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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Bored With Scales?

Andrew Hitz

Love this quote from fantastic trombone player Will Baker!

If your students (or you!) are bored with their scales, tell them THEY'RE DOING IT WRONG!

With a little practice, anyone can play any scale mf two octaves at a decent clip. That's really not very hard. All it takes it reps.

You know what's not easy and requires not just a lot of reps but a lot of concentration?

  • Playing scales while changing articulation every note (either alternating between two articulations or cycling through three or more)
  • Playing scales ff in the pedal register with a beautiful sound without dragging
  • Playing scales pp in the extreme upper register with a beautiful sound
  • Playing two octave scales while diminuendoing the entire way up from ff to pp and crescendoing all the way down with no two notes the same dynamic level
  • Playing scales in thirds, fourths or any other interval
  • Playing scales in thirds on the way up and fourths on the way down
  • Take any of these suggestions and record yourself playing them and listen for things like an even sound, consistent articulation, truly even crescendos and diminuendos, perfect groove, phrasing, etc

You get the point!

Unless your name is Wynton Marsalis, I'm guessing you can't ascending thirds followed by descending fourths for the first time and have it mastered in all twelve keys within five minutes.

So if you or your students are bored with scales, you are experiencing a failure of creativity!

Get more creative and you will suddenly be reengaged while practicing the vital musical building blocks we call scales.