I have a confession to make: I love scales! There is nothing I like better than starting the day off right with a cup of coffee and some slow, mindful scale practice. I know that both students and professionals have differing opinions on scales, but love them or hate them, scales are an essential part of string technique. Here’s why I think they are so important.
7 Reasons All String Students Should Practice Scales
They Improve the Left Hand Frame
Scales are “multiple vitamins” for the left hand. Practicing scales strengthens the left hand frame, and reinforces the exact placement of half and whole steps used throughout western classical music.
They’re “Easy Wins”
When trying to form a new habit or improve in a certain area, productivity experts emphasize the importance of “easy wins”. Success breeds success and scales are short and sweet enough to give students an immediate sense of accomplishment, which gets the ball rolling on greater challenges.
Scales Improve Intonation
Scales strengthen the “inner ear”. For string players, scales built on open strings (such as G Major and D Major), rely on the student listening to the fingered notes in relation to the intonation of their open strings. In a G Major scale, for example, it is easy to hear if a fingered G on the D string doesn’t match the open G. Learning to discriminate between pitches is an important skill for all string players. For scales such as F# Major, which lack open string resonances, the student must especially develop an internal sense of pitch, and practice tuning to an external drone.
Scales Connect to the Repertoire
The Suzuki Method books and other standard repertoire collections are full of scalar passages. Students should practice scales in preparation for new pieces and to reinforce passagework in current pieces.
Flexible Teaching Tools
Scales are flexible and help to teach a number of techniques. Working on hooked bows? Play a scale. Working on staccato? Play a scale. New to shifting? Play a scale that goes into third position or add shifts to a scale that is already familiar. Scales can be adapted to teach many technical skills in a simple, concise format.
Start the (Practice) Day off Right
Scales cultivate good practice habits. Starting the practice session with scales and other short warm-ups helps the student to “settle in” to practice time. Because scales focus on fundamentals of intonation, tone, and bowings, scale practice helps a student get back to basics and sets the tone (pun!) for the rest of the practice session.
You Have to Know Them!
Scales are universal. I want my students to be able to participate in honors orchestras, youth orchestras, and summer music camps. Whether you love them or hate them, scales are required for nearly every audition, so it’s best to befriend them early on!
Next week, I will share when and I introduce scales, which scale books I love, and I’ll share a special manipulative I created for teaching those pesky melodic minor scales.