Scale Routines

March 1, 2005 at 06:05 AM · I am curious to know what people's scale routines are. How do you go about picking which keys, how many keys, which intervals (3rds, 4ths, etc.), arpeggios, bowings, etc. to practice each day and for how long? Thanks.

Replies (36)

March 1, 2005 at 06:39 AM · Greetings,

can`t be bothered to post a routine right now.

But, what I have been doing a lot more of is thirds staying on two strings up the fingerboard. First using 13 and then 24 before doing the actual 1324 on two strings. For me this is more helpful than regualr thirds scale practice. I also do a lot of the same with fingered octaves and fifths. The fifths on one string is a curiously neglected scale.

A lot of the kinds of scales I work on come from the Ricci book on left hand technique.



March 1, 2005 at 07:15 AM · How do you go about picking which keys, how many keys, which intervals (3rds, 4ths, etc.), arpeggios, bowings, etc. to practice each day and for how long?

Answer: My teacher tells me.

March 1, 2005 at 08:27 AM · I have a fairly set technical work regieme:

One octave, slow bows.

Modes across the strings, focussing on strength of fingers

Arpeggios, FLesch

One string scales and arpeggios

3 octave scales grouped in 3, 6 and 9 (also 4 octaves when doing G, Ab and A)

2 octave scale in 3rds

2 octave scale in 8ve's

Shifting Excercises (from Sevcik I think) - 2nds and 3rds

Etudes (Usually Kreutzer 2, 5 and 13, then maybe 4, or another one that i'm working on. Currently replacing K2 with passages from Mozart 4)

Also, I usually vary the scales I work on, so that I can work them all up to a good stage. As I'm at uni, I need to do the scales that suit my technical exam in the middle of the year - so I'm doing Ab, C and E. Eventually, I think I'll just do one key a day, and then the clapping fingers (modes) and 3 octave scale at the start of each practice session, depending on the key of the piece i'm working on.

March 1, 2005 at 02:45 PM · Last fall I increased the scale component of my practice sessions. Now during each practice session I do scales in all keys, more or less following the circle of 5th’s:

1)Pick a key, play the scale,

2a)if it was a minor key, go down a major 3rd to get to the next major scale

2b) if it was a major key, go down a minor 3rd to get to the next minor scale

so that you’re alternating major & minor

3) keep going ‘til you’re back at you’re starting key

for example start with c-major, down a minor 3rd= a-minor, down a major 3rd= f-major, etc….

I start with a different key each session and do 3-octaves with a different bow pattern for each scale. I always start with 1 bow per note (long bows), then 2, then 2 slur 2 single, then it varies from there but always includes 4, 8, 12, 24 & 48 per bow, some off-string bowing, and fast repeated notes (my nemesis).

Once I get back to my starting key, I do a one octave scale on each of the 4-strings in that key plus the arpeggios, rising thirds & chromatic scale combination à la Flesch, first single bows then slurred (4 or 3 per bow), then I do the arpeggios & rising thirds in 3 octaves, single notes then 3,4,6 or 8/bow…. still have to incorporate the 3-octave chromatic scale, plus I need to work in some double stops.

That plus sight-reading constitutes my bare-minimum practice session.

March 1, 2005 at 03:12 PM · I'm in the middle of a rather interesting transformation. What I'm doing now is probably a middle stage, but there elements of it that I will probably keep in my routines always. Having pretty well recovered my lost ability to play, I am nonetheless dissatisfied to have "come back" to a certain level - I have learned a lot in the process. Almost anything I am reviewing now, or any new thing, has the same reaction: "This can be done in a better way." and the element engendering that reaction is explored. (Wait, I'm getting to the scales). The "element" can be something like how I've been (not) handling bow distribution, how I'm creating the space between a low first finger and a high something else finger, what the anticipatory movement might be onto the next string etc. Whatever it is within that particular thing I'm working on that seems it "could be done in a better way" - what is it within that which will make it better? And what I consider possibly the most essential part of my practice will be the focus on that thing, which is intense, concentrated, exploratory, serene (there can be no tension) and exhausting within about 10 minutes. After that I go on to regular playing but if I've managed to find my way to one "better way" then it starts incorporating itself into my playing. During a lesson, when something falters, I'm sometimes able to draw upon such a small thing which can appy itself across the board.

So what I practise in terms of scales is not important as how I practise it. I am fortunate in a way that when I was still devoid of a lot of my ability to play from whatever had happened, I literally could not practise most of what had been assigned to me. I would have practised them the conventional, routine way - and through habit, it would have stuck. Last week I did three scales in their major and minor versions as part of the beginning of my lesson. The second set had been difficult last year and I had worked on it very seldom. In any case, E is like Eb brought down a half-step, and I had aced Eb before my playing had fallen apart so it wasn't a priority for me. F was the only one that I could get any kind of handle on, so I had practised it A LOT last year and it is "satisfactory" but has its awkward moments, and more importantly, when intonation suffers I find it harder to fix because I don't seem to have the "tools" as readily - something has become ingrained. Db was an absolute impossibility for me and I did not touch it at all last year, though once in a while I took a stab at it.

Now here is the interesting part. The F that I had practised a lot conventionally sucks in my eyes. It needs a complete overhaul. The E and Db scales are quite different from each other in terms of form, hand shape etc. yet I have the same feeling of control, strength, and fluidity in both. I barely practised them as scales. That is, I did practise them, but the bulk of my practice and the bulk of my attention and concentration went toward those "elements" and honing them. Now that I have them, and they have become automatic, I can start practising those two scales in a more routine manner and put my attention elsewhere.

I am working toward my particular strengths and weaknesses, and someone else may have entirely different ones - so mine is not a template in that sense. However, this approach has made a huge difference for me which is why I'm sharing. It reminds me a bit about a certain story about scaly fish.

March 1, 2005 at 04:24 PM · The way I most like to study scales is quite opposite to going through a routine. It involves more thinking and self evaluation. The guiding force is the daily self-assigning of priorities in my playing. For example, if my focus of vibrato on high position notes is something I'm especially wanting to improve, I'll play a slow, high position scale with vibrato. If I'm questioning my intonation during the f# minor section of a certain piece, I'll practice the f# minor scale. If I want to brush up on left hand articulation of fast legato passages I'll practice a fast legato scale with concentration directed at listening to the articulation. From my point of view, the word routine represents something to avoid during practice. It may be said that we play the violin with our brain, not our hands. The more one uses one's brain, the better it gets at playing the violin.

March 1, 2005 at 04:46 PM · I agree completely with Oliver.

That being said it happens all too frequently that people practice the things they are good at too much and neglect their weak points when practicing scales. A good example of this is people who have a problem playing freely near the frog so most of their scale practice is done in other parts of the bow.

Scales are excellent for working on problems in technique. The moment you start letting your fingers dictate the practice you will lose much of the effectiveness of scale practice.

March 1, 2005 at 05:41 PM · I, too, like Oliver's approach very much. It is helpful to assess your playing, find some weakness, and work on it using the scales as a vehicle. It's true that you play the violin with your mind, not your fingers. Even if you're not consciously thinking about your fingers, your brain is directing a set of fine, diverse movements. If you drill a lot, you don't have to think consciously. The movements become like second nature. However, the subconscious part of the brain is still the conductor.

March 1, 2005 at 06:06 PM · Ditto on Oliver's approach. I feel like erasing mine since he says it in a much better way with more finesse. I'm discovering mine. Oliver, you have yours firmly in hand at a much more sophisticated level.

March 1, 2005 at 09:40 PM · I dont have galamian or felsch scale books yet - im curious what is the best way to play a 3 (or 4)octave scale... when do you shift and on what string?

I have some of my own ideas but woud like to hear someone else answer the question

March 2, 2005 at 01:12 AM · Greetings,

although I agree completley with the approach and mehod Oliver is advocating I also think that for less advanced players it is necessray to have a routine that covers a lot of basic stuff everyday as well, even if you don`t feel that is a particular weakness at a given moment.

I also think ther eis a rather complex question which may not have a clear answer about works like Dounis Artists Technique. Dounis and many otehrs have argued tha scales are such a complex integration og techniques that one is well advised to practice preliminary movemnst and exercises before beginning the scale work. To what etxent does one call the Dounis book scales? Are even simpler exericses for warming up and basic bowings such as open string bow distribtion exericses, martele and so forth part of scle practice?

As Oliver says, ther eis nothing worse thna mindles sroutine so it is also advisable to have a working knowledge of many diffent routines and the abilty to change them.

I believe on of the best ways to integrate scale practice and your playing in general (usually they are two separate entities-especially in beginners who view scales as some kind of perverted torture) is to take Olivers point to the limit and -always- have part of your scale time using bowings that are giving you trouble in pieces and also practicing scales from pieces . For example, the triplet thirds from the first movement of the Mendellsohn, any thirds and tenths form the Paginini Barucaba variations and thne caprices and so on.



March 2, 2005 at 01:48 AM · Hi,

Good question... Oliver and Buri's advice is good. For me it begins with the following question: are you practicing scales to improve something in your technique, to learn them, or to preserve your technique. That is for me question no. 1. Second, how much time do you have to practice. I think that from that then you can pick what you want to do. For me, I practice scales to preserve my technique. I have excercises also for specific things, then subscribe to the basics (as I am short of time): i.e. three octaves (Galamian style) with Flesch arpeggios, broken thirds, and chromatics, then 3rds, 6ths, 8ves, fingered 8ves, tenths and harmonics. I follow the Flesch practice suggestion. As for keys, I pick one a day, going through the circle of fifths and alternating between the major and its relative minor.

Personally, I find that scales are good, but that if you are looking to solve something very specific and are not short on time, there are more practical ways and exercises to design to solve them. Scales are really for me a review of technique (they require everything). Just a personal thought... Nonetheless, there is no way to live without them in my opinion.


March 2, 2005 at 06:54 AM · Another advantage of Oliver's approach is that it gives me motivation. If I have to play scales just because I have to play them, I don't want to. On the other hand, if I see them as a convenient vehicle for getting where I want to go, I'll do them gladly.

March 2, 2005 at 08:48 AM · Scott,

The basic Flesch fingering (for scales above A) is:

234 1234 121234 12121234 44321321321 4321 4321 432

There is a very interesting fingering pattern I heard Milstein used which basically means starting with first finger then going up every half tone so Major key is like this: 12334 122344 12334 11234 443211 43321 443221 43321

It is very useful to know both fingerings.

March 16, 2005 at 01:28 PM · hmmm well once every few weeks i get out my homework book (that i decorated with pretty pictures of violins) and see what my teacher has assigned me. I get half way through the top octave on a three octave scale and somhow like magic start playing my new favourite piece for the week. Works pretty well for me.

March 16, 2005 at 02:08 PM · Hi,

And what does your teacher say at your next lesson?


March 17, 2005 at 03:19 AM · She says how wonderfuly i play my pieces :-b

March 17, 2005 at 04:50 AM · My daily routine is all the scales (Maj. and min.) 3 octaves. Also in thirds, octaves, and fingered octaves and sometimes 6ths. If I'm ambitious I'll do apreggios too but those are often covered in my other tech. exercise. I use my own fingerings that are a derivative of Galamians.

It takes about an hour but really orientates the hand.


March 17, 2005 at 06:33 AM · 4 octave scales A-C major or minor depending on the week. 1,2,4,8,16,32 per bow.

4 octave arpeggios flesch (8 modes) 4,12 per bow.

3rds, 6ths, octaves, fingered octaves, tenths - 1,2,4,8(in my dreams) per bow

kreutzer no.2 at 5 points in the bow - great warmup...even if youre a pro (you can just go faster and faster!)

vibrato exercise - take a third and slide up a third and then back down over and over again using your wrist - trick is to not slide to any specific note, but rather just keep the pitch changing at a constant rate back and forth.


my favorite exercises are ones i learned from watching heifetz in from heifetz/piatagosrky video.

if i practice piano before violin, it really warms me up - so any pianists should try that

one day, i hope be able to put up "Scriabin thirds etude" as something ill exercise haha. if anyone here plays it, i bet its an awesome exercise

March 17, 2005 at 12:35 PM · Hi,

Luke: Hmmm... To each teacher their own I guess.

D Kurganov: I am assuming that by the Heifetz video you are refering to the without the bow exercise from the Flesch Urstudien that he is using, right?


March 17, 2005 at 03:12 PM · not familiar with that one...though id love to be. any exercise he was fond of is definitely worth doing. I was talking about that left hand only exercise where he lifts each finger as high as possible while keeping the others down and then slams it on the fingerboard, over and over...i find it works wonders towards having lightening fast fingers.

another exercise is the one in thirds you see him doing breifly at the start of the video.

Also the beethoven-violin-concerto-like run he plays is very nice.

March 17, 2005 at 03:28 PM · The exercise you are referencing from the video is by Carl Flesch...that is what Christian is trying to tell you. It is available from Shar. Heifetz advocated practicing scales and trills, and he said this Flesch exercise was the best he had found. It's from a book called the Urstudien. There are some useful bowing exercises in there as well.


March 17, 2005 at 06:40 PM · Hi,

Thank you Benjamin. D.K., yes, the exercise Heifetz uses it the first exercise in the Flesch Urstudien, a silent left hand only exercise.


March 17, 2005 at 11:51 PM · thanks! im buying it asap! itll go nicely with my scale book i hope

March 18, 2005 at 03:50 AM · That's just wishful thinking actually. We go through all my technical work and get it right before i'm even aloud to play my stuff.

March 19, 2005 at 12:57 AM · my daily technical workout is someting like this.

open strings, then open string exercises.

basic shifting exercises.

scales, 1,2,3,4,6,8,12,16, 24 notes per bow, usually one or two keys. then i do some galamian rythms chosen at random. then arpeggios. either flesch or galamian pattern.

then i go through the intervals in order. unisons, 2nd, 3rd 4ths etc up to tenths. (i dont do ninths, maybe i should).

then usually kreutzer 2-12 (usually take a couple and practice them in various ways, try to mix it up). then more complicated etudes or paganini or something.

this is by no means set in stone for me, occasionally i even (GASP) forgoe scales for some reason or leave out kreutzer or whatever.

March 20, 2005 at 03:55 AM · I practice scales to practice scales (one of Christian's three choices - all good). I play them very slowly with whole bows, singing each note first and then matching, and then finding the resonance in my violin on that note. As I do that, my whole structure starts to line up with my violin and become a whole unit. I'll choose a scale to practice for some time (days, weeks, months...) and for the first days it will be very slow work. My goal is to hit each note in tune with the violin fully resonant for all of the bow. That usually takes me some time. (I like to pick difficult scales for the violin, ie. Eb, F#, etc., so that I can really work at expressive intonation within the confines of the violin resonance.) At the end of each session (however much time I've alloted for myself), I'll remember where I was and start there the next day. After I feel like I'm playing the scale perfectly in tune, then I start putting a rhythmic structure to it. I do the Galamian 2's, 3's, etc. I'll practice speed rhythms as another intonation exercise but with speed. I do an add-a-note exercise for speed as well. I work on increasing notch by notch on the metronome in all the rhythms, making sure I stay in tune at each speed before I go to the next. It can be kind of a meditational type of practice.

Over time, I add one string scales, thirds, sixths, octaves, etc., which I tend to do going up on one set of strings, rather than the three octave versions. But for double stops, I tend to lean toward Sevcik and do that separately from scale practice.

I disagree with Oliver about a routine. One thing I think we can learn from our competitive sports friends is that routines are very important for disciplining the mind. Just because one has a routine doesn't mean the mind has to go to sleep - quite the contrary - it should sharpen to greater and greater detail by the day.

In addition, since most of us gear practicing toward performance, a routine is crucial to develop. I make my students go through a routine starting with their feet every single time they play for me. When one is nervous in a performance, the habit of that kind of step by step concentration can help to screen out extraneous mental noise.


March 20, 2005 at 07:01 AM · Feet?

March 20, 2005 at 04:13 PM · When I work on scales I'm concentrating on the following things:

1. Intonation

2. Finger action

3. Shifts (quality of; relaxed, not jerky)

4. String changes (Legato left hand; no "bumps" in the right, gradually approaching the new string)

5. Posture (holding the instrument up, position of feet, etc.)

I hardly ever just play a scale. I break them up into pieces and make little exercises out of them for finger action; I take all the shifts out and work on them seperately. Then I put it all back together slowly, and then more quickly. I practice legato most of the time because that shows up flaws in the left hand, and then I'll do the bowing that is given with that scale to correlate the hands.

I only practice Flesch, and I spend a LOT of time on the scales on one string; I feel these are very important. It takes a lot of time to go through all this, but I think it is worth it. I practice scales about three hours a day.

If you look at Sevcik's Prepatory shifting studies and Opus 1 Pt. 1, they can give you good ideas about how to practice Flesch. I also recommend studying Kievman's "Virtuoso Violin Technique." I hope this is helpful.

March 20, 2005 at 04:25 PM · I look at my piece and see what types of scales and arpeggios are in the piece and then practice those scales. When I was working on Caprice Vennois by Kreisler I work on my chromatic scale down my D string from a B down to and F#... the B on the E string, not the easy one in thrid pos on the D string... It was way up there. I also worked on B minor and B major scales, as those were the main keys that the piece was in. The next few weeks I am working on Symphonie Espangole... so I am working on a G minor arpeggio with a major sixth thrown in there (E natural). I am also working on D harmonic and melodic minor scales as well as A major and F major scales and arpeggios. I am basically saying look at your piece you are playing and determine what key it is in and play the major, parallel and relative minor scales. Plus the arpeggios

March 20, 2005 at 04:35 PM · I don't really have a scales routine but I need one. I wish that my teacher assigned specific work for me to do on technique, but in reality we've only spent about 15 mins on it all year. And he has never given me the fingering for my interval scales, which I'm supposed to learn for my grade 9. He said he needed some time to work them out and he'd get them to me soon. Oh well, I'm sure he's just forgotten.

Anyway, I should stop complaining. I like to warm up with A major and minor scales, slowly and usually with about 4 notes in a bow to start, and then more. I then pick one of my exam scales (Eb, E, and F) and work on it very slowly, one octave at a time, isolating shifts, etc. I start with the major scale and then work on the minor ones. For studies, I am working on Krutzer 19 and 24 right now, but I only work on one each day, and sometimes not even a entire one because I like to work through them very thoroughly.

This may sound a little silly, but have you ever heard of/tried practicing scales with a comic book, or other simple book, on your stand? I thought this was a very strange idea, but I tried it and I think that exersizing my mind by focussing on the words while I practice sort of sharpens my concentration. My brain doesn't get bored with repetition, and by not looking at my hands I learn the shifts and everything by feel and by ear. I find that I can practice scales for longer this way. I wouldn't do this for all technical practice of course, just scales and arpeggios that I've already worked out pretty well. It doesn't work if you are reading anything complicated or overy interesting though, as I found out when trying to study biology while I practiced :) The Endocrine system was too distracting.

March 20, 2005 at 04:32 PM · Yes, Inge: feet! ;-)

Feet in place under hips, knees loose, trunk straight ahead, shoulders down, head straight, eyes level, violin across from nose, thumb under neck across from second finger, fingers hanging position on pads, bow fingers in place, set in a square on string, weight in elbow and wrist, check shoulders again, breathe and start. It is a routine that starts with the feet and checks off each important factor in good position (like you check a car or plane before you start going).

Dr. Nideffer says that competitive sports people have a similar routine they always go through before they start. It is a way of bringing in the focus of the mind to narrow internal. Once you start, of course the mind has to be able to change focus as needed, but prior to starting when nervous, that narrow focus can be hard to achieve. So practicing a routine can help that. It becomes a familiar warm up suit to slip into.


March 20, 2005 at 05:32 PM · Thanks, Lisa. Now I have the context. For me thinking about my feet grounds me and releases tension from the upper back, which is why I asked. I was really intrigued by your slow practice of scales they way you described it in the previous post, and was practically savouring the experience second-hand. It made so much sense to me.

Everybody is going to be practising different scales and such depending on their level and repertoire of the moment, so it is the hows that are very helpful.

March 20, 2005 at 09:58 PM · i still maintain that the most important thing to do when playing scales is listen very carefully.

the msot you listen to your own sound carefully and objectively the more you begin to form your own particular sound. also the more you listen to the space between various intervals the more in tune it becomes. its so easy to play scales automatically while spacing out and thinking about nothing. funny, listening is the most basic thing you can do but its amazing how often we DONT do it.

March 21, 2005 at 01:11 AM · Alexandra,

Let me encourage you to communicate with your teacher. You may have different goals and expectations. Your teacher may be approaching things differently than you would like for a specific reason, or may not know what you would like out of your lessons. Talk often about these things, and don't let unspoken problems build over time. You might also be able to look back and see how your teacher has helped you in unexpected ways and use those experiences to build your trust in his or her methods.

March 21, 2005 at 11:47 PM · Thanks,

It's not that I really have problems with his teaching, he is just absent-minded and forgets things (last time I asked about technique he apologized because he forgot I was taking an exam and that I needed to know what scales to learn). I will remind him that I am worried about it.

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