Warm ups: scales & etudes

May 9, 2023, 1:51 PM · I am a 15-year-old violinist who has played violin for almost 10 years. I recently played Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole, Wieniawski's Violin Concerto No. 2, and Bach's Partita No. 3 (Solo). My teacher recently decided that she would spend more time on the pieces during the lesson and listen to the scales/ études every 3–4 weeks. While I have asked her about some practicing tips, I would like to see how everyone else does it.

Do you practice major and minor of the same key at the same time (e.g., E major and E minor)? Or do you practice based on the piece (e.g., E major for Bach Partita No. 3, d minor for Wienaiwski concerto no. 2)? How many scales do you practice at a time? When do you change a scale?

When playing thirds, do you lead with the first/ second finger (higher string) or the third/ fourth finger (lower string)?

How many études do you practice at a time? Do you play from the same or different books (e.g., Kreutzer and Rode)? For long ones, do you play the entire étude or just the first page(s)?

How long/ what percentage of the practice time do you spend on warm-ups (scales and études)? I don't aspire to be a professional but am preparing for a competition now. I usually practice 1.5-2 hours a day.

Replies (14)

May 9, 2023, 2:52 PM · Do scales in the keys of your repertoire, but don't do just scales. Also do other intonation exercises (such as from Simon Fischer's "Basics" or other books). Do the relative minor (in natural, harmonic and melodic minor) of a major, and vice versa. You probably don't need your teacher to listen to scales as an advanced student.

(As a child, I was taught via the 'one key of scales, taken from Flesch, each week', approach, and I don't think that was very effective.)

Etudes are a different matter, since they are used to actually teach technique. Two etudes a week is normal, from my perspective and experience. I think in the first week, doing a small bite-sized chunk of the etude, but really trying to perfectly execute the technique, is best. (Usually the first few lines of the etude are fairly easy.) Then do the rest of it, since that's mostly learning a somewhat harder sequence of notes.

At least one-quarter of your time should be spent on technical work, and arguably more, depending on how much you're focused on technical progression.

May 9, 2023, 3:13 PM · My kids do one key a week for scales, more or less. My kids' teacher hasn't listened to my son play scales in probably 4 years, but my less advanced daughter (just finished Bruch on the violin) plays them for her every few weeks. They do the Flesch book, at least one of the single string scales, the 3 octave with lots of bowings, all the arpeggios, and scales in thirds, sixths, octaves, and tenths. Sometimes we also do other sets of scales if they are preparing for something, like running through all the scales in order.

For etudes, they usually have 1-2 books of etudes plus several books of technique. My younger one currently has three early Kreutzer etudes (2 she does on either violin or viola and one on just violin), 2 pages of Schradieck on viola and about a page on violin, and several Sevcik bowing exercises.

My older one has a Paganini caprice, a couple Fiorello etudes (he skipped this book initially so these aren't hard for him), a Gavinies etude, some Sevcik bowing stuff, and some Schradieck from the other books (not the normal book).

My daughter goes through most of her stuff every day, though not every single Sevcik bowing, and if she does an etude on viola she doesn't repeat it on violin that day. My son has been tight on time most of this year due to college auditions and finishing high school, so he rotates his etudes. He does his scales every day.

They do all of the etudes and exercises (not always all the different bowings), but not necessarily all at once. For example, for a long etude, they may do one page at a time. For Schradieck, it may be three or four lines of a couple different ones.

Edited: May 9, 2023, 7:33 PM · I try not to think of scales and etudes exactly as "warm up", since in both, I have specific goals and puzzles I'm trying to solve, so in scales, it might be working with a focus on sliding shifts, or lightness, or any number of things. For warming up, I tend to use Schradieck, and the goal for me there is playing in tune, good bow distribution and most importantly, quick and precise articulation in the left hand.

I always play a single scale at a time (arpeggios hit major/minor, 1st and 2nd inversion and dominant and diminished 7ths). For 3rds, I place the tonic on the lower string and go up until I reach the tonic again on the lower string. I change scales when I play it well for my teacher.

How long I spend depends on different things. If I feel out of shape, I might spend more time on scales and arpeggios, or more time on Schradieck. Sometimes, if I really have something I need to work on in scales, I can spend up to an hour, but usually together they're about 30 minutes. Sometimes I won't even play scales and arpeggios if I have similar stuff in the repertoire I'm playing. It all depends on what I need from my limited time.

Edited: May 9, 2023, 11:29 PM · For scales and arpeggios; one different key each day, which can be chosen at random, or around the circle of fifths, or a half-step higher each day, starting on the open G. Don't get stuck on only one scale book, there are more than one or two options for fingerings. Do not neglect the chromatic scale; fortunately there is only one.
At some point be able to do all those from memory. That helps a lot with memorization of pieces and sight reading.
For the etude books, when learning, much younger, one etude per week was the pattern.
For scales in thirds, with shifting, lead with the finger that moves farther. I often prefer [1,3] --> [1,3]. I don't recall ever needing to do [2,4] --> [2,,4].
All that should not take more than one hour.
May 10, 2023, 2:36 AM · This threat gives so much insight! Thanks! Susan, how old is your daughter and how many hours a day does she practice? Is think Bruch is impressive :)
May 10, 2023, 6:28 AM · Mikki, she is 13. She practices about 1.5-2 hours a day, so not that much, considering she plays two instruments. Right now, she has no violin repertoire but is still doing technique on violin. She does both rep and technique on viola. At some point pretty soon she is going to have to pick an instrument, because her progress through repertoire is obviously slower practicing both.
Edited: May 10, 2023, 12:41 PM · "I don't recall ever needing to do [2,4] --> [2,,4]" - Joel

Joel, you will experience this shift a lot in the Flesch book when you do certain scale patterns. What's a scale called when played in d major, for example: D F# E G F# C# etc ? if you do the thirds in the same key with that pattern, you start immediately with the shift that you're describing.

May 10, 2023, 2:07 PM · --B.H. thanks for the suggestion. I discarded my Flesch book years ago. It made me unhappy; out of my league.
Edited: May 10, 2023, 2:30 PM · Joel, when I picked up the violin again after my 29 year hiatus, it was the Flesch scale book that I started with. After a couple of months of struggle, I set it aside, and stopped using it. Three years later, I decided to pick it up again, and really dig in. That first day playing the C major scale on one string on the G string, left my hand, feeling quite uncomfortable and sore. Three months later and I'm still working with it and quite enjoying it now. You'll get used to it if you stick to it. I've worked through all but two keys now, however, I've skipped the most difficult parts of each key, basically the last page of each key. I'll return to that later after I've truly mastered the other content. Obviously, it's a work in progress. However, if I do close to one key per week, and do this for two or three years, I hope for good results. Even though the content of the book is far from mastered, I still see a big improvement in my facility all over the fingerboard.
May 10, 2023, 3:20 PM · I should add that this scale book is not one that you want to start with. It's best to start with something much easier and then dig into this later after you've already mastered a lot of technique. This is evidenced by the fact that the very first skill that you do on the first page is a one octave scale on the G string, which is not something a beginner wants to do or even try
May 11, 2023, 4:41 PM · There are better alternatives for warming up than scales an arpeggios. I would even argue that you ought to already be be warmed up to work on scales. I happen to like (and recommend) the scale book by Elisabeth Gilels. Personally, I've been warming up with Unaccompanied Bach (Sonatas & Partitas). Works for me!
May 11, 2023, 6:50 PM · Good idea, Alexander, or if you want something little bit easier: is it the first or the second Kreutzer study that is a bunch of scale like passages with the option of doing many different bowing patterns ?
May 12, 2023, 1:29 AM · Greetings,
Alexander: Exactly. That is what Simon has been stressing for years. A scale is a complex finished product that needs to be warmed up to and be analyzed in terms of its component parts to see what weaknesses might need independent study with other exercises. The Gilles book is fantastic but hard to come by these days.
Bruce: That is Kreutzer no2 although there is some confusion about whether it was once number one or is number one in some books.
Edited: May 13, 2023, 8:03 PM · The scale studies by Elisabeth Gilels are published by Sikorsky Music Publishers and is available here: https://www.boosey.com/shop/prod/Gilels-E-Tagliche-Ubungen-fur-den-Geiger/2322399

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