Scales-Do a deer…

Scales are part of the basics for almost any musical instrument. However, you will often get groans and cries of “This is so boring!” I always tell my students, ” If you can play scales well, you can play almost any note there is in a piece of music.” Scales are any series of notes in ascending or descending order. Sometimes it can contain both ascending and descending parts. There are many different types of scales but the one that I mainly teach is the Heptatonic (7-note scale). A point of reference might be from the movie “Sound of Music” where Maria teaches the kids to sing a scale using the syllables “do-re-mi”. Feel free to look up more info on scales if you really want to dive into the mechanics, history, and the different types of scales!

I used to teach scales just starting with one octave. However, with one recent little student, without telling her position numbers or anything, I just directed her to use her ear to match my notes and I taught her a G Major 2 octave scale no problem. C Major is easy to teach right away using 2 octaves. I hold off teaching scales with extensions until my student is fairly consistent in closed hand positions. (aka no stretching). If a student is fairly comfortable playing in closed position I would start with half position notes (extension backwards)  to expand the list of scales. Playing along with students teaches them to use their ears while learning scales honing their abilities to listen and match good intonation. Scales don’t have to be a boring chore. You can set goals for speed, or intonation, or create other challenges for students. I recently joined in a piano scale challenge. While piano is not my main instrument, learning the scales really helps a lot with dexterity, feel, and knowledge of geography of the keyboard. (The prize is VIP seating at a movie night with snacks! That inspires me!)

For my own studies I run through all my 2 octave major and minor scales in a circle of fifths format. I like running through them in that format because it maintains the relationships between the different scales. While cellists should learn all 4 octaves, I find running through the 2 octaves daily helps to loosen up my fingers and is practical especially if you are running short on time. There is no shortage of scale studies books, but the two that I use regularly for my own practice and for teaching are Julius Klengel Techinical Studies and Mark Yampolsky Violoncello Technique . Klengel is great for basics on scales and arpeggios presented in a concise and simple format. Yampolsky is for those who are ready to dive into more in depth study. It explores arpeggios, double stops, chords, as well as bowing and rhythmic variations to name a few. You will really know your scales after plowing through this book!

So when was the last time you explored your scales? How many octaves do you feel comfortable playing?


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