Beginner scales

March 20, 2019, 4:56 AM · Just curious, how long did it take you to get to a point where you're able to play the scales in tune almost consistently? I'm aware that it differs for every individual, just interested in getting to know other people's experiences. Also, were there any tips that helped you reach that point?

Replies (17)

March 20, 2019, 6:26 AM · No timetable really, just attentive use of a drone set to the tonic, and/or tuner, and concentration on how the hand and hand-frame feels for each scale. Ferret out the notes that are consistently too flat or sharp if present, and consciously anticipate and correct them. Start with two octave scales in keys such as Gmajor D major and A major to feel their differences. Graduate to three octaves when you want to work on shifting. The first experience with a shift might be in D Maj. for D on the A string. Hope this helps
Edited: March 20, 2019, 6:27 PM · I agree with Charles's post.

It really depends what you mean by "in tune." If you mean that your intonation is as accurate, secure, and reliable as a professional violinist's intonation, then I think if many of us are being honest we'll say this is a lifelong goal, even for something "simple" like three-octave scales. If you mean intonation good enough that you're not badly flubbing any notes, but maybe it's not truly sparkling intonation, I would say you can get there for two-octave scales (limited to, say, third position, so nothing higher than D) within a couple of years.

It's a double-edged kind of thing. Sure, you want your scales to be in tune. We all do. But you also want your scale practice to be teaching you what scales should sound like -- because they occur in your repertoire and you want your repertoire to be in tune.

If you do not have anyone teaching you how to practice scales, you might consider a book like "Basics" or "Scales" by Simon Fischer so that you can learn about how to space the intervals of standard major and minor scales, and how to practice secure string changes. Don't forget the important role of your left elbow!

Edited: March 20, 2019, 7:37 AM · Life-long lifetime experience of my own playing and that of others I have played with informs me that perfect intonation is very rare in amateur players. When I do (think I) hear it in people I make music with I usually learn they earned their college and graduate degrees in music - specializing in violin performance - and even if it has not been their major vocation it helped support them at sometime - before I knew them.

It is probably worthwhile to learn if you (i.e., "one") can even distinguish perfect intonation. Different people seem to have different pitch sensitivity and your cilia may not detect pitch very clearly. I think some people tend to hear sharp or flat and it is worthwhile to learn where you fall on that scale (no pun intended).

Recording your scales will inform you if you are actually playing them consistently and in tune to "your ear." So first you have to get correct intonation in your "ear." Playing slowly against a drone background can help maintain your intonation while going up and down a scale. If you can find a recording of perfectly played scales in all keys it would be informative.

But even correct intonation is not a precise thing. If your ears are in tune with a "perfectly tuned" piano and that directs where your fingers land when you play scales on an un-fretted string instrument many of your chords and double stops will be out of tune if you use the same finger placement when playing them as used for your scales.


March 20, 2019, 2:37 PM · -Agree with Paul and Andrew. Sorry for the repeat on my post!
March 20, 2019, 3:20 PM · Jumping off the discussion above: Does anyone have any recorded scale recommendations?

I am an amateur player and fear I will always cringe over my intonation...

March 20, 2019, 3:42 PM · Pamela I recommend dabbling around on the piano to get a decent feeling for how the scales should sound. Lacking a piano you can use https://www.apronus.com/music/flashpiano.htm
March 21, 2019, 10:05 AM · Pamela,
What do you mean by "recorded scale recommendations?"

Two suggestions for working on scales:

1. Make sure any note that is related to an open string, especially by 8ve or 5th is clear and resonant. That generally means 3rd and 4th fingers. Constantly check against open strings. The biggest mistake my students make is forgetting to check against open strings. Checking against open strings gets even more important as you play with more sharps and flats.

2. Make your half-steps REALLY half steps. Most people don't get them close enough.

March 21, 2019, 10:40 AM · Thing that helped me with my scales was a drone, but also knowing the half steps and whole steps in the scale. It helped me know where the next finger went.
March 21, 2019, 10:46 AM · agree with Scott,-- Tight half-steps, third and fourth fingers match the adjacent open strings. Common problems that I have noticed; the the whole step between first and second finger too wide, collapsed wrist pulls the third and fourth fingers flat, first finger not squared enough, not pulled back. Matching the piano or electronic tuner is a good intermediate step, on the road to "perfect" intonation which is relative to the key and the note's place in a chord.
March 22, 2019, 8:19 AM · Two and three octave scales for beginners? I'd suggest focusing on half a scale at a time and only that.
March 22, 2019, 8:26 AM · Beginners are often not assigned scales because beginners want to get to the point -- as quickly as possible -- where they can play a simple tune. So that becomes the emphasis. But an adult student learning the violin for the first time might "know" that scales are "important" and want that to be part of their education from the outset. In that case there are books that can help you, such as "Elementary Scales and Bowings" (in the Whistler series) or "Scale Studies" by Hrimaly (available on IMSLP). Hrimaly quickly takes you into difficult keys, but you can still work with it by limiting yourself to, say, one flat through three sharps.
March 22, 2019, 8:45 AM · Recorded scales:

Amazon has some cd's/mp3's for 2 and 3 octave scales. I haven't bought them yet, but they are there.

Violin Scales in Digital Music on Amazon

Edited: March 22, 2019, 8:49 AM · Matching a piano, is that really wise, given the tempered tuning of the piano? Sincere question. I don't know the answer.

Or does that allow you to play with piano as a part of your training?

March 22, 2019, 9:36 AM · David, violin-specific intonation aspects are important details for the more advanced violinist/interpreter. But if someone still needs to develop musicality and a good feeling for intonation and how a scale basically sounds (which I think is the question if someone is asking for recorded scales), I think it is very useful to explore scales hands-on on the piano without being restricted by the difficulties you have on violin to produce a good sound and intonation.
March 22, 2019, 9:52 AM · "Matching a piano, is that really wise, given the tempered tuning of the piano? Sincere question. I don't know the answer..."

The object of matching a piano--or a drone--is to get the student in the ballpark. We're not talking the finest theoretical degree of intonation here. It's the equivalent of teaching a child how to hit a baseball:
Doesn't have to be home runs. Just watching the ball and trying to connect is enough.

March 22, 2019, 5:50 PM ·
April 10, 2019, 8:21 AM · As a fellow beginner (I've been learning for 8 weeks now) I started playing the simple beginner scales that we play pretty much in tune in the first 3 or 4 weeks.

What's the secret?

Well, about 5 years ago I taught myself to draw from a famous book by Betty Edwards. I quickly understood that the key to drawing was to "look". "Looking" and "seeing" are very different things. When I wake up in the morning and open my eyes then I see but I don't look. That's because I know automatically where my glasses are :-).

If I see a pretty girl (which depends very much on which pair of glasses I'm wearing) or a pretty view then I will "look". I will pay attention while seeing.

Similarly the key to learning to play music is to "listen". "Listening" and "hearing" are different in the same way that "looking" and "seeing" are different. If I hear a bad note it will only register if I'm listening. When my three sons were learning to play instruments their bad notes only caused me discomfort if I was listening. If my attention was elsewhere I didn't suffer.

PS Occasionally my teacher will ask me to play a scale and he will play along. It is very reassuring when I hear the same notes played at the same time.

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