Is it crucial to know every scale in every key?

Edited: December 31, 2017, 9:55 PM · I've heard a lot of the great pedagogues say it's important for serious students to be able to play scales, arpeggios etc. in every key. Heifetz in particular was very adamant that you can't become a fully developed violinist without this.

I haven't started college yet and obviously will ask my new teacher for her specific views when that time comes; but in the meantime would love to hear your opinions.

How do you practise scales? How many scales do you practice per day/per week? I'm interested in hearing anything about scales.

At the moment I am going through the Carl Flesch book, perfecting each key (takes anywhere from 1 day to a whole week in the case of F# minor!) However I'm wondering if there's a more productive way to go about it.

Replies (17)

December 31, 2017, 10:06 PM · F# minor is much easier than F# major. Just saying.

Also, one day to perfect a scale? You must not be doing the arpeggios. One week per scale/arpeggio is what I expect of my students; additional weeks when needed. I have them do the Galamian acceleration exercise.

Scales are the ABC of music and essential to solid intonation.

December 31, 2017, 11:34 PM · One again Mary Ellen speaks the truth. You need all scales and arpeggios (including double stops) in your fingers at all times if you want to be a good violinist.
December 31, 2017, 11:36 PM · When I was a kid, my teacher would assign two scales a week -- a major key and its relative minor -- from Flesch. We rotated through the keys and with each rotation, we'd do more of the Flesch section for that key. Tempo increased over the years as well. (I did other scale books, like Galamian, earlier on, too.)

As an adult, I've found it more useful to do intonation exercises in the keys of the repertoire that I'm working on. Flesch has a formulaic fingering, which is great for learning a key for the first time and being able to "play a scale" on demand, but in repertoire, you'll often play part of a scale, starting and ending on an arbitrary note, and so it's much more useful to be able to play scales using virtually any fingering. Similarly, it's useful to learn a set of formulaic fingerings for arpeggios, but repertoire demands some flexibility with those fingerings. And it's useful to practice different finger patterns in different keys.

The simple reason to do scales (including arpeggios, double-stops, etc.) in every key, and preferably finger patterns in every key: It builds the patterns in your brain. It's a boon to sight-reading, and it's also helpful for the ability to see a repertoire passage as something that you already have a "built-in" fingering for.

January 1, 2018, 7:34 AM · well ... i think it's crucial to know the *fingering patterns* for the scales/arpeggios more than the exact notes. i.e. if you are playing the Galamian scale, it starts with a turn (I III II I) which is usually just 0210 or 1321, and ends with 121212344, so it's not hard to figure out what goes on in the rest of the scale.
January 1, 2018, 8:33 AM · "As an adult, I've found it more useful to do intonation exercises in the keys of the repertoire that I'm working on". Yup. That is the principal benefit of scales anyway, before developing them into patterns etc.


January 1, 2018, 8:42 AM · Very necessary, we use Sevcik at the very beginning of study and within two or three years all scales shall be practiced at least once, but in order to perfect it takes long time.
January 1, 2018, 10:40 AM · Well, which scales would you exclude? There might not be that many pieces in some keys, but there are pieces in C Major that travel harmonically into the darndest keys. I think it's more than finger pattern. It's also how scale intonation (high leading tones, etc) interfaces to an instrument whose open strings are fixed.
Edited: January 1, 2018, 11:30 AM · A couple of comments concerning scales and fingerings by Ruggiero Ricci, from an interview in "The Way They Play" by Samuel Applebaum & Henry Roth:

"I tell them [Ricci's students] not to practice individual scales with only one fingering. Actually, it doesn't matter which finger is used, so long as the sound and intonation are good, but changing fingerings in scales helps to develop greater digital flexibility."

"I don't believe in set fingerings, and I strongly disagree with those teachers who lend their students their personal sheet music and tell them to copy the fingerings. This is ridiculous. Everyone has different sized and shaped hands and fingers ... the student must be trained to use his own head in choosing fingerings as in every other department of playing, both in problems of technique and interpretation."

January 1, 2018, 1:58 PM · Yes, music is written in all of the keys; the Pianist-Composers especially like to use the black keys, which is annoying for us string players. Use one key per week for learning, then one key per day for review, using some kind of rotation system; circle of fifths, or 1/2 step higher each time. The best fingering changes with the musical context; rhythm and bowing matters. Too demonstrate that to yourself do a three-octave scale in both dotted and reverse-dotted rhythm.
January 1, 2018, 4:36 PM · If you can learn one key of Flesch scales per week my hat is off to you.
January 1, 2018, 4:43 PM · Scales and arpeggios only; not the double stop scales.
January 1, 2018, 5:44 PM · What repertoire level is the typical student at when they can start learning one new scale a week? I presume they spent a lot of time on the core keys before branching out.

Mary Ellen, in what order do you teach keys to beginners?

January 1, 2018, 7:22 PM · You don't have to know every scale. You only have to know 2 scales: major and minor. If you know where the half steps are, you can play ANY scale. For example, if you start on a 1st finger anywhere, you should be able to play any scale by simply putting the half steps in the right place. Shifts? Put them on half steps if possible. Look at Galamian: most 3-octave scales start on 2nd finger and have very similar fingerings.
All of the 1-string scales utilize only one of just a few patterns: either starting on an open string...or first finger. That's it.

We tend to lose sight of the forest and the general patterns. I think that when a student starts working on Hirmaly, the important thing is not the individual scale per se, but rather the patterns of major and minor.
That's why I have them always mark in the half steps, and why I have them memorize the two crucial bits of scale info: location of half steps in C, and location of half steps in any key (by scale degree).
If you know that the half steps in any key are 3-4 and 7-8, then it really should not matter whether you're trying to learn F#major or G double-secret Flat.

And whatever you're doing with scales, keep checking that you haven't drifted out of key by constantly checking against open strings. You can always relate a note to an open string, even if it's a tritone. So learn your intervals too.

Edited: January 1, 2018, 7:54 PM · Thank you everyone, as usual all have been very informative. I have decided to focus on 1-2 keys p/w unless teacher disagrees.

Yes I do the arpeggios and double stops. To clarify, one day would just be for easy keys like G major which most students know back to front anyway (more of a revision/intonation thing). I find double stops relatively easy because I have large hands & was taught them early on.

Paul Deck, I am probably getting through more because I have more free time to practise scales than most people. Definitely wouldn't expect a beginner or full-time-working adult to do this much.

Trevor Jennings (or anyone who knows), is there a scale system that offers a wider range of fingerings than Flesch? It'd be nice to have a starting point for exploring other fingering options, even if it is ultimately best to write one's own.

January 1, 2018, 8:52 PM · Simon Fischer's Scales is an excellent book. The finger patterns in the Intonation section of his Basics are very useful, too.

For other fingering options, just invent your own -- you don't need anything printed. Try 1-2-1-2-etc. scales on a single string, and 1-2-3-1-2-3-etc. scales on a single string as well -- practicing your two most common shifting patterns. Try starting on different fingers. Maximize the combinations.

January 1, 2018, 10:14 PM · Thanks!
Edited: January 2, 2018, 6:45 AM · When I was a classical student (when I was in UK) I practiced major, melodic minor, minor and chromatic up and down, up and down...
When I became a jazz student suddenly there were lots more scales - diminished, wholetone, altered, pentatonic, blues, bebop, all the modes, etc. etc. However, the idea was not to play these up and down for most of the time but to see the scales as a set of notes that were available to play in patterns or melodic improvisations. There are so many to know that you think of what degree of the scale is altered and use your ear as a guide rather than play rote patterns up and down. Rather than always playing the notes sequentially, now the objective became finding every possible finger approach and working on the tricky intervals with improvised exercises and then being able to start the scale on any finger. Much more engaging, imaginative and musically useful. I began to see my classical friends who would shut themselves away and play scales up and down for hours as industrious in terms of time but lazy in terms of imagination. Even if you can't improvise (I'm not talking anything spectacular here, just playing some patterns) you can write out scales in random sequences.
Christian Howes is a good resource for a jazz violinist's approach to scales:

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