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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: How often do you play scales?

March 7, 2009 at 1:19 AM


Love 'em or hate 'em, we usually run up against someone who wants us to play one at some point in becoming a violinist.

Having studied with several Galamian proteges, scales (and arpeggios) have long been a part of my practice diet; I always warm up with them and sometimes spend a very, very long time playing and perfecting this or that. My students can also attest that I'm carrying on in the old Galamian acceleration scale tradition.

But why continue to do something so boring, for years upon years?

For one, I don't find them boring; there is much to keep my attention. Regular scales, played with attention to intonation and perfect shifting, train the hand to keep its shape and the fingers to know their place, in any position. Just about any bowing on earth can be applied and improved by taking it up and down a scale.

There is another argument, that scales dull one's senses, taking the focus off music and putting it on something purely technical. Or that an etude is better for warming up than a scale.

What are your thoughts on scales? And how often do you practice them?


Posted on March 7, 2009 at 1:30 AM


I hated them as a kid studying, and would do everything possible to avoid them. One great and wise teacher I had, knew this and so he gave me music loaded with them. I never even picked up on what he was doing. Then along the way a transmogrification took place.

Like the pizza boxes say...You've tried the rest, now try the best...absitively, posolutely the Alard scales last publishd in 1917 are incredible...major, minor, thirds, octaves, tenths, harmonics. Every day, sometimes twice for an hour or so

nopity.gif No Pity image by TGrosjean

From Brian Hong
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 2:55 AM

I shouldn't say this, but I don't do scales. 


One of my teachers, Shmuel Ashkenasi, says not to do scales......and I take that to heart.

From Christopher Ciampoli
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 3:04 AM

My personal belief is that one should practice what one can't already do. If you can't play a G major scale in tune with your ideal sound, then go ahead and practice that. If you can, I don't see the point. How many people warm up and practice typing before they write an email or blog post? Once something reaches that level of automaticity it is actually a different process. By all means though, there are many things that can always be improved and scales is one way to practice such; whether it is the most efficient, I haven't concluded that yet.

From Vartkes Ehramdjian
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 3:35 AM

Since I was 5 years old, started playing the violin properly , my teacher introduced me first to the Dancla scales, and then to Carl Flesch. (and I have never stopped since) 
I start every morning, practicing  long blank notes, then I choose a scale, with a slow tempo, gradually picking up speed.
I do about 30 minutes a day of scales , arepeggios, double stops, octaves, tierces,.........etc.
Always controling my intonation.
All my students start their lessons with a scale.
Its like brushing your teeth and washing your face when you wake up every morning.
Good for your morale and your tone.
Montreal, Canada

From Ray Randall
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 4:05 AM

Heck, with a little imagination you can make a scale into a major concerto. Make the scales unboring. C'mon, use that brain and improvise different ways of playing them.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 4:22 AM

 Oh, I had to LAUGH at the number of ppl who said "a few times a year." That's funny. Ah, well. Takes all kinds. : )   ((And I'd love to be that kind. It would make my 45 minutes daily practice time so much more effective!)

From Patrick Hu
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 7:44 AM

To be honest, I only do scales when I feel I need them...sort of when I'm feeling insecure about my technique or when something doesn't feel quite right in my fingers. 

I think scales serve a great purpose in establishing and reestablishing a violinist's technique.  Usually when I don't have time to have a full practice session, I find myself going over some major and minor scales, kreutzer, Dont Etudes, and sevcik exercises for about 30-45 minutes.  After this session, I feel comfortable enough putting my violin away for the day and coming back to it tomorrow.

When I take a "break" from the violin, I feel as though scales help in rebuildingi technique and the familiarity of playing.  I don't think I could ever take a break from the violin and dive right into practicing the Sibelius violin concerto or whatever piece I'm working on...

it's extremely important to build the foundation of scales.  They help to reinforce recognizing key signitures and the different accidentals that accomany specific keys.

Establishing a wide range of scale studies seemed to help with my orchestral experience as well.  When sight reading a piece, knowing what notes fit in the key and what notes didn't was extremely useful.

But it does seem as though the "old school" method of intense scale studies has dissapitated.

EDIT:  My different professors throughout the years have made me practice scales.  It is just during the periods of having no professor or teacher where I seem to stop practicing these scales as frequently.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 12:57 PM

I've started to appreciate scales more in the past couple of years, and writing this blog and reading the responses, helped me do so, along with discussions I've had with my current teacher.

In my days of avoiding scales, it wasn't really so much that I found them boring per se, but that I wasn't getting out of them what everybody said you were supposed to get out of them. If I did practice them, they wouldn't seem to change or get any better from week to week. My intonation was still shaky and inconsistent. My tone was still nasal-sounding. So it was boring in that sense: lack of movement or improvement.

I still don't do "an hour a day to warm up," since I only have about an hour a day total to practice, if that, and I have other things to do. But I do about 5 minutes of goal-oriented scales every time I practice. I try to "find the clarity," I get used to the key of the piece of music I'm going to practice subsequently, I isolate shifts and repeat those, I do Lecher "repetition hits", I use the electronic tuner to identify intonation trouble spots, I do once up and down with vibrato with the scroll against the wall. Then it's been more than 5 minutes, and I feel like I've accomplished something.


From Christopher Ciampoli
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 1:17 PM

Karen your second paragraph is interesting as it reminded me of an important fact. Say I would be practicing scales [extra] for a regional audition or something. I would get my scales up to as possibly good as I could play it. For the next couple weeks it wouldn't get any better or any a different, in fact some days it would be worse; it was my limit. After the audition I wouldn't touch the scales for say 6 months as an experiment. When I came back to it, I could play it faster, more cleanly, more everything. That's what led me to regarding practicing scales every day for large amounts of time as maybe somewhat dubious. I formed an opinion that scales could be a reflection of technique but perhaps we actually need something more varied and unpredictable, if you will, to acquire our technique. What's that maxim? "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the mark of insanity."

From Anne Horvath
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 1:25 PM

A Key Of Flesch A Day

Keeps The Bad Intonation Fairy Away!

(Laurie, did I ever tell you my 1st lesson with Mr. K was Galamian scales?  I told him that I already practiced scales like that, and had been for years, but he absolutely insisted that I go through all the G Major accelerated exercise with rhythms and bowings...just to make sure I knew how to practice them...Ah, Good Times...)

From Bethany Morris
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 1:34 PM

I realize the benefits of practicing scales. I always use one as a warm-up.  But, I don't practice scales with good focus and intention but once a month. Then I put them aside until my no-scales guilt comes back a month later.

From Royce Faina
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 3:22 PM

I play scales in the key of whatever ettudes & songs I will be working on that day.  Not only does it warm up my body, hands, arms, back muscles, et al., it warms up my ears to the intonation needed for those works I will soon be tackling.  I found that it's like pointing the bow of a boat in the dirrection that I wish to sail.  At least for me.

Bon Voyage!

"The" Royster


}:^I and a one, and a two...!

From David Tseng
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 4:31 PM

Playing scales is very enjoyable to me. I would start slowly and graduately increase speed.

From Ray Randall
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 4:45 PM

What are the "accelerated scales?"

From David Wilson
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 6:05 PM

Try practicing scales with a synthesizer droning the root or the fifth. Along with a moderate metronome click, you might be amazed at your inventiveness (and enjoyment!) of scales. Also practice thirds, buy only bow on one of the string at a time.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 8:07 PM

You didn't have an option for "almost every timeI practice".  I'd say, 75 - 80 % of the time.  That way, I'm doing them only beause I want to.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on March 8, 2009 at 12:30 AM

Ray, it's "acceleration scales," from the Galamian book. Put the metronome on 60, two beats per bow, then do half-notes ,quarters, eighths, triplets, sixteenths, and keep going until the whole scale is in one bow.

Warming up like this helps you play without injury until you're 80, and beyond, if you live that long. ;)

From Rev. Edwin Perez
Posted on March 8, 2009 at 7:23 PM

It is amazing what scales can accomplish as well as expose. I practice them everyday whether it is the violin or the piano that I am working with, and I do become rather imaginative or inventive when working with scales always "thinking outside the box."  Three octave scales in different rhythmic patterns, bow articulations, and double stops in different keys are standard in a practice session. On occasion, four octave scales, multiple octave scales una corda, chromatic and modal scales, and starting scales on a different finger or even at the top note helps me to keep my mind engaged in practicing scales while at the same time maintaining technical facility. One of my favorite ways of playing a scale can be found at the end of  Vieuxtemp's Concerto No. 5 Op. 37 (A melodic minor scale with a drone A) and at the end of the first movement of Sibelius' Violin Concerto Op. 47 (D melodic minor with a drone A ending with fingered octaves).

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on March 9, 2009 at 2:44 AM

I play scales almost each time I practise. I say almost because I think about different ways of practicing scales a bit too much for my own good sometimes and ended up not practising the scales I should.

Recently for example I experimented this by practising the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s violin concerto as an alternative to Flesch. It was a lot of fun because the music is so breathtakingly beautiful that hour gone by like a minute. The result however is a lot of practice but no scale work! Why? I paid too much attention to phrasing, the tension and momentum of the music rather than the sound and the notes. You have to with music like this. It compels you to deal with those issues whether you like it or not.  I had the gall to bring it to my teacher. She immediately turned beety red and refused to listen.  She thinks so few people can play Beethoven because so many of us are treating Beethoven as just a bunch of scales and arpeggios...   Good for her, wouldn't you say?

From David Colon
Posted on March 9, 2009 at 6:00 AM

Me and my scales are best friends. :)

No really, I used to not like scales and thought they were just a teachers form of torture. But I really like the challenge that they bring and the benefits that come from them. My teacher recenly introduced me to these cool scale variations of 2,4,6 rythms, and I can't stop practicing them!

From Mendy Smith
Posted on March 9, 2009 at 7:48 AM

It literally took me years to form the habit of practicing scales.  But now that I've done it, I can't start a practice session without them.  It is so routine now that lessons or practice ALWAYS begins the same way, with an accelerated scale.  Not only is it an excellent way to get warmed up and loosened up, but it is also helps relax my mind and gets me focused on listening to my tone and all of the other physical adjustments you have to make when shifting from computer keyboard to fingerboard.

From david drimer
Posted on March 10, 2009 at 10:41 AM

As an eighty seven year old kratzer who picks up the fiddle once in a while - i always play a few major scales first - at least then i am sure my intonation is  fairly ok ( I dont expect miracles). Then I may play around with an easy piece-  I always then return to some scales and arpeggios. The speed isn't there any more and as soon as I feel tired I stop.  As a kid I was fortunate to have teachers  who had followed the Russian Schooll and scales were a must. To all budding Heifetzes and Kreislers - I offer this advice. .Five minutes of scales. A Kreutzer study and a Rode caprice. a few minutes reading the score of the sonata or concerto you are about to practice and  then go .Good luck and I wish you all well.

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