July 2009

PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT: Natasha Now Loves Her Scales

July 27, 2009 10:42

 I fell in love today. With my scales. My SCALES. I thought this day would only come when pigs fly and all that. But I don't see any livestock in the air, so I suppose the only change that has prompted this dramatic conversion of heart would be that I have officially gone off my rocker. And that is a requirement for all musicians, right? :-)

I vividly remember going to a violin lesson in eighth grade and confessing to my teacher that I hadn't practiced scales all week. "I hate scales!" I said, "They're so boring and they're always the same." My poor teacher tried to impress their importance upon me, but to no avail. All she could say was "Someday, you will come to love scales and you will send me a letter saying 'Wow, you were right, now I spend an hour a day practicing nothing but scales!'" Of course, being twelve, I rolled my eyes and thought nothing of it. After all, I hated violin with a passion and I was going to quit as soon as mom would let me anyways. There was no way I would ever spend more than fifteen minutes on something as annoying as a scale. 

Today, after finishing my usual hour of scales as a violin performance major, I sent the email. Up until last semester I never thought I would actually email Mrs. Koons and say "Hey, you know what? You were right!" but especially this summer, I have grown fond of beginning every practice session with a minimum of ten minutes of major and minor scales and I always play through all of them every day, even if I'm sick. They really lend themselves to a menagerie of exercises- concentrating on intonation, bowing techniques, rhythm drills, bow control, dynamics, vibrato...they are beautiful in their simplicity and versatility, and a therapeutic and predicable way to begin a practice session and get in the violin mindset in the same way that one practices breathing exercises before beginning a strenuous yoga routine. It's a very zen warm up method, I guess. 

I've had teachers argue for and against spending as much as an hour daily on scales. Some believe it's more efficient to spend time focusing on one scale rather than brushing through all of them, and others have insisted that practicing every scale every day is a mandatory practice for every violinist. I have found- especially this summer- that my practice is more successful if I find the happy medium; I play through every major and minor scale every day and then focus on one or two scales to really hone in on an exercise or technique. When I have lots of time on my hands, I do like to spend an hour on scales (and arpeggios)...generally I keep my scale work to a little over a quarter of my total daily practice time. Also, if I take a break, I always begin with a few minutes of scales as a warm up.

But never would I have thought that those pesky scales could become something to look forward to in a practice routine. I guess it's because it keeps something old and familiar, a tried and true element, in a practice routine that changes constantly depending on pieces and upcoming events. Or maybe I'm just now completely understanding how scales are the underlying base in everything we play. Either way, I'm sold for good, and my old violin teacher can smirk all she wants. I only hope this feeling transfers to my arpeggios too. ;-)

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