Help on developing consistency on scales and technical stuff

July 25, 2019, 8:53 AM · Hi, its the summer right now, and during June I vowed that I would practice as much as possible and get better before I join my youth Phil orchestra. Btw I'm fourteen.
Anyway, I did practice pretty often, including scales and etudes for about an hour, but I can't seem to develop the kind of professional consistency that professional violinists have with scales or arpeggios. I can easily slide sharp or flat no matter how much I practice. I am a pretty advanced player for my age, not super technically impressive, but I guess I have talent and musicality. Sadly that doesn't help me with good technique. You can be born with great talent, but you can't be born with fingered octaves lol (quoting somebody)
Do you guys have any tips or exercises to help develop a consistent, clear, and almost mechanical (but not tense!) left hand for scales?

Thanks very much,

Replies (18)

July 25, 2019, 9:02 AM · Well I would suggest sitting at a piano or something and sing through the scale before playing it. That way you will have the sound of the scale in your head when you start playing said scale
July 25, 2019, 9:40 AM · Jamie, I do! But it's not so easy to describe it concisely in a forum post. Do you have a private teacher you can ask for help? If you like, I can describe the scales practice progression I use for students at your level, but it will be a long post!
July 25, 2019, 9:55 AM · Consistently play in tune during these excercises. Practice very slow and notice the out of tune notes and play them again but in tune and keep doing that until you can do it many times in a row. There isn’t really any shortcut.
July 25, 2019, 10:10 AM · Go way slow. And by way slow, I don't mean 70 or 60 BPM. I mean really super slow so you can hear every detail of every note. Recording your scales helps a lot as well. Speed will come on its own.

Also remember that focusing intensely for an hour straight is basically impossible, no matter who you are. If you feel your eyes start to glaze over and that you're playing your scale just to be able to say that you played it today, switch to a new exercise. Or even play a few minutes of a piece you like, to rest a little bit.

July 25, 2019, 10:11 AM · I agree with Mark.

My guess is that you are practicing too fast and perhaps skipping some steps. I don't know if you meant "fingered octaves" as hyperbole or as a skill you are currently working on, but if the latter, you should stop immediately. You don't need fingered octaves at this point; focus on slow careful practice of the major and minor scales with arpeggios.

July 25, 2019, 11:27 AM · When we are practicing completely alone, the pitch can drift, for both mechanical and theoretical reasons (math). For some of the sharp keys you can rely on the resonance of the instrument and the open strings. For the flat keys, maybe use an electronic tuner as drone on the key-note.
Edited: July 25, 2019, 11:48 AM · Rather than practicing "pretty often" put in at least 30 minutes DAILY.

You have to do fully attentive practice, not just mechanical drill. You have to be analytical and thoughtful while you do your scales or you might as well spend your time on something else. You need to pre-hear the pitch correctly, and your finger needs to come down on the right spot. You need to figure out which of those two things is at fault -- or both.

To develop consistent finger control, do the first exercise in Schradieck op. 1 book 1. You have to be ultra-critical and sure that your finger drop for each pitch is identical each time. That exercise must be done with a metronome, with no tolerance for any unevenness.

If you're having trouble hearing the right pitches for the scale, try the Simon Fischer approach (he has a good "Scales" book). Play the tonic, the fourth, fifth, and octave. Now add the second and seventh. Then the third and sixth.

You also need to do arpeggios, scales in octaves, and arpeggios in octaves. Eventually you might also do scales in third and sixths and fingered octaves.

If you miss a note, go back a note or two and try to nail it correctly this time. Do NOT slide. If you're doing that, you're basically training yourself to miss-and-slide. You need several correct repetitions for each time you do it wrong.

July 25, 2019, 5:45 PM · Nate B....Perhaps describing it in a blog?
July 25, 2019, 6:36 PM · Two, or, better, at least three, 30 minute (45 minutes is better) sessions every day: you are teaching your body, you are teaching your mind. Never miss a day.

Seriously, three 45 minutes sessions every day will pay you the dividends you are looking for.

Next, follow the advice already offered by people in this thread. That is, make a list of the advice, and copy it seven times, and tick off each point you have noted every time you work out. (Print another seven copies for next week.) Use data, goals, plans, methods, in the same way an aspiring Olympic athlete uses data. (You might even add a mentor, and other support people, to your teacher-led team of assistants.

Give yourself time. You might need six months to cross a threshold. In two years, if all goes well, you will have the same complaints as you have today, but all your musician friends will know that you have made vast improvement. We are the last people to know that our technical practice has paid off, especially in an "area" where we can always improve.

Edited: July 25, 2019, 9:42 PM · It's very important to develop one's awareness. Are you listening for the smallest flaws? Not just intonation but also making sure your shifts and string changes are clean? Are you playing your scales with an even, focused tone? The thing is that your ability to catch tiny mistakes develops in parallel with your skill at overcoming them, and that's really why it's important at the start to go very very slowly. I second Lydia's suggestion to consider Fischer's methodical approach.
July 25, 2019, 9:42 PM · A bizarre detail is that one has to love practicing scales. After a while it becomes like a meditation and going through all cycle, one learns the difference in colours specific keys bring. Your instrument will start ringing and double stops will start producing the 3rd sound, almost like a growling beast. My favourites are written by Elizabeth Gilels, both 3 octaves and 4 octaves. The system is easy to learn by heart, since fingering is consistent. Unfortunately, they are difficult to find here in NA.
July 25, 2019, 11:09 PM · Thanks very much everybody! I'll certainly try to go slower . . .
Right now my problem is not hitting the right notes or intonations, but getting it on an almost mechanical, subconscious level. Right now, I can play all three octave or some four octave scales, but the intonation can occasionally slip. Just wanted to figure out how I can secure the correct movement of the scales in my head so I can play them with ease.
I think the problem might be inefficient practicing -- some days I can completely lose track of time and by the time I stop for dinner or something, I find my body aching and mind completely tired out after hours of scales. Lol somehow I love playing scales . . .
I'll try to go slower and no doubt that'll help. But of course it eventually all goes down to practicing more and efficiently. Thanks again!
July 25, 2019, 11:33 PM · Don't feel bad because you are imperfect at age 14. To give you some context, most of the professionals you're comparing yourself to have been practising scales (properly, i.e. what's been mentioned here) most days of their life since they were around your age.
July 26, 2019, 12:10 AM · Trying to get it to exist subconsciously has to be obtained through a zillion hours of fully conscious practice in which you pay attention to every tiny deviance and ruthlessly force yourself to analyze why the deviance occurred, and repeat it many times correctly. Correct placement of scales is NOT a "muscle" mechanical exercise. You are training your BRAIN -- having it traverse the same neural pathways exactly identically so many times that your body strengthens and optimizes those pathways. Your brain learns to play a scale in the same way that you've learned your multiplication tables well enough that you don't have to really think to know that 6x7 = 42.

I don't have the patience or time to practice that way any longer (I wish I did), but I can tell you that it works.

July 26, 2019, 2:50 AM · @Lydia, thats exactly what my teacher says
July 26, 2019, 12:41 PM · You know how you can sing a song in your head? You need to be imagining the note you are about to play in your head as you play.
July 27, 2019, 8:48 PM · Muscle memory = brain memory. Everything is connected with your brain.
Edited: July 28, 2019, 12:37 PM · While I am certainly not at the level of the OP, I am finding this thread quite helpful. My teacher has assigned me several arpeggios that include 3rd position (G maj, D maj), but the bear is the "F" arpeggio for C maj that starts in 2nd and hits 5th. This latter is related to a particular piece on which I'm working.

It seems to me that the advice and techniques discussed in this thread are helpful for anyone at any level - thank you!

I know there is no magic to getting comfortable with that F arpeggio than intentional practice - but if there is let me know ;-) My teacher is on vacation and I want to get comfortable with this arpeggio before I return to the piece with which it's related.

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