This is my mantra with my private and university students.  (Actually, one of my many mantras.)  Another favorite is: Scales are Useless!  -until they’re memorized.

My problem with typical scale work is that everybody practices them the same way.  (Click the scale images to enlarge them.  Then, your “back” button to come back.)

Here is an analogy.  Say you were to have to come to my house, out in the middle of nowhere, every day for a week.  And say I give you specific directions to follow.  If you use those directions precisely every day, you might not ever get lost coming to my house but you won’t really learn where I live or my area/neighborhood.  If on the other hand, you start with my directions then veer a little bit each trip exploring the area, after the week you would have many options as to how to get from point A to point B.  A scale is just one tonal representation of a key area.  My directions are just one way to get to a destination.

My main suggestion with this post is to be creative with scale practice.

  • Play them descending first.
  • Don’t always start on the root.
  • Play them in triplets, quintuplets…

How often have you heard people practice scales something like this:  (the “x” means a mistake)

Notice how many iterations of the ascending scale takes place.  As soon as the student successfully gets to the bottom of the scale once, they’re through.  I have wanted to come up with a way in which the student spends equal time on every part of the scale to more thoroughly practice the key.  I think I have something that might work.

The next step to get really crazy with this is to do this same expanding exercise but choose other notes than the root to use as your starting and ending point.


I would love to hear other successful ideas of working on scales and fundamentals.  Comments?

Other related articles are here and here and here.