Violin Scales

October 2, 2011 at 06:02 PM ·

Hi everyone,

I have an ABRSM Grade 8 violin exam coming close, and I think I have a big and serious problem with my scales. I can only play the G, A, C, D major scales comparatively well, but not even with legato. The harmonic, and especially the melodic scales are a pain. I'm coming close to hopeless now. :( I regret I didn't pay enough attention to the sclaes, and of course the importance of it.

Hopefully, are there some tips on practising, memorizing and mastering the scales? The fingering for the minor scales are really killing me. To those who had had the exam, what are some scales that are often or most likely to be required in the exam?

Thanks a lot and cheers!

And by the way, I'm new so be nice :)

Replies (35)

October 2, 2011 at 06:31 PM ·

I will be nice but the truth often hurts.

You should forget exams and a lot else until you can play any scale. You won't have any sort of technique without mastering all the scales with all types of bowing and rythms.

Without these scales you will be struggling to play anything, and sight reading will be very unreliable, so spend at least one hour a day on learning them in every key, 3 octaves, and some in four octaves. (inclusing arpreggios and everything else).

I asked a young student to play on a fiddle I was trying out recently, only to find she couldn't even play G major properly. She was supposed to be Grade VIII level. I don't know who her teacher was, but I was speechless.

Do not forget that Heifetz said he only had to hear a scale to tell if the players technique was any good.

October 2, 2011 at 10:00 PM ·

Hi Peter, I have a question. When practicing scales in three octaves, is it better to play the open D,A,and E, notes of the first position with the fourth finger rather than the open notes or does it make any difference or should one practice both ways? I tend to go up with the open notes and come down with fingered fourth, I don't know why.

October 2, 2011 at 10:30 PM ·

 I have to agree with Peter on this one! 

oh...I think there's no 'tip or trick' in memorising scales by the way, just good old practicing them diligently every day....

I know your exam is in a month so my advice would be this:

from now start practicing EVERY DAY a minimum of one hour to an hour and a half ALL grade 8 scales/arpeggios/dominants/diminished/chromatics.  Do it at a time that you are not tired and you can give it your full attention, make it 'mindful practice'. 

'good luck'

October 2, 2011 at 10:51 PM ·

Carter Asbill

I see no reason not to use open strings on the scales that start on G D A etc. Open strings will also show up intonation on the preceding notes which can be useful.


Just a brief note - scales are just finger patternsand all those that start with a first finger (which is most) are all the same. There is not that much learning involved.

October 2, 2011 at 11:07 PM ·

October 3, 2011 at 01:28 AM ·

Hi :)

I agree with the other posters that the best way to fix this problem is practice, practice, practice and more PRACTICE.

However, something that could help you is to mark the tones and semitones on your scales (this is what my teacher and I have been doing with the scales that trip me up). By doing this you know that if it is a tone between the two notes your fingers have to be far apart and if it is a semitone then they must be close together. This can help with intonation and with understanding the structure of the scales which could help with memorizing.

Also, something that I have found very helpful is playing through all the scales very slowly and listening very carefully to every single note, wherever possible compare the notes to open strings to make sure they are in tune, concentrate on just one small section (4-5 notes) at a time and only move on when you have mastered that little section. I found that doing this improved my intonation and confidence significantly!

Good luck :)

October 3, 2011 at 02:53 AM ·

A few ideas, in no particular order.

Practice slowly. Practice in rhythms.

Problems in shifting, look at Yost shiffting exercises.

For legato and fluidity, look at Schradieck. If you can do the first 3 pages you're golden.

Try to not press too hard with the left hand. This may help you with the fingerings. Yost will help you get a sense of how much to press.

Try to not press too hard with the bow arm. You could try the Simon Fischer tone production exercises to get a good sense of how you want to bow your scales.

Practice what you think they will test you on.

This may be too much to have to do in a short amount of time. But if you can do all of that I would think that you'd be able to play some decent scales.

October 3, 2011 at 04:54 AM ·

Good luck with your exam!

October 3, 2011 at 07:08 AM ·

There are three finger patterns only for each of the major and minor melodic and harmonic scales.The finger pattern for g starting from the open string, for a flat and a starting from the first finger and all the rest starting from the second finger.The major and harmonic minors are similar fingering in that you are only going to flatten the third and the sixth.The melodic minor just has the flattened third going up and you flatten the seventh and sixth coming down.Practice with a long tonic(first note) at first as this will give you a good base.Work very hard on the b majors and minors as this is the basis of all other scales.C starts in 2nd pos, din third etc using the same fingerings

October 3, 2011 at 09:33 AM ·

 Thank you Peter, I know that many scales have a finger pattern which they share I have learnt them :) (and I have learnt the ones in question in this thread too)  I don't have difficulties in remembering them....

 but it's Alex (the OP) who has obvious difficulties with the grade 8 syllabus, that's why I was suggesting as much practice as possible in this next 4 weeks :), something which may help him not just with that but also with mastering the other aspects of the syllabus (he has not gone in details whether he is confident with other aspects such as keeping a good tone over the slurred 3 octave scales etc).  Maybe with lots of practice he will get the knowledge and most importantly the 'confidence' to 'go for it' at the exam....I hope so...I wish you all the best Alex 

October 3, 2011 at 11:18 AM ·

October 3, 2011 at 12:07 PM ·

 just do it, wan.

"To those who had had the exam, what are some scales that are often or most likely to be required in the exam?"

you don't have to have had the exam to know the ans to that question.  always the ones you are least prepared for:)!

even if you blank out during the exam, by following what others have suggested about the finger relationships, if you can find the first note, you should be able to figure/finger things out on the spot.  of course, practice that way at home by challenging yourself randomly.



October 3, 2011 at 12:54 PM ·

 Hello! :)

I agree with the other posters that the best way to fix this problem is practice. 

Actually the problem that you had was my problem before and because of that my teacher did not let me join in our Grandparents day concert. It hurt's but because of that i practice every day and master the scaling. So my advice with you is that keep in mind that you can do the things that others can just practice.practice and practice.. :)

October 3, 2011 at 01:07 PM ·

 One thing I found VERY helpful in using what I'd learned about scales in the 'real' world was to start all scales on the open G string, regardless of what scale I was playing.  That freed me from the comfort of the same pattern over and over, taught me where each scale 'fits' on the instrument as a whole, and kept my attention working much more consistently.  I had learned them initially the traditional way (do-do), but now I use the whole range of the instrument for each scale--much 'bigger' picture.

October 3, 2011 at 01:16 PM ·

Thank you everyone :)

Maybe there is really no shortcut to scales. I have played violin for at least half of a decade and I'm quite ashamed of myself that I still do not know how to play a scale properly :(

I'm practising more than 2 hours a day now to catch up. I've just made some progress just now. :) I hope I'm not hurting myself with the intense practise sessions. (I've tried that on my guitar and it was not nice) But I will try to not push myself too hard. :)

I just went through the scales and tried to fingure out the figering pattern for the scales. At least I know the structure for major/minor scales so I should be able to play something in the exam even I forgot the fingering.

One question I have is I ascend on the A string (to third position) and should I descend on the E string or the A string? On my book I remember the F, F sharp and G etc. scales descend on the E string which I think it is pretty nice, isn't it? What is the difference anyway? Why should I descend on the A string when it is easier (for me) on E string?

Hmm...and what's the 'Yost shiffting exercises' and 'Schradieck'? I have just started to focus on violin and do not know much about things related violin.

Thanks again and perhaps I will share my exam results (at least my scale part) with you guys once I receive it, which will be quite far away from now haha.

And by the way, this forum is one of the most friendly and active forums I've seen in a while! :)



October 3, 2011 at 03:46 PM ·

 Yost System for the Violin (out of print--there are several threads about  here on v-com); the volume on changing positions is available on IMSLP--with the caveat that it "may" not be legally downloadable in the US--and is not legally downloadable in the EU.

Schradieck Complete Scale Studies for the violin are exhaustive, and valuable. from one position, to one string, up levels of difficulty, they are solid.  They are both in print and available on IMSLP.

There are many ways to finger up and down the scales.  I usually go up and down on A string, simply for the practice, but a lot may depend (later) on the piece you are encountering a scale in.  While it's valuable to select one way to learn, you will develop more flexibility if you don't tie yourself to one pattern too devotedly.

October 3, 2011 at 03:54 PM ·

 Alex, looks like this guy goes down on the E string like you do, though I don't understand what he says ;) 

October 3, 2011 at 04:37 PM ·

One secret to playing scales successfully in a ABRSM exam is to play them so fast that the examiner won't be able to tell if they are out of tune or not (especially if the examiner is a pianist). (wink).

October 3, 2011 at 04:50 PM ·

 I find that last tip works really well if playing anything by Wagner or R.Strauss!

October 3, 2011 at 05:04 PM ·

But seriously,  even at the grand old age of ****** I still find that the best way to master ANY difficult technical work is to practise SLOWLY.   Perhaps you are panicking too much about the ultimate speed required to play these scales ?  Slow practise while listening hard to every interval helps you play with correct intonation and  enables you to analyse what you're doing .

Don't just concentrate on what the fingers are doing....think about your left arm position..are you moving it under the instrument successfully enough to enable comfortable playing in the higher positions? for instance.

   And about the bowing arm....a relaxed right arm/hand automatically relaxes the left arm/hand during your slow practise you could perhaps think about relaxing the arm and bow hold more.

Hope this is some help. It works for me anyway.   Good luck with the exam :)

October 3, 2011 at 05:54 PM ·

Alex--where do you have your biggest problems.  You said you understand the scale structure, so I'm guessing you're ok with "playing the right notes"--if not of course that's the best place to start and I second those who talk about figuring out the scale pattern-I teach my students the major and minor patterns and have them develop their own scales from there in all keys, before we even worry about key sig. and fingering etc.  and that might be helpful if you are having trouble actually with the pattern of notes.  But if not, what else?  It sounds like fingerings are an issue--speed?  technique?  intonation?   It might help you to isolate what your particulat problems are and then work on them one at a time.  What you can do well in one scale will for the most part carry into all the others, so work based on a concept rather than a scale at a time.  At least that's my recommendation  :) hope it goes well!

October 4, 2011 at 03:05 AM ·

 My only words of advice (and they are also to myself):

1 - memorize the finger patterns

2- practice with a drone 

3 - focus on maintaining the tone from frog to tip with smooth bow changes

4 - practice #1 - #3 ever so slowly

October 4, 2011 at 01:19 PM ·

@Carter Asbill

For some answers to your question about playing open strings on the way up and using the fourth finger on the way down in first position scales, go to and type open string versus fourth finger.  Doing so will bring up a thread on this same question.

March 27, 2017 at 01:23 PM · Does anyone have any advice for hitting the higher notes? I find it hard to get them in tune, especially in arpeggios! I can never stretch my fourth finger enough

March 27, 2017 at 03:11 PM · The 4th finger shouldn't be a stretch. The hand should always be balanced so that you can comfortably place the 4th finger (and in many cases, comfortably place a 4th finger extension as well).

March 27, 2017 at 03:51 PM · Indeed Aoife, your question is not very clear. Are you perhaps referring to a situation such as a 2-octave C-major scale played in first position, with the top C note played with extended fourth finger? The trick there is, as Lydia says, not really trying to literally extend your fourth finger (which is impossible anyway) but instead extend with the whole hand. The feeling should be, in the C-major scale example, that you balance upward, using the second finger as a pivot (which is at that time placed on G on the E-string, the note just prior to the top C). But you have to make sure that doing this does not make that G go sharp because you have to play it immediately again when descending the scale. So, the whole hand should be flexible to absorb that movement. It is difficult to explain in writing, sorry, I tried :-)

March 28, 2017 at 10:25 AM · The OP is from 2011: how are you doing now, Alex?

March 28, 2017 at 01:06 PM · You're right Mrs. Leong, I have trouble placing sometimes the forth finger and the forth extension. This can be fixed by properly placing the hand in a balanced position, which I don't always do. But once I do, it's really easy to use even an extension of the forth finger completely relaxed.

Are scales really THAT useful and helpful?

When a violinist should start practicing them like seriously, using 1/3 of the time practicing scales?

I've never heard a beginner practicing scales in a serious way.

Also, given a major scale, G major for example. What kind of bowings and things you do when playing G major?

What positions do you use and how high (octaves) you reach?

March 28, 2017 at 03:35 PM · Scales, arpeggios, and other scale-like exercises are useful because they help you train to do common patterns in a fully-automatic fashion, and they help develop your ear.

Because I don't practice a lot, I tend to skip the scales. However, my teacher is fond of combining bowing exercises and other stuff with scales, which means that some of my time goes towards scales anyway.

March 28, 2017 at 06:04 PM · Thanks. Reading all the stuff and advantages about practicing scales is making me more aware about them and from on I wanna spend some time of my practice on them scales.

What about the age?

I really don't think any beginner violinist is going to practice them. When you started?, in the first 4-5 years, did your teacher or you yourself practiced a lot of the time scales?

From what I've heard and saw in my music school, none of the beginners (4-5 years playing) is practicing scales at all, neither our teachers say that they are a must for our everyday routine. I guess more advanced violinists in my music school are taught to practice scales.

March 28, 2017 at 06:58 PM · Tim, scales are pretty foundational. They are sort of the most basic building blocks of violin technique. I would be wary of a school that doesn't do scales for years. As a child, I did some scales, but not consistently and not enough, and more importantly, I didn't really listen to myself. When I started with my teacher now, I got really serious about scales, and it has helped my playing out a lot.

You don't have to start out really complicated. You start with one octave scales in something simple, like g major, d major or c major. You keep adding different key signatures, and minor scales, and then add a second octave, and then a third later, and then finally a fourth in some cases. You also start out learning arpeggios, which are really important as well.

I don't know anything about your teacher, but a good teacher can teach you how to play scales and listen to yourself. I would not recommend a teacher that doesn't use scales.

Although the first page of Schradieck is just a bunch of finger patterns on one string in the same position, so you could start on those before even doing scales to simplify even more. They are shown slurred, but you could play them one note per bow, then speed up to two notes and so on, but never going faster than you can make a nice sound and play in tune.

March 28, 2017 at 08:39 PM · Well, it's not that teachers in my music school don't teach scales, but they surely don't take them THAT seriously, at least in the beginner level which is the environment I move around (from 3 to 5 years playing the violin). I myself started in my first 1-2 months with G, D and A major scales, but as soon as my teacher saw I was starting to sound "in tune", we switched to repertoire, easy songs, etc...

Other students friends of mine don't talk about practicing scales, they mostly practice the pieces they're gonna play in the internal concerts of the school, and also etudes, but that's it.

So to sum up, it's not that they don't teach scales or don't want us to practice scales, but they surely don't make us look at them as a very fundamental thing you must do everyday, as I see here or read in other places or even Itzhak himself has said. May be it's because my music school is more into "having fun" than preparing us for an Audition to enter a Conservatoire.

March 28, 2017 at 09:32 PM · I think I learned to play basic one-octave scales really early on -- in the Suzuki book 1 sort of timeframe -- but I never spent significant time working on them as a raw beginner.

By the time I hit Suzuki book 4, though, at least half of my practice time was devoted to practicing scales and exercises -- two-octave scales and arpeggios, plus Sevcik and Schradieck.

March 28, 2017 at 09:55 PM · I don't know about music schools' method of teaching or anything, but I'm a beginner and I practice scales (albeit the same 4, admittedly) and open strings every day. Then Schradiek exercises, then a song. No wonder I only went through 3 short, one page songs in 3 months :)

March 29, 2017 at 06:21 PM · 4th finger on the ultra high notes? That depends on the length of your 4th finger, the stretch between the thumb and first finger, and how far you can turn your left fore-arm. I looked at a youtube clip of Szigeti; his 4th finger looks as long as my second finger! On the very high positions my third finger reaches farther than my fourth, so I avoid using the fourth up there. Exception; I can do the 1-4 extension , if I lift the second and third, get them out of the way. Intonation: The half-steps are about 1/4 inch up there, and my fingers are 1/2 inch wide, so I try to play all 1/2 steps with the same finger. jq

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