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Weekend vote: What is closest to your attitude about scales?

The Weekend Vote

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Published: January 10, 2014 at 10:17 PM [UTC]


Scales: Do you need them, or not?

Scales

In the last week we've had several Violinist.com blogs that put forth different ideas about scales. In Lydia Leong's blog about Efficient practicing for the time-crunched, she said "skip the scales," they aren't worth the time.

This was a rather contentious idea, and several days later came Eugenia Fielding's blog, Why I practice scales and what they do for me, in which she describes the acceleration exercise she uses for scales and arpeggios and outlines the benefits of this kind of consistent practice.

Are scales an important part of your routine, or do you consider them skip-able? And why?


From 166.205.68.21
Posted on January 10, 2014 at 10:26 PM
Which scale books are most recommended and why?

From marjory lange
Posted on January 10, 2014 at 10:40 PM
Not much grey area there! I can't vote with only those choices...but it's a good question.

I use scales a lot, and regularly, but not daily, never as warm-up, and only when I'm thoroughly awake.

From 92.14.130.245
Posted on January 10, 2014 at 10:46 PM
I have the Carl Flesh scale book and the same metronome, although I did discover there is an App for my phone that does the same thing, although haven't found the scale app -YET!

From Kevin Keating
Posted on January 10, 2014 at 10:46 PM
Scales are one of those things that I can't imagine any musician on any instrument ever doing without. That being said, I'm horrible when it comes to practicing them. Maybe this will make me practice more, I hope!
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on January 11, 2014 at 12:40 AM
This is a tough choice but the choice #1 is more extreme so I vote #2.

For me, practicing scales and arpeggios is a serious business and it requires absolute focus for at least 15 minutes. A poorly practiced scale is more than waste of time. If I feel time crunch or somewhat tired after a long day's work, I would skip scales simply because I don't think I'll do justice to it under the circumstance; instead, I'd focus on small chunks of technical stuff, a few minutes here and there, and still get the results. For the same reason, I hardly use scales to warm up.

From 71.88.43.13
Posted on January 11, 2014 at 2:00 AM
scales are avoided and loathed usually by kids but then a transformation occurs and it is like a day without orange juice....the question then becomes which flavor...Flesch, Hrimaly or the pure, all naturally "squozrn" Alard
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 11, 2014 at 2:11 AM
Greetings,
I couldn't help feeling poor Lydia's comment was slightly too decontextualized. We are talking about a high level player who was preparing a major concerto performance after a long lay off while indulging in a professional life that allowed virtually no time to practice. Under those circumstances I too would find exercises that focus on the elements contained in a scale to be considerably more cost effective.
Yixi, you raise an interesting point which ties in with my old blog about scales not being the best warm up as they integrate too many elements that require a great deal of focus. A point I was later relieved to find Simon was very convinced of as well. I make this observation because yesterday I was watching a teaching clip in which an eminent teacher was taking a student through the Aceeleration Scale exercises admittedly for demonstration rather than teaching purposes. To me , even at the initial slow speed she was making a number of technical errors concerning technical timing of raising and lowering fingers as well as hitting quite a few notes out of tune. This is not surprising. it takes a very high level of technique to play a slow scale without vibrato and hit every note so that they sound exactly in tune. So what next? The student gets faster and faster repeating the same intonation errors over and over. Is this really good practice? In some ways yes, but the Ss is essentially repeating intonation errors over and over and learning them. The time would be better spent in my opinion, playing intonation patterns first and also the scale tuning method explained in Simons book. But the twist is that one does this exercise with repetition hits as described by Drew Lecher so the correct intonation is repeated a few times. This kind of practice lays a very solid base for really precise intonation and should improve the supposedly simple scale run throughout a great deal. Incidentally, the older the more I find great facility is achieved from slowly and patiently creating mental constructs of precise playing rather than running though scales which can , more often than not, be mindless.
Cheers,
Buri
From Eugenia Fielding
Posted on January 11, 2014 at 2:49 AM
I hope I didn't come off as if I were criticizing people who don't do scales. I personally find them useful, but when I said to each his own, I was being sincere. I personally get nothing at all out of etudes. It kills the musical soul to practice something it gets nothing out of, and a player's job is to find what helps.

I don't practice scales for intonation- other than occasional spots, my intonation isn't an issue. I also don't warm up with scales. (I warm up with open string and double stop work). Left hand dexterity, right/left coordination, and bow control are issues for me, and the way I practice scales addresses those.

I also think my blog sounded a little sanctimonious. The routine I described is the one I do when I'm in full practice mode, which is definitely not all the time. I'm not a professional violinist, and my job gives me weeks of free of time in between weeks of frenzied activity, and this is my practice routine during the weeks when I'm not working.

I didn't want to leave Lydia or anyone else with the impression that I think the only way a person can be a good violinist is by practicing scales- different musicians may take different routes, but all roads lead to Rome and that's where we're all going!

And one more thing. Mindless scales are useless, but isn't any form of mindless practice?

From Christian Lesniak
Posted on January 11, 2014 at 3:33 AM
Eugenia, I think some vast anti-scale conspiracy was at work to keep me from being able to comment on your post, but your approach is very much what I'm trying to do with scales. It's where I can work on any element of my playing. I can apply scales to anything, because they are so simple. I can work on my vibrato in scales, I always pay attention to my tone, and to the lightness of my fingers, and to lifting them up quickly and decisively. I even like to practice 5, 7, 9 and other numbers of notes per bow just to get the feeling in my mind and my bow arm. Importantly, scales are good mindfulness practice.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 11, 2014 at 5:19 AM
Greetings,
Eugenia, I loved your blog! Nothing sanctimonious about it whatsoever. That is precisely the way scales can and should be used. We are simply addressing all kinds of players here so it is worth getting as many ideas as possible out on the table. Lydia is probably getting used to being an object of discussion by now....
For what it`s worth when I was at RCM there was a top London Concertmaster on the staff who was notoriously anti scales in any shape or form. His playing was incredibly beautiful but somehow seemed to deteriorate technically rather quickly as he got older. Likewise his students all played incredibly sensitively but in terms of raw sight reading ability and technique (I played in quartets with a few of them) they felt slightly lacking. I have noticed this in quite a few cases over the years.
Whatever shape or form we think they should take, whatever our attitude to them, we violinists are never going to escape scales. Anyone who cant buy into that might be better off bungee jumping as a hobby,
Cheers,
buri
From Jim Hastings
Posted on January 11, 2014 at 1:21 PM
"I hardly use scales to warm up."

I never use them to warm up. My warm-ups are along the lines Simon Fischer lays out in his Warming Up. I start by tapping the left fingers, no bow. The main difference is that I start with 3rd position drills, since 3rd position is home base to me. Then I go down to 1st to open up the hand more.

But scales are extremely important to me. My teachers instilled in me the importance of these drills. Once I'm warmed up, about 20 minutes into the session, I begin scale reviews.

From 69.143.211.115
Posted on January 11, 2014 at 3:34 PM
I practice scales literally every single time I play my violin. Sometimes for warm ups, sometimes in the middle of practice, and ALWAYS at the end of an orchestra rehearsal (helps me remember that I can still play as an individual after several hours of being a part of the machine).
From Chris Gossy
Posted on January 11, 2014 at 6:08 PM
I play Eugène YSAYE "Exercices and scales for Violin" and Scevcik Scales and Arpeggios 34-39. Daily.
From Bart Meijer
Posted on January 11, 2014 at 9:59 PM
I came across this coaching fragment on Youtube, where Christian Tetzlaff and his students discuss scales.
From Kathryn Woodby
Posted on January 11, 2014 at 10:34 PM
huh. I had to stop and think about this, and couldn't really vote...As a teacher, I don't practice scales a lot myself; I do find the Fischer/Lecher-type technique exercises to be more time-efficient and valuable for me. However I do find some holes in my technique especially with runs and shifts when I am not practicing scales as much. With my students I tend to treat them almost as required repertoire for the fingers, patterns their hands must know, and good technique-building tools, but not the centerpiece of technique practice (most of them are using a combo of Lecher, some whistler for shifting, and individually designed exercises for technique.)
However, one related tool which I am starting to emphasize more in my teaching, and need to emphasize in my own practice, is arpeggios. Is it just me, or are these one of the most valuable and undervalued exercises around? They are so common in the repertoire and such good tools for understanding fingering choices and harmonic structure as well!
From Paul Deck
Posted on January 12, 2014 at 10:16 PM
Well I went with the first choice but I didn't care for the polarizing nature of the choices. I almost always practice scales, but I don't think it's a day wasted even if all I do is play through several pieces for enjoyment. That's the blessing of being an amateur I suppose.

There is a good discussion here. I agree with Buri that scales are great but only if you know how to practice them effectively. I really didn't for a long time (and was never taught) until I read Fischer's book. Now I can see the benefit and so I really enjoy working on them.

You know what they say about violinists who don't EVER practice scales though: "The spirit is willing, but the Flesch is weak."

From 173.48.203.197
Posted on January 13, 2014 at 12:18 AM
I don't hate scales (anymore, at least), but I still just don't find them as useful as some people do. I thought Eugenia's blog was interesting, and I also thought, if scales did for me what they did for her, I'd probably love them too.

The reason I don't love scales is that I seem to have the sort of memory and thought process that is very context-specific. That is, if I practice scales, what I remember later is how to play a scale. Unlike Eugenia's experience, it doesn't really transfer into my being able to play something else that isn't a scale, any better.

But whatever it is, the specific stuff I practice and learn in context, is with me for life. I came back to playing the violin in my 40's after a long break. When I did so, I started off playing a few orchestra pieces that I hadn't played, or even heard, for 25 years or more. One was Beethoven's "Egmont" overture. I sat down in orchestra and those 25 years evaporated. I could almost play the 1st violin part of Egmont from memory, from when I practiced it when I was 15 and in high school.

It's kind of like that with warming up, too. If I "warm up" by playing scales, all I'm "warmed up" to do is to play more scales. I have to warm up on what I'm working on in order to be warmed up to work on it.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on January 13, 2014 at 12:28 AM
I don't hate scales (anymore, at least), but I still just don't find them as useful as some people do. I thought Eugenia's blog was interesting, and I also thought, if scales did for me what they did for her, I'd probably love them too.

The reason I don't love scales is that I seem to have the sort of memory and thought process that is very context-specific. That is, if I practice scales, what I remember later is how to play a scale. Unlike Eugenia's experience, it doesn't really transfer into my being able to play something else that isn't a scale, any better.

But whatever it is, the specific stuff I practice and learn in context, is with me for life. I came back to playing the violin in my 40's after a long break. When I did so, I started off playing a few orchestra pieces that I hadn't played, or even heard, for 25 years or more. One was Beethoven's "Egmont" overture. I sat down in orchestra and those 25 years evaporated. I could almost play the 1st violin part of Egmont from memory, from when I practiced it when I was 15 and in high school.

It's kind of like that with warming up, too. If I "warm up" by playing scales, all I'm "warmed up" to do is to play more scales. I have to warm up on what I'm working on in order to be warmed up to work on it.

From 76.122.57.60
Posted on January 13, 2014 at 5:09 AM
I feel very strongly that scales and arpeggios are necessary to make me feel that my hand is in order, playing in tune in every position. I think not only of the scales themselves, but the way my fingers strike the notes with equal weight and pressure. This feeling rubs off on everything I play that day.
From 37.233.27.142
Posted on January 17, 2014 at 3:25 AM
Thanks-a-mundo for the article post. Fantastic.

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