V.com weekend vote: Do you enjoy playing scales, or find them a necessary evil?

August 27, 2023, 5:10 PM · Call me a little crazy, but I actually enjoy playing scales.

I usually play acceleration scales, and I find them to be a perfect way to warm up both the muscles and the ears, and to loosen the whole body for playing. Generally I stand, and while playing them I shift my weight from the right to the left and back.


A very long time ago, my teacher actually taught me this idea of swaying a bit, coordinating it either with or against the bow - either way works, and you can just switch off.

I warm up with three-octave Galamian scales. Of course, things get a little more intense when playing more complex scales, for example, double-stop scales. But I do think that scales can be almost meditative, and they are certainly helpful for keeping in shape.

That said, I do understand, when people find scales to be a rather not-enjoyable but necessary evil. I mean, the reason we want to play is to make music, it would be nice not to have to spend 10-20 minutes on scales and just cut to the chase! And many players do just that, leaving scales to just the occasional practice, or just getting their scale practice through playing repertoire that happens to have scale.

How do you feel about scales? Do you enjoy them? If so, was there a time when you felt they were drudgery, and then changed your mind? Do you find them to be a chore, but do them any way for their benefits? Or do you find this whole business of scales to be over-rated? Please participate in the vote, and then share your thoughts.

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August 27, 2023 at 10:50 PM · There is a zen-like aspect to practicing scales. In spite of countless lessons, reading Fischer, and such, I still wish I could extract more from my work on scales. Maybe the improvement is just too glacially slow.

August 27, 2023 at 11:48 PM · I enjoy playing scales. But I don’t practice them first thing in a session. I warm up first, about 20 minutes, with bow-arm exercises, left hand finger gymnastics, shifting, vibrato exercises. Then I review the 3-octave scales in the keys I’m mostly likely to need for playing: E-A-D-G-C-F-Bb-Eb.

I find scales invaluable for carefully listening to intervals and maintaining intonation.

August 28, 2023 at 12:44 AM · I have found that I like scales a little more than I used to, if I don’t use a book and just muddle through without sheet music. I’ll give myself a starting note, which isn’t always the tonic, but is on the lowest string, and then go up to however high the piece goes in the right key, and do a few different fingerings to get there and back again, making sure the half steps are in the right place. With all those scale books, stereotyped fingerings, and rhythmic patterns, I developed a disconnect between fingerings and notes. I’d just think, for example, 4-4321321 and I’d have no idea what note I was on with any given finger until I got back down into first position. Whereas if I give myself a goal, such as to get up to high E-flat because I’m warming up for a piece in E-flat major, and no sheet music, then I have to connect fingers and notes, and I have to always know what note I’m on. I find this kind of challenging, but also interesting and a necessary mental workout, whereas I find habitual, routinized scale exercises out of a book to be boring and not very useful, unless what I’m mainly working on is bowing or vibrato. Then I’ll concentrate on that and let the left fingers be on auto-pilot.

August 28, 2023 at 02:29 AM · I have always been surprised and not a little skeptical when people praised scales as some sort of semi spiritual experience and claimed to do them regularly/religiously. Personally I find them dull. Mostly I don't play scales but I know they are useful, especially for intonation. Once in a while I practice scales daily for a month or two, then the dullness of it makes me stop that and I do without scales.

August 28, 2023 at 06:00 AM · Similarly to Paul, I don't know that I necessarily "enjoy" scales, but I do find scale practice somewhat Zen-like.

Like Jim, I don't use scales to warm up; I normally need some warm-up before I start playing scales. With my small hands, I definitely need to to loosen up my hands before I play three-octave scales on a viola.

August 28, 2023 at 11:28 AM · I didn't vote because I don't like my answer, which is I hardly ever play scales. I wish I did, but feel like I don't have enough practice time to do everything so I start right in on whatever music I want to play. But when I do, it's a little like Karen describes, without reading and saying the notes aloud to work out a key.

August 28, 2023 at 11:37 AM · I play scales every day as a sort of warm up. They were/are necessary in my case because I play both violin and viola, and they allow me to reacquaint myself with the spacing between the notes for the fingering on each instrument. So, I do them for that reason. Even though I now mostly play viola, I still use the scales to make sure I have the spacing right at the beginning of each session.

August 28, 2023 at 04:30 PM · Necessary evil to me. I actually don't mind them but find them of rather limited use for my kind of mind. I know I'm not typical but my mind likes to plot out the note intervals for each run and if I force myself to learn scales they often end up to be a liability for actual playing - lets face it, with exceptions of course, almost every run is not an actual scale since its a modal and/or littered with accidentals.

August 28, 2023 at 05:29 PM · Once in a blue moon I may run through a G-major scale but I've never felt the need or the inclination to practise them.

August 28, 2023 at 08:47 PM · I like to play scales as as sort of meditative, improvisational thing. Not that I do that every time, but they sure are useful for many repertoire pieces. I also use them as many of my great teachers advised, to work on various bow strokes. This is how and why I like them.

August 29, 2023 at 03:58 PM · An often repeated proverb is "musicians are the athletes of the small muscles". The serious athlete will have a daily routine of physical warm-ups, stretching, and exercise. Then there is the mental, neurological half of their skills; the quarterback, the tennis player, the golfer, baseball pitcher, etc., all need to improve and maintain their Accuracy. So, scales, along with arpeggios (chords) and bowing exercises are needed to maintain and improve our playing skill. The mental side of that work is to train and remind that genius switchboard in the back of the brain, the cerebellum, to follow the commands of the conscious front of the brain, to do its job of timing the multiple signals to multiple muscles. It's not the notes, it's what happens between the notes, how do we get from one note to the next, quickly, smoothly, efficiently, and, accurately,

In addition to that, scales, arpeggios, intervals are the building blocks of music. Being able to do those from memory, fluently, without thinking of the individual notes is a shortcut of sorts, reduces the the labor for improving sight-reading, memorization, learning new pieces, improvisation.

Don't get stuck on one set of fingerings from one book. The ideal fingering for a scale-like passage in real music depends on the context, the rhythm, even the bowing.

August 29, 2023 at 04:26 PM · I enjoy scales, the instrument may change but about an hour a day since I was a teenager.

August 30, 2023 at 11:40 AM · I never paid them any attention when I was learning music on the guitar. (I had a negative opinion of rote work that a particular maths textbook (GMMW, or Graded Mechanical Mathematics Workbook) had reinforced in me in primary school.)

I only got interested on reading John Coltrane's biography in secondary school - it informed me that once he reached the professional league of jazz musicians, he practiced scales for at least an hour if not more, a day. They were the bread-and-butter of his improvisational genius.

And so I have found it - when I sit down with my cello to practice, if I'm feeling in a good mood, I'll play something off the scale I begin the practice with, and by introducing seconds to fifths jumps - occasionally sixths or greater - I play some melody. Of course, using scales as etudes to get on top of some problem with new technique - upper range positions, and the like - is something I've done to get my head and fingers around anything and everything above the fourth position.

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