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Heather Broadbent

14 Tips to Help You Fall in Love with Scales :)

September 20, 2013 at 7:50 PM

I know that without a doubt that there are many violinists out there that absolutely HATE scales. I have had so many students and myself included that just the word scales brings feelings of dread.

My first introduction to scales on the violin was when I was maybe 11 years old – Mind you 2 years after I started the violin, with the Carl Flesch inch and a half scale book. My stand couldn't even hold the book up. I HATED that book. I hated practicing the book – I hated going to my lessons knowing that we were going to practice from the book. I felt like a horrible violinist, that I had horrible intonation. It seriously was dreadful for me.

So I have been there...I completely understand the hatred for scales.

But over time and exploration on my own violin journey I was able to return to the same book, granted it had fallen apart at that point and I had to buy a new one, but I returned to those Carl Flesch scales with love.

Yes... with love....

How did it happen...what caused the transformation?

I don't know the exact turning point but I do know that through my journey I learned other ways to approach scales and incorporate them into my practice that seemed almost meditative and healing for myself. When I saw the results of practicing the scales with a different approach I was immediately hooked.

I rediscovered all of the scales in all the keys major and minor from 1 to 3 octaves. My relationship to pitches changed and how I would hear the pitches. How I incorporated the scales into my practice routine changed. Instead of just practicing scales because I knew I had to – I used them as piece strengtheners. Also after I broke my wrist scales were therapy for my to get playing again.

Here are 14 tips to help change your attitude towards scales to help violinists on all levels:

*Be Present – I had a colleague of mine said he went through all of the major scales in 15 minutes while watching the news every morning. Hey if it works for him great but really I think it is a very good idea to be present.

*Listen to every pitch – You may think well duh...that's a no brainer. Let me explain. Don't listen to the pitch in relation to the previous pitch – know exactly what pitch you are playing and treat it as it's own identity. This way you are less likely to have your whole scale go relatively sharp or flat in pitch.

*Isolate all shifts – break down the shifts in scales one not before to one note after. Then 2 notes before and 2 notes after. When shifting be sure to practice shifting fast even in slow passage work because practicing shifting slow all the time without practicing shifting fast does not help you when you put your scales, or anything for that matter, to a faster tempo. Don't forget to practice the shifts in both directions.

*Think not only going up and down the instrument but Across the instrument – I don't know about you but this was a revolutionary concept to me when it was first presented. I always thought of only going up or down the instrument not across.

*Hold your fingers down – this is really the basic first step to playing any scale. This in and of itseld solves so many intonation issues.

*Use your fingers as guides – know how each finger relates to the next.

*Practice with your eyes closed – Truly block everything else out and get that ear turned on!!

*Practice in front of the mirror – watch yourself (when you are not practicing with your eyes closed.) Scales are a great way to check posture, bowing, bow hold, straight bows. Good way to keep youself in check.

*Stop when you hear an out of tune note – Stop IMMEDIATELY!!!! Don't go further. One out of tune note sets a bad foundation for everything that happens after. Save yourself some time – this is why being present is so important – and STOP!!!! go from the note before and practice 10 times perfect before moving on.

*Practice with confident fingers – If you practice your scales with hesitant fingers it is not doing you any good. Play those fingers with confidence and strength. Come down to the fingerboard like little hammers even in slow passages. It is better to come down with strength to an out of tune note and fix with strength and confidence than with hesitation.

*Practice keys that match your current repertoire – For example before practicing Brahms d minor violin sonata practice a 3 octave d minor scale.

*Practice with out vibrato first to solidify intonation and then practice with vibrato. Use scales as your own personal workout room so to say for all the techniques needed for your current pieces. Dynamics, vibrato, rhythms, bowings... the list goes on.

*Create your own scale routine to match your current practice routine.

*Start at the top of the scale come down and then go back up – This was presented to me when I studied scales on the piano. Coming down on the piano was more difficult than going up – it seems the same for some students on the violin as well. So my piano teacher told me to start down than up and It helped tremendously. Whatever you practice first – your brain is usually turned on more (unless it is 6:00 in the morning :) ) Apply the same to pieces and etudes – struggling 5 lines in? Don't start from the beginning – start where you have a problem.

Easy, simple and yet so effective and enjoyable!!

I promise you will see results incorporating these tips into your scale practice.

Want to learn how to play all the major scales in under 3 minutes? Register for my Online Violin Scales Class - Violin Scales That Will Rock Your Violin World September 25, at 12:00 CST.

Register here for your Free Violin Class - Violin Scales That Will Rock Your Violin World

Have fun Practicing Scales!

Heather Broadbent, Holistic Violinist
Founder of Online Violin and Creator of Violin Fitness and Violin Secrets Academy


From Mark Roberts
Posted on September 21, 2013 at 2:40 AM
Keeping your fingers down in high positions? Doing that even in middle positions makes getting the semitones close enough difficult.
From Angelica Cantu
Posted on September 21, 2013 at 3:53 AM
Is this the class like a live stream video? I would love to join!
From Heather Broadbent
Posted on September 21, 2013 at 6:54 AM
Hi Mark - yes you want to you use the last finger played as a guide so if the next finger has to come down on the previous finger and basically pushes the finger out of the way. If you don't use your fingers as guides it is basically a russian roulette where your fingers will land. Everyone has different sized finger tips. Mine are very small and narrow so I have to do this very rarely and only in higher positions but the disadvantage to my smaller fingertips are fifths in upper positions.
From Heather Broadbent
Posted on September 21, 2013 at 6:58 AM
P.S Mark - for example say you are playing in sixth position on the E string in the key of G. After you play F# and go to play G you have to move your third finger out of the way after four has used your three as a guide. Now keep in mind while all of this is going on you are still holding your 1 and 2 down. You always want an anchor.
From Heather Broadbent
Posted on September 21, 2013 at 7:07 AM
Angelica - yes it is live stream video and free. There are only 20 spaces and 4 are already taken. The class itself is pay what you can but if you are new to the platform you do have to buy a minimum $5.00 note package. I will be doing at least 4 other classes as well in the next month. Register at the link above if you are interested.
From elise stanley
Posted on September 21, 2013 at 9:21 AM
This is terrific Heather - thanks. I'm going to work through your list. THe only thing I can think of that is missing is speed. Practising with a very slow bow speed maintaining volume and note quality is invaluable - but its natural to resist it so that you can get the scales over and done with.

Thanks :)

From Angelica Cantu
Posted on September 21, 2013 at 9:40 PM
Thanks I'll try to sign up!
From Ray Randall
Posted on September 22, 2013 at 6:20 AM
Sounds interesting. What might help is having a lapel or hand microphone instead of getting that "far-away" sound from using the mic on the camera.
From Gail Tivendale
Posted on September 22, 2013 at 9:32 AM
Playing scales with your eyes shut is brilliant for helping students with intonation. It can really make a lot of difference. The children themselves can be surprised at just how much it helps. Do you know why it works so well? My guess is that for some reason shutting down the visual sense causes the auditory sense to become more active and acute. Thanks for all the great tips!

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