by Ashleigh Botha
For most of us, the thought of practising scales really does not have much appeal. Scales often feel boring and in most instances are practised mindlessly in preparation for an exam or because our teachers told us to practice! I think most of us much prefer to jump straight into our favourite sections of our repertoire. However, scales are a vital part of developing technique.
They help develop intonation, rhythm, dexterity, and they can be a great way to warm up before diving into a practice session. Plus, I have some more good news- despite how you feel scales really do not have to be boring, in fact, I am going to share five of my favourite tips that can not only make scales bearable, but you might actually find yourself having fun with your scales!
1) It always helps to have a plan.
Before you begin your practice, take a few minutes to jot down a few things such as:
- What key or keys do you want to do?
- How much time are you going to spend on scales?
- Do you want to focus on rhythm, intonation, or speed, or all three?
Tailor your session to suit your needs and goals. If you are preparing for an examination and you have quite a few scales to learn, it may be useful to make two or three scale groups of the scales you need to know. Make sure to split them up randomly so you can get used to playing them in an unusual order if that is how the exam is going to be conducted. If you’re in need of a plan to help you practice, download one of the free scale trackers below!
2) Slow Practice
To begin, play the scale slowly with a metronome and tuner. Listen to the tonality of the scale and try to associate it a mood or character. Also, listen to the tone of your instrument and try creating a strong confident sound and pay attention to your tuner for intonation.
Now that you have played through scale, pinpoint spots that were insecure, such as bad shifts, a tricky fingering, etc. Clean up this section by isolating the problem. Remember to keep using a metronome to keep rhythm secure and check your tuner for intonation accuracy.
4) Change Things Up
To keep things exciting, try changing up your rhythms. You could experiment with dotted rhythms, triplets, lengthened tonic or even try starting the scale from the top. There are endless ways to change the scale, so challenge yourself to come up with different ways to play it. During this step, you can also begin to speed things up if you are ready.
5) Take a Break
Yep, you read that right. When practising scales, we need to be very alert for the practice to be effective. If you feel your mind wandering, take the opportunity to get a glass of water, have a nap or go for a short walk. When you are tired, it may also be a good idea to record your scale and while having a break reflect on how you can improve it!
In conclusion, creating a fun routine for scales can greatly benefit any level of developing musicality. Always remember to take your scale practice in a small section and its always better to focus on one or two specific scales then to mindlessly practice them all.
Check out the videos below for some more helpful tips and don’t forget to download the free scale tracker as well!