which scales or fragments of scales they contain. Then practice those scales.

6. Use a metronome

Particularly important if practising for an exam. All the notes in a scale need to sound even. Even tone, even length, even articulation. . . .everything even. Use a metronome to help achieve this.

7. Play your weakest ones first

We’re all guilty of rattling off our best known scales first. Be different and make your scale practice really effective by playing your weakest ones first. They will then quickly become as strong as the others.

8. Randomise them

Use techniques such as Dicey ScalesBag Full of Scales or Scale Poker.

9. Memorise them

The first step is what you might be expected to do for an exam, being able to play the notes without music. Those serious about their playing will want to take it a stage further and really internalise scales so that they become totally second nature. Having this ability will free you to express music in the way that you want.

10. Acceptance

Scales are not a necessary evil. Have that attitude and they will always present a problem. Instead welcome scales into your practice as something that will take you to where you want to go on your musical journey.

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