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What Is The Point Of Scales?


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#19 Tradewinds Ted

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Posted 20 December 2016 - 01:07 AM

Really? I never pictured bassoon players as the serious type.  I admit I don't really know many bassoon players, but I've noticed that musicians I've met who play any of the other low range instruments all seem to have a well established sense of fun!

 

A goal of just playing to have fun is fine; there is no requirement to achieve mastery at an expert level.  But the thing about just having fun playing vs. gaining ability on the instrument is that it is a false dichotomy.  Playing tunes is obviously more fun than exercises, no question about it, even for those people who do sort of enjoy the exercises.  But struggling endlessly to make a tune sound just OK isn't really as much fun as spending that time playing that same tune well enough to enjoy, and then having the chance to explore the subtleties of playing it. 

 

Exercises to help gain skill aren't an end in themselves, just a possible way toward being able to do what you want with the instrument.  A little bit goes a long way.  Working through scales repetitively every practice time?  Probably not.  I certainly don't do that.  Playing around with the relevant scale(s) for a little while, and exploring the fingering options and chords for a little while as part of my approach to trying a tune in a less familiar key?  Yes, I'll do that.  It definitely helps with my initial struggle to find the right fingering to pick out the tune.  I also notice that when it is relevant to a tune I am looking forward to learning, then even going through a scale becomes a little fun.


Edited by Tradewinds Ted, 20 December 2016 - 01:09 AM.


#20 Anglo-Irishman

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Posted 20 December 2016 - 03:47 PM

huh, so this is the way to practice them?

 

Q anglo-irishman '

 

"Play them in differnt dance rhythms, play them legato, play them fast and slow, phrase them nicely - in short, do with them what you would do with a tune that's in your head. "

 

 

​So this is the proper way to learn and practice them? my guitar teacher never taught me how to learn scales except up and down and up and down. Is this essentially what guitar players call licks?

 

Voomy,

My experience of scale exercises stems from singing lessons. They make the voice supple, and give you the feel for intervals. Same with an instrument, only it's the fingers that get that suppleness and feel for intervals.

 

Perhaps we should distinguish between "learning scales" and "practising scales."

The first time you get a new instrument - no matter which one - in your hands, you've no idea how to identify the 7 notes in the 12-note octave that you'll need for the tunes you want to play. In this situation, you just have to get used to hitting only those notes. That's what I would call "learning the scale". When you move on to the next key, you have a new scale to learn, and go back to square one.

 

But when you can automatically find the notes of a given scale, you have to get fluent in it, so that you can get the seven notes in quick succession in whatever order they happen to be in a tune you want to play. That's where "scale exercises" come in. They teach you to jump up and down the scale, as the tune may dictate, and do it cleanly and with confidence.

 

Remember, music is not about playing notes - it's about moving from one note to the next, and being ready for the note after next!

 

After a while, when you've been playing a few tunes over and over, you'll notice that new tunes will "re-use" sequences that you know from earlier tunes. At this stage, scale exercises become less important, IMO. However, they may become important again when you branch out into hitherto unfamiliar keys. 

 

Think of scale exercises in guitar terminology as "riffs" if you like - but play each riff eight times, starting on a higher note of the scale each time. If you practise enough of these "riffs", you'll often find that you can slot one of them into a new tune, and save yourself the trouble of "spelling out" a sequence of notes.

 

And of course, instruments are different. "Learning the scale" i.e. identifying the 7 notes you need for tunes, is dead easy on an Anglo concertina in the home keys. There are no "wrong" notes in the row, so you can swiftly progress to "practising the scales". The guitar fretboard and the Duet concertina keybord, by contrast, are littered with "wrong" notes, so it takes longer to "learn the scales" before you start "practising the scales."

 

Cheers,

John



#21 Voomy

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Posted 20 December 2016 - 07:03 PM

 

huh, so this is the way to practice them?

 

Q anglo-irishman '

 

"Play them in differnt dance rhythms, play them legato, play them fast and slow, phrase them nicely - in short, do with them what you would do with a tune that's in your head. "

 

 

​So this is the proper way to learn and practice them? my guitar teacher never taught me how to learn scales except up and down and up and down. Is this essentially what guitar players call licks?

 

Voomy,

My experience of scale exercises stems from singing lessons. They make the voice supple, and give you the feel for intervals. Same with an instrument, only it's the fingers that get that suppleness and feel for intervals.

 

Perhaps we should distinguish between "learning scales" and "practising scales."

The first time you get a new instrument - no matter which one - in your hands, you've no idea how to identify the 7 notes in the 12-note octave that you'll need for the tunes you want to play. In this situation, you just have to get used to hitting only those notes. That's what I would call "learning the scale". When you move on to the next key, you have a new scale to learn, and go back to square one.

 

But when you can automatically find the notes of a given scale, you have to get fluent in it, so that you can get the seven notes in quick succession in whatever order they happen to be in a tune you want to play. That's where "scale exercises" come in. They teach you to jump up and down the scale, as the tune may dictate, and do it cleanly and with confidence.

 

Remember, music is not about playing notes - it's about moving from one note to the next, and being ready for the note after next!

 

After a while, when you've been playing a few tunes over and over, you'll notice that new tunes will "re-use" sequences that you know from earlier tunes. At this stage, scale exercises become less important, IMO. However, they may become important again when you branch out into hitherto unfamiliar keys. 

 

Think of scale exercises in guitar terminology as "riffs" if you like - but play each riff eight times, starting on a higher note of the scale each time. If you practise enough of these "riffs", you'll often find that you can slot one of them into a new tune, and save yourself the trouble of "spelling out" a sequence of notes.

 

And of course, instruments are different. "Learning the scale" i.e. identifying the 7 notes you need for tunes, is dead easy on an Anglo concertina in the home keys. There are no "wrong" notes in the row, so you can swiftly progress to "practising the scales". The guitar fretboard and the Duet concertina keybord, by contrast, are littered with "wrong" notes, so it takes longer to "learn the scales" before you start "practising the scales."

 

Cheers,

John

 

 

 

This is a quite a bit of a novice to process. I read it a couple times. Its advanced for me.. at this point.

 

At the same time I am only partial comprehension of it.

 

remember when you were newbie

 

 With an answer like that, I need your knowledge  

 

 

again.... I just reread it. I cant fully understand it enough to reply. Its answers like you gave me.

 

trust me. It does indeed help



#22 David Barnert

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Posted 20 December 2016 - 10:01 PM

Then let’s keep it simple.

 

If you play to enjoy, and you enjoy playing tunes and not scales, consider the possibility that you might enjoy playing tunes even more if you could play them better, and the road to playing better is practicing scales.



#23 Voomy

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Posted 20 December 2016 - 10:07 PM

so what you mean, is that they really are useless?



#24 adrian brown

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Posted 21 December 2016 - 02:17 AM

Adrian,

 

Again, if my goal was to become an expert in the shortest possible time, no doubt you are right. That is not my goal. My goal is to have fun playing music. I don't think scales and exercises are fun. Therefore, I don't do them, because they are diametrically opposite to what I'm trying to achieve. I'm not trying to "reduce the hours I put in." I like the hours I put in. That's the whole point.

 

On the other hand, the specifics of what you're proposing are somewhat different, and I certainly will play through unfamiliar passages or new tunes endlessly until I get them "right" (or as right as I feel up to in the moment). That seems to me to be a different thing. Shrug. Perhaps we're talking past each other. All I wanted to do was provide an alternative perspective, and let the OP know that there's no need to practice scales if you don't want to. You can just play music and have a good time, and that's enough for some of us.

 

If I wanted to take myself seriously all the time, I'd play the bassoon. ;-)

I quite understand Mike - I only wanted to counter the view that "learning to play an instrument really is about putting in the hours, more than anything". I think there's actually a lot more to it that that.

 

Adrian



#25 MJGray

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Posted 21 December 2016 - 07:48 AM

Fair enough. That was a clumsy way to say what I meant, which is more like: If you enjoy doing something, you'll spend more time doing it, and therefore you will inevitably get better at it. (With the corollary that spending time doing things you don't enjoy is less fun, and therefore you are less likely to want to do it.) Being "good" seems to me to be largely not about how many years you've been playing, but how much time playing you've spent during those years. But that's true of everything. (It's also kind of a value judgement, which I want to avoid. "Good enough" is also OK!)

 

Obviously for any particular activity, there are specific skills and knowledge that are essential to performing that activity. Everything is more complicated when you dig down into it far enough. And that can be a lot of fun, too.

 

Mike



#26 RAc

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Posted 21 December 2016 - 12:00 PM

 

Fair enough. That was a clumsy way to say what I meant, which is more like: If you enjoy doing something, you'll spend more time doing it, and therefore you will inevitably get better at it. (With the corollary that spending time doing things you don't enjoy is less fun, and therefore you are less likely to want to do it.) Being "good" seems to me to be largely not about how many years you've been playing, but how much time playing you've spent during those years. But that's true of everything. (It's also kind of a value judgement, which I want to avoid. "Good enough" is also OK!)


Unfortunately no. The assumption is wrong, as any teacher can confirm who has ever came across a very enthusiastic "self taught student" who had put in many many hours of learning the instrument wrong. It may take more time ironing out those problems than were put into internalizing those. Very common problems here are for example pieces studied without a metronome and without a guiding external ear; the rhythmic errors one never corrects will always ruin the piece without the enthusiastic student ever knowing until it is too late.

Few hours well spent may be much more successful (however you define "success") than many hours misfocussed.

It goes without saying, however, that of hours *well spent*, more of those will lead to more fluent and therefore more satisfying playing and a larger working repertoire. I believe that this is what you meant, no?

BTW and coming back to the original topic - needless to say, there is no universal answer to the question "what, then, IS time well spent?". As many people have pointed out, this heighly depends on the individual mindset of the learner. It shouldn't also be forgotten (as David Barnert and John mentioned) that there are several aspects to practicing scales; the teacher of the OP may have solely focussed on the motoric (drill...boring...) training effect and less on the musical value that practicing scales can yield. Nothing's ever black and white, I'd argue.

Edited by RAc, 21 December 2016 - 12:13 PM.


#27 Bruce McCaskey

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Posted 23 December 2016 - 12:22 PM

I practice simple scales, but no patterns or other complex combinations..

Started doing just the G, D and A scales in my first months with an Anglo but years ago I added onto that effort. These days I start with the lowest G (on a C/G instrument) and run up and down three octaves, then move successively on up to do two octaves for A and a single for B, two octaves for C and D, single octaves for E and F, and end on the G, going up one octave and down two to return to my starting note.

I don't labor over this activity, nor do I do it every day, rather once or twice a week. I target an even flowing pace with tones all of the same volume. I haven't timed it but I think it only takes me about a minute to do this. If I stumble on a note in a scale, I repeat that scale to have an unflawed run and then move on to the next. Of course it took much longer when I was learning scales, but even then I don't think I spent more than five minutes at it in a practice session no matter how successful I was or how many scales I'd managed in that time. A short time with scales can be helpful in learning where things are and building muscle memory, but too much casts shadows on the joy of playing.

I don't consider scales to be a necessary or essential part of learn to play an Anglo, but I think they are an element of building overall capability and sharpening skills. If you play well and have never played a scale I think that's fine. On the other hand, if you are trying to build your technical skills then I think scales can help.

 

Edited to correct octave description.


Edited by Bruce McCaskey, 03 January 2017 - 12:53 PM.


#28 MJGray

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Posted 23 December 2016 - 05:44 PM

A short time with scales can be helpful in learning where things are and building muscle memory, but too much casts shadows on the joy of playing.

 

Very poetically said. :-)



#29 Alan Day

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Posted 03 January 2017 - 12:35 PM

The problems of playing music on an Anglo with full chords ,if that is what you want to do ,is that chords are sometimes not in the direction you are playing ,or that you run out of air if all the chords are on the pull ,or on the push in a sequence of music. To overcome this problem you have sometimes to play in the opposite direction.To enable you to play this sort of music it is immpossible to achieve it without doing scales with push notes only and pull notes only Not possible with a twenty button instrument ,but worth doing within the limits of the instrument.

Al



#30 Jack Campin

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Posted 03 January 2017 - 09:04 PM

If I wanted to take myself seriously all the time, I'd play the bassoon. ;-)

 

The world definitely needs a concertina arrangement of the Gubaidulina bassoon concerto...


Edited by Jack Campin, 03 January 2017 - 09:06 PM.


#31 seanc

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Posted 25 July 2017 - 10:27 AM

FWIW... I have been a Bass player for a very long time. And a different take from Muscle memory/ dexterity..

 

Scales are hugely important in a number of ways.

 

But off the top of my head the two things that drive me nuts are

 

1. when learning or (more often) teaching a person a song, saying,"walk down from d to D" does not need to be explicitly spelled out and explained, Or I am going walk up from G to D,  do the 3rds above. if the person understands the scale the song is in, then it does not need to be spelled out. And more importantly it is more likely that they will remember what the correct notes are. In the above example.. In C, the walk down would be d-c-b-a-g-f-e-D, In G d-c-b-a-g-f#-e-D, in D d-c#-b-a-g-f#-e-D, in A d-c#-b-a-g#-f#-e-D, etc... In my experience, the people that don't understand/ know the scales more often than not tend to not retain/ forget these things when "learning on the fly" and makes them less attractive to play with.

 

2. this may not really apply, but improvising, or in the Anglo/ Irish theme ornamentation and embellishments. When/ if there is not understanding of key or scale then when to play A-G-A, D-C-D vs A-G#-A, D-C#-D or A-G-A, D-C#-D..

 

Or, improvisers (generally guitar players) that try to play riffs they have learned over the same chord and don't realize/ can't understand why it does not sound "right".



#32 Mikefule

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Posted 26 July 2017 - 02:40 AM

Not just scales, but arpeggios.  Many tunes are made up of sequences of notes that run up and/or down the scale, or up and/or down the notes of a chord.  If you can play these finger patterns on autopilot, that frees you up to play confidently and wth expression.

 

On the C/G Anglo, for example, there are half a dozen ways of getting the C major scale on the right hand, and each approach has its advantages in certain tunes. Depending on whether I want to harmonise top C with the chord of C major, A minor or F major, and depending on what comes before and after, I may use a different fingering and bellows direction and approach notes.

 

Of course you can manage without practising scales, in much the same way as you can read a book without memorising the alphabet, but it is worth playing a few scales at the start of every practice session just to remind yourself and to warm up the fingers.

 

Where I would agree with you is in formal music lessons where each scale or arpeggio may be taught as an object in its own right without any context or obvious purpose.  For day to day real world music, you probably only play regularly in 2 or 3 keys, so learning all 12 major scales, all 12 melodic minors and all 12 harmonic minors may feel a bit pointless.



#33 Little John

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 05:22 AM

Ah! I've just been reading through this thread and wondering "why does no-one mention arpeggios?"; so thank you Mikefule, your reasoning is spot on. Practising scales and arpeggios isn't exciting and it isn't an end in itself. It equips you with the skills needed to play the music you want.

 

In my early days of playing Crane duet I practised scales and arpeggios, both one hand at a time and also both hands together (in octaves) and contrary (one hand going up while the other goes down). I haven't done that for years now: the early exercises have paid dividends and I no longer need to. Not even for playing in unfamiliar keys - I've recently played passages in E flat major and F sharp major (don't ask why!) without much difficulty and without practising the scales first.

 

No-one has to follow this path if they don't want to, but it worked for me. I play mainly folk music by the way; nothing esoteric.


Edited by Little John, 28 July 2017 - 05:25 AM.


#34 Mike Pierceall

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Posted 29 July 2017 - 11:04 AM

I recall an interview of Sir James Galway, who still practices scales, saying, and I paraphrase, that it's all about finding the right note at the right time.



#35 Jools

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Posted 04 August 2017 - 07:53 AM

Just my thoughts, but isn't learning tunes actually learning scales, arpeggios & intervals just in different patterns, & consequently building the same muscle memory?

I'm new to the concertina, but I play guitar, keys & sax. I learn by playing through the chromatic scale enough times to find out where all the notes are, then playing tunes I love & really getting in to them. It doesn't feel like a chore, and I naturally try to bring expression into it. After some time (quite a lot!) & getting familiar with the instrument, I kind of think in intervals & more or less know where & how far away the note is. When I played sax in bands (jazz) if I was a semitone out, I might use it as a passing note, or even trill on it. Often it improved my solo's & gave me some fresh & different ideas.

I'm not suggesting scales don't improve your playing, they definitely do, but personally I can only take them for so long. Whereas if I'm playing tunes I'm really in to, I'll happily play the instrument for hours at a time.



#36 Mikefule

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Posted 04 August 2017 - 02:27 PM

Just my thoughts, but isn't learning tunes actually learning scales, arpeggios & intervals just in different patterns, & consequently building the same muscle memory?

I'm new to the concertina, but I play guitar, keys & sax. I learn by playing through the chromatic scale enough times to find out where all the notes are, then playing tunes I love & really getting in to them. It doesn't feel like a chore, and I naturally try to bring expression into it. After some time (quite a lot!) & getting familiar with the instrument, I kind of think in intervals & more or less know where & how far away the note is. When I played sax in bands (jazz) if I was a semitone out, I might use it as a passing note, or even trill on it. Often it improved my solo's & gave me some fresh & different ideas.

I'm not suggesting scales don't improve your playing, they definitely do, but personally I can only take them for so long. Whereas if I'm playing tunes I'm really in to, I'll happily play the instrument for hours at a time.

There is some truth to what you say, but it does depend a bit on the instrument.  For example, the arrangement of accidentals on an Anglo has no clear logical pattern, and although the two main keys fit a clear pattern "along the rows" there are several alternative fingerings.  If you want to play outside the two main keys, each scale has to be learned in isolation because it may be completely different in terms of bellows direction and finger placement.  The learning by playing method works well for styles of music where there are many common patterns (such as Morris tunes) but learning the scales will help you to pick up other tunes and tunes in other keys more quickly.  Also, on the Anglo, practising scales is really helpful if you want to play passages in octaves.





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