August 16, 2007 at 03:34 PM · Unfortunately I haven't been able to look through all the other posts so I don't know it this topic has been covered...

Please! I need help coming up with new explanations as to why we need to do scales, what their purpose is, and ideas on how to make them more appealing to student taste.

I have nearly 20 students, most of whom have started or need to start work on scales.

For those who have started them...let's just say I don't think they get that much time at home.

My students range in ability from beginner to 4 or 5 years experience, and from age 6 to adult. Plus, many of them aren't structured when it comes to practice at home...

Thanks a bunch!

(If you have lots to say please feel free to e-mail me...)

Replies (26)

August 16, 2007 at 03:44 PM · How about this? Remind them that Ludwig van Beethoven's melodies and themes have a simplicity and a timelessness about them in part because they are made out of scales, parts of scales, and broken chords. The main melodies of the first movement of the Violin Concerto are almost nothing but scales. That's why this concerto is the ultimate musical challenge - How do you make music out of scales? Hopefully this might inspire them to consider that it's not just "scales" - that a scale is music, too. Can they consider the scales they are playing as melodies?


Cordially, Sandy

In fact, that gives me another idea. How about this? Find great themes from great violin pieces that are made up of at least parts of scales or chords. Then, for that part of the scale the student is working on, have them "hear" it as a portion of that melody.

If you think these are good ideas, I will be highly flattered - I'm not a professional musician or violin teacher.

August 16, 2007 at 03:55 PM · Also, you can use the scales to work on other things - intonation, velocity, tone, bowing patterns. That can be used to introduce the idea of isolating one aspect of a passage at a time to perfect, teaching them to build up clusters of aspects for which the passage is perfect.

August 16, 2007 at 05:08 PM · Sander hit on the point I would've made. Also. Impress on them that it will make the entire fingerboard 'THEIRS!', with a little drama and enthusiasm.... Argh... that kind of spirit.

I ran across some things about presenting information along the way--either in college or the military. I think college. Anyway, new ways of getting people to get it, will require that dramatic kind of presentation--especially mundane things. I call it the day-glo effect, where if I were teaching about Mozart I might throw a little talc in the hair.

I mention this, because with 20 students, it will likely take all your ingenuity to reach as many as possible. Throw Praeludium on the jukebox!. Every day.... Then Albinoni Adagio in Gm--came to mind because I'm working with it. The arpeggios (big scales) are some more examples along with the Beethoven mentioned.

If you can muster it, also have them play each note of each scale with finesse as a game to see who can do it best; and, let them be the judge.

Have them play one on the tonic one on the third up through two octaves.

There's some more ways of looking at it. Good luck.

August 16, 2007 at 05:35 PM · Tell them they will sound like Joshua Bell if they practice scales...

August 16, 2007 at 05:29 PM · Sandy, when the big question "But WHY do I have to learn scales?" inevitably comes up, I like to play the opening 1st movement of the Beethoven concerto! Broken 3rds, anyone? (insert smiley face here).

Susanna, a good way to ensure scale practice is to have the student memorize the scale.

Also, you can steal, as I did, my favorite analogy...

"Playing violin without any technical work shoring up your pieces is a little bit like painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel while balanced on a Pogo Stick. It CAN be done, but it is EASIER to do it while standing on sturdy scaffolding".

That might be a bit much for a youngster, but the older ones will get it.

Also, setting up a practice structure is very important. Everyone has a different way (practice charts, etc.) so you might want to get started on that one soon. Sounds like fun!

August 16, 2007 at 05:52 PM · Anne: How about returning it with a question for them?

"Why do the best baseball hitters are always swinging a bat and taking batting practice?"

"What do you think the best rock players do when they practice?"

"Why do you think the best football players talk about always having to work on the 'fundamentals'?"

"How did you learn your times tables?"

Waddaya think?


August 16, 2007 at 05:58 PM · Actually, I use sports analogies a lot. One of my students just did a basketball camp with Coach K (bless his tender heart, I am a UK fan, but we get along well despite our team rivalries!) and that kid knows all about practicing free throws...

August 16, 2007 at 07:04 PM · You can use the method that worked fairly well for my father when he was explaining why it was important......."BECAUSE I SAID SO!"

It worked.

August 16, 2007 at 06:54 PM · I was of those students who never liked scales and who gave her teachers grief about practicing them. As an adult, in a belated attempt at attitude adjustment and technique improvement, I've been trying to figure out why that is/was. Like most people, I first thought it was because I was bored by scales, but that's not really it. I've been able to overcome boredom in other areas of life with relative ease.

I think the person who commented about owning the whole fingerboard was getting closer. I didn't like scales, 3-octave ones anyway (1- and 2-octave were okay), because they put me up in a part of the fingerboard that I didn't own, wasn't sure I wanted to, and couldn't really visualize in my mind's eye in the first place. They went up away from the neck, up off the musical staff, no anchor, no mooring, just stretching up, up, up into the clouds, into outer space, into infinity. I wasn't bored by 3-octave scales, I was scared.

Several years later, when I attempted 3-octave scales again, my teacher gave me a paper chart that had a schematic of the fingerboard drawn and all the notes marked all the way up the fingerboard on all 4 strings. That chart really helped with the vertigo: apparently there was actually a limit to how high you could be reasonably expected to play, even on the violin. That was oddly comforting: no one was going to be dragging out 4-octave, 5-octave, and 6-octave scales next. Looking at the chart helped me understand and start to be able to visualize how the intervals shorten in space and you have to put your fingers closer and closer together as you go up the fingerboard. I'd been told that before, of course, but it hadn't really sunk in until I saw it.

I've recently gotten a similar chart for the viola from a teacher on the viola yahoo list. She said that she has students color in the notes of different scales on the chart when they first start studying the scale, and that that helps them to visualize the patterns of where the fingers go. They like the coloring/visualization exercise and this makes them feel more disposed towards playing the scale afterwards.

I don't think this approach would work for every student, but I think it could help some of them. Something about being able to visualize the scales in my mind's eye after coloring in or even just looking at the chart has made it a lot more bearable for me to practice them.

August 16, 2007 at 07:27 PM · If you can't hit a free throw, how can you set a pick for the open man on the give and go and not end up in the popcorn machine? Right, Tyrone? I mean Anne?

August 16, 2007 at 08:22 PM · Jim, ISBN-10: 0767901320

Useful things in that one.

August 16, 2007 at 08:52 PM · I was actually happy to get my first scale and arpeggio, being a n00bie, I think it will help me in ear training, fingering speed, bowing etc. Tell them its the foundation you use to build the house on.

August 16, 2007 at 08:57 PM · That book replaced the Bible in churches in Ky. You know what I'm talking about. Until he was revealed as the antichrist.

August 17, 2007 at 02:52 AM · Great topic! I love practicing scales and I can provide a student's view point. But for years I hated it and found it really boring. Then again, like a lot of things in this world that we find them boring because we don’t understand them or we don’t know how to properly utilize them. How many of you heard people say classical music boring?

When I was looking for a new teacher this year, I made it one of my top priorities to find someone who can teach me how to practice scales. I have found her, and now I have to force myself to stop during my daily practice so that I don’t end up spending all my practicing time doing just scales. What I’m learning from scale practice is not just intonation, which is a big part of it. And if you are playing Bach (or anything for that matter), shaky intonation is a super discouraging thing I find. Through scale and arpeggio, I also improve my shift, rhythm, bowing techniques, tone, etc. I find that just about any problems I’m working on would show up in my scales and arpeggios and demand me to deal with them immediately. As a result, I find my technical improvement is more noticeable therefore makes scale practic more rewarding. I guess the reasons for that maybe a)earsier memorization and b)simple melodic aspect of the scales gives us less distraction and more focused practice.

August 17, 2007 at 04:53 AM · I had a really hard time getting students to practice scales because I made it too easy for them. I simplified things down to the bare minimum, thinking that would make it more palatable for them, but it just made it more boring. Now I assign scales with bowing variations (a great way to learn bowing patterns and a way to make even the same scale sound different). I also incorporate rhythm variations and simple runs for the same reasons. In addition, I teach arpeggios with different bowings and rhythms along with the scales. A lot of variety means less boredom and gives opportunities to drill without making things too boring.

This may be a first. I have an adult student who wants to play nothing but scales and arpeggios for weeks on end. He is a guitarist who knew the importance of practicing these things until they become unconscious finger patterns.

August 17, 2007 at 04:54 AM · I like scales too--arpeggios, etudes, and all that stuff. It was scales and exercises that gave me my chops on piano, but even in that I thought they were cool. I've done exercises on every instrument I've approached with any seriousness at all.

So other than enthusiasm already mentioned.... I just don't know.

August 17, 2007 at 05:50 AM · Hello all!

Something I've been trying is IMPROVISATION. I would ask a student to pracitce a specific scale or two, and the next lesson, ask them to use it to improvise in that key. I would lay down some rhythm, using violin or piano, and they would use their knowledge of the scale to improvise. If they REALLY know their scale, then it makes it easier to improv. I would ask them to pick a rhythmic motif or two, and ask them to go up and down the scale (not necessarily all the way up or down, but turn around maybe after a five or six notes, skip a note or two, even pick out a melodic motif)...afterall, many melodies are constructed from scales.

Anyway, I think improv makes it fun for them and gets them to practicing their scales. Improv also forces them to have to think on their feet and constantly map out their scale patterns.

Anyone else do this?

August 17, 2007 at 05:40 AM · There are one or two different points that come to light here:

Teaching scales or approaching scales with a beginner 4 year old is diffetent than with an adolescent with several years of playing experience.I start at the first lesson with cioccolata (choclate) yummy yummy which could be choclate ice cream in english.This ensures each note is played 4 times with a nice scoop.Start just by clapping hands then openstrings,then add fingers one by one.My four strings are 4 personalities so when SOLibertus (the G-iant) andREbus (his D-og)go for a walk together eating their choclete ice cream they play the scale of sol (G)-make sure that they enjoy each lock and dont gobble up the ice cream too quickly..From 4 times each note reduce to 3 as they waltz together,then to 2 as they march through the woods etc.Once the scale can be played with a good detache start other bowing excercises with 2,4,and 8 note portato then legato.Introduce the arpeggio and broken thirds.I have classified the scales into groups so the first group is G,D,A the second C,G (2nd octave) using low 2nd finger.Join group A and B together for 2 octave scale og G etc.

Karen hit the nail on the head when she said that fear was a leading factor of ignoring scale pracice.Children need to understand the tones and semitones of the scale.If they work therir way slowly as I mentioned earlier there is no problem.If I have a more advanced student arrive who is in a complete fog the scale needs to be broken down and analised.Also when the minor scales are started take time to explain.I always do G ma together with G mi and not with the relative minor thus they can see the changes that take place within the scale.

Only older children will appreciate the need to practice scales in order to play repetoire such as the great concerti.Have your pupils look for scale and arpeggio sequences in the little pieces that they play.Twinkle twinkle immediatly offers a scale sequence etc,

August 17, 2007 at 06:38 PM · Some students will need like a game...maybe if they're young, you can make up some game of ladders or something?

If they're a little older I'd just tell them that they need to do it so they are familiar with the geography of the will help them decide on fingerings and play in tune.

A great, and probably one of the best ways to show them how it is imperative to learn the scales is through improvisation. Martin Norgaard and Laurie Scott had wonderful presentations that dealt with improvisation/jazz and fingerboard geography.

You can also engage them with another aspect of music making that sadly is ignored way too much for violinists.

August 17, 2007 at 06:53 PM · I teach my young students about intervals, and how to figure out the scales using a piano from a very early age. I teach major scales, and teach them how to figure out the relative minor, why it's significant and how they are related. It's a lot of fun because they learn early on how to figure out scales without sheet music - we go on to improvisation, composition and other things.

August 18, 2007 at 06:06 PM · Challenge your students to make up different rhythms for each note up the scale so a simple scale can actually sound like a whole piece. ie. One note on the scale could be played for a long time with different rhythms and bowings, loud and soft, etc., then the next note up or down. Improvice the scale. They could even drop down a few notes then come back up, speed ahead, come back down before going up again. You can practice non scale pieces like this too. My teacher said if you do this right even the composer won't recognize what the heck you're playing.

August 19, 2007 at 04:26 AM · Wow! Lovely to see so many responses! Thanks to each of you...

Hmm, can't say I'd ever really thought about the idea of using concerti (etc.) to show the importance of scales, but a very good point!

'Getting to know' the fingerboard, making it more visual, using more rhythmns (sorry about spelling!), improvisation...all great ideas.

Thanks a bunch!

September 3, 2007 at 11:43 PM · I think that scales are the fundamental of playing any advanced music. They are the rudament notes of every song in any key. If a student can become very familiar with 4 octace scales, apeggios, and double-stop scales then he can play anything. Playing in any key is effortless once the scales are mastered.

September 4, 2007 at 01:19 AM · If analogies and tricks are not enough as motivation, one can always take excerpts from concert repertoire that contains scales and teach them. Beethoven's violin concerto (as mentioned before) has tons of scales. So does the Bruch concerto in G minor, especially the 3rd movement. One can also ask the students to transcribe these excerpts into different keys. This provides great practice for scales in various (though not all) keys and writing transcriptions.

September 4, 2007 at 01:37 AM · Greetings,

the other way to make the link is to use the bowing found in the concerto scales and apply them to regular scales in differnet keys. This has a very strong effetc in improving the piece,



September 4, 2007 at 04:39 PM · Teach them to play modes - all the different possibilities a scale actually contains. Improvisation is a great suggestion, too.

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