Printer-friendly version

A solution for teaching and practicing scales!

Rob Lewis

Written by
Published: November 17, 2015 at 11:06 AM [UTC]

When I was young I hated learning my scales. I took grade exams and it was the part that I least looked forward to. I can remember my teacher saying ‘your scales are the most important part of playing’. I disagreed! I could practice the pieces all day. It was easier, there was a melody to follow, an accompaniment that put it in perspective and a sense of depth and excitement that drew you in as a young musician. Scales always seemed to be the ‘punishment’ for enjoying the pieces!

SmartScales In Action

I started learning with Selma Gokcen at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and she opened my eyes to new ways of practicing scales. Suddenly I was hooked. Everywhere I looked I saw scales; Bach, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky. I got obsessed to the point that fellow students would often ask if I ever practice pieces!

When I graduated I started teaching. No matter how much enthusiasm I put in to my lessons, I still drew a blank as how to inspire young pupils to engage with scales. When you’re 18, you are mature enough to see the parallels between different elements of your practice and the repertoire. However, the 8 year olds I was teaching weren’t playing Dvorak or Tchaikovsky. I found myself remembering when I was their age and thinking, what a shame we have to go through this!

I spoke to Selma, one of the most creative and dedicated teachers on the planet, and she said she had the same problem. I knew if she felt this, then I was in good company! We set about finding a solution. The books with backing tracks always seemed to engage pupils to listen whilst they played and most importantly keep a pulse. They also listen to their intonation, so with this in mind, we wrote a few accompaniments for scales. I was shocked at the result. Pupil’s eyes lit up as they played along to the first jazz accompaniment. A pupil said, “But I don’t like jazz, I want to do one in a hip hop style”. I went home and wrote one. Next week I was challenged to write a tango, the next funk. This pattern continued week after week until I was building up a catalogue for each scale, following the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music’s syllabus.

Over 2 years I wrote around 300 accompaniments (I didn’t sleep much coincidently!) for every scale and arpeggio, dominant and diminished 7ths, chromatic scales, etc in a variety of octaves for every string instrument. When I got to the end, I realised that there's not a CD on earth that could take this many tracks. An app was the obvious solution.

Smart Scales iPad

I was fortunate enough to reach out to two extremely talented and passionate software developers at the top of their games in their relevant fields, who happened to have a window for a new project. And SmartScales was born - an app for iPad (iPhone coming soon) designed to make learning and teaching scales fun and interactive. The software developers blew my mind with their ability to vary the tempo and pitch, produce a scrolling score and create an app so visually appealing that I would have happily hung it on my wall!

Now when I go to teach, it is hard to get pupils to play their pieces. I urge you to give it a go in your practice or lessons. It’s free to download the try and very modestly priced for purchase thereafter (cheaper than sheet music!). I’ve used it in both individual and group teaching situations. It has also proved to be a great tool to teach improvisation. The huge variety of genres means that pupils can explore scales in any style and experiment rhythmically too.

Not every pupil will be a superstar. There are a million factors internal and external that will get in the way. If we as teachers can make the process of learning scales inspiring and fun, we’ve done our job.

Smart ScalesDownload SmartScales for FREE to your iPad!

From marjory lange
Posted on November 17, 2015 at 8:22 PM
Drat and have given me the first irresistible reason to buy an ipad.
From Brecklyn Ferrin
Posted on November 17, 2015 at 9:14 PM
Fabulous! I can't wait to try it with my students.
Posted on November 17, 2015 at 10:05 PM
Anything like this for PC?
Posted on November 17, 2015 at 10:05 PM
And for Android, any time soon? :(
From Paul Deck
Posted on November 17, 2015 at 10:15 PM
Let us know when you have it ready for Android.
Posted on November 17, 2015 at 10:29 PM
Sounds great. I'll definitely give it a try.
From Gary Kroll
Posted on November 17, 2015 at 10:35 PM
Regarding android: yes, please.
Posted on November 17, 2015 at 11:18 PM
Windows and Linux versions? :-)
Posted on November 18, 2015 at 12:42 AM
Ditto on Android! :)
From Charles Fu
Posted on November 18, 2015 at 2:47 AM
First screenshot shows a scale in 7/8 time. :)
Posted on November 18, 2015 at 6:44 AM
Hey guys, thanks for your nice comments. We'd love to put an android/Windows version out but are a very small team and so have to cross one bridge at a time at the moment! Stay tuned...
Posted on November 18, 2015 at 7:48 AM
Android app. Please
Posted on November 18, 2015 at 1:17 PM
Brilliant! iPhone and Mac versions, please...
From Andrei Pricope
Posted on November 18, 2015 at 1:47 PM
Great idea, great implementation! Works perfectly on iPad Pro. iPhone version, please... For next version: any chance of no/less vibrato on the lead track? Choice of white/paler background behind music? Individual volume control for lead and background? I know, I know... Thanks for a great app -- you got my $40 for complete violin and cello
Posted on November 18, 2015 at 10:05 PM
Android version in the works, I hope?
From N.A. Mohr
Posted on November 20, 2015 at 3:11 PM
What a wonderful idea to begin with...and then to take forward.

I will also keep my eye open for an Android app!

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine