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  • Stuart Barr

Slippery Scales and How to Grasp Them!

If your child avoids scales at all costs, don’t despair, as you’re definitely not alone! The majority of young musicians dread the thought of practicing scales and arpeggios, so we’ve put together a list of why they're actually pretty handy, as well as some top tips to help you encourage your son or daughter to get practicing them!

So, firstly...why scales?

  • Timing – when playing with other musicians, it’s important to play in time with each other, so developing good internal time is very important. Playing scales with a metronome (slowly at first) is a great way to develop this skill!

  • Intonation – scales are a great way of checking the tuning of each and every note on an instrument, and this in itself will help to develop fantastic listening skills!

  • Coordination – playing scales gives musicians the opportunity to bring multiple elements of musicianship together (breathing, posture, fingerings, articulation). Once your child has learnt the notes of a particular scale, they can really focus on these other musical elements.

  • Dexterity – scales are a brilliant way of training parts of the body to do new things, and repetition will only strengthen these new skills.

  • Muscle Memory – once your child has learnt a scale well enough, they will be able to play it without even thinking. This muscle memory skill is incredibly useful, particularly when scalic patterns appear in pieces. They also require a variety of different fingerings, so they can be a fantastic way of helping musicians learn and remember alternative options.

  • Listening – as your child practices their scales, they will begin to listen more carefully to their sound, and as a result improve their tuning, articulation and overall tone quality.

  • Sight Reading – as your child becomes more familiar with scalic patterns, they will begin to recognise them in pieces, which will be hugely beneficial for sight reading exercises.

  • Theory – practicing scales will help your child develop their general musicianship skills and knowledge of theory, such as key signatures, chords, modulations and modes.

  • Exams & Auditions – for many exams, musicians are required to demonstrate their ability to play certain scales, and regular practice of scales will make this all the easier when they have to play them under pressure.

  • Scales make music – in general, most pieces are made up of scales of varying types, so it is important to appreciate their importance.

Now that we know WHY scales can be so beneficial, how do we encourage young musicians to practice them?

  • Communication – why not share the benefits of playing scales with your son or daughter? They may not be able to see all of them first hand, but recognising scales within their pieces will reassure them that there is a purpose to playing them!

  • Improvisation – once your child has become comfortable with a scale, ask their teacher if they could play a bass line for them to improvise over - and maybe ask to get a recording of this? It'll be great fun for your child whilst helping them develop their improvisation skills, and showing them how scales can be really useful!

  • Composition - similarly to above, once your child has become familiar with a certain scale, encourage them to create music of their own in the same key - reinforcing this sense of key, and encouraging music making!

  • Scales Charts - create a scales chart with your son or daughter, and reward them with a sticker each time a scale or arpeggio is played correctly (or multiple times for a tougher challenge).

  • Flashcards - make flashcards with different types of exercises (scales, arpeggios), in different tonalities (major and minor keys) with different articulations (legato, staccato) and contrasting dynamics (piano - soft, forte - strong). Pick them out at random. This will turn scale practicing into a game and keep them more engaged!

  • Mix up the Rhythms - ask your child to play their scales in different rhythms, such as dotted, thirds, fourths, etc. Don’t worry if you don’t know any of these technical terms - just tap a simple rhythm on your lap, and ask them to play it back to you as a scale!

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