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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

The "Do You Give A ****?" Test (Otherwise Known As Scales)

Andrew Hitz

It is that time of year again when college students are set to perform their juries and high school seniors will soon be taking their college auditions. Almost all college auditions and juries require scales. So do all district and All-State auditions.

(Note: One of my most popular blog posts over the years is this Quick Guide to Juries which addresses everything you need to know to be successful.)

Everyone knows they need to know their scales. But scales don't actually test what you think they do.

It of course can not be pointed out too many times that scales are the building blocks of all tonal music and positively must be mastered by all musicians. This is not news to anyone.

But what scales, in the context of a jury or audition, are really testing is whether the student gives a ****.

No, I'm being serious.

Learning scales or modes only involves one thing: commitment. It just takes a concerted effort over a sustained period of time to become familiar with them. Once you do that, they are ingrained.

I rarely practice scales any more, and I mean rarely. That's because I have put the work in to the point where they are rote. I have them ingrained in my ear and into my muscle memory.

There is nothing tricky about them whatsoever. Even melodic minor scales (different on the way up than on the way down which struck me as insane as a kid!) are not complicated. It is the exact same pattern in each of the 12 keys, as they all are!

If you accept the premise that there is absolutely nothing tricky about any scale then all you are left with is whether you have bothered to take the time to learn them.

That's it. Do you give a **** enough to have spent the time? Pretty simple.

I'm not saying that a C-major scale is of equal difficulty as a D-flat major scale on a C instrument. The latter is obviously more difficult.

But neither one is very hard at all if you've bothered to take the time to do the work.

So believe me, you have told your potential school or the faculty at your current school an awful lot about how serious you are about this whole music thing by how prepared you are to play your scales.



For a little practicing inspiration, don't miss "Practicing Summed Up In Six Sentences" courtesy of Doug Yeo.