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Learning Scales


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#1 m3838

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 01:53 PM

Lots have been said in other threads about learning those scales.
Let me ask you: How really important it is?
Given that most of us are amateurs, having very little time to practice, it seems that emulating the leasrning process of how it's done in the concervatories would be silly.
Unless you practice 4-6 hours a day, every day, with proper instruction and regular new challenges from the teacher, without a goal to become professional who must pick the tune or accompaniment in any key on a fly, why would self-teaching amateur waste his precious hour, stolen from sleep?
I am of the opinion, that the more clever way to work it out would be just learning pieces of music, each new one presenting, as you Anglo-speakers say, "challenge". Then gradually you'll learn larger scope of the instrument without doing mindless scale excercises, done hastily, improperly, without much theoretical backing.
I'm learning fairly challenging arrangements, with little control of the key (whatever I can find), and these come in various keys randomly. I am getting better, my finger dexterity, reading, accentuation - everything is very slowly coming into shape, without a second spent on scales or etudes.
I even don't warm up, as it is 15 minutes lost. After all, when you'll be out and asked to play, you woldn't spend 15 minutes warming up.
To resume, future amateur should be taught differently from future pro, distinction must be made early on and their ways part.
For most of us, to get better and use time efficiently, we must select new pieces, so each new one is above the old.

What's you takes?

#2 Dirge

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 02:09 PM

I have never done scales; I followed exactly your regime of choosing pieces that stretched me. Sometimes I have had to learn a run as part of a tune and then I have to tackle it anew just like any other sequence of notes. It's encouraging to be working on a piece of music you actually want to play and perhaps makes you practice a little longer and harder each day because it is more fun. On the other hand I wonder if scales would have got the keyboard layout fixed in my head quicker and I'd be further on by now? (Not sure either way there; just know my system works for me. Practice is always interesting.)

I don't usually warm up; sometimes I find I have to, and play something I know better to get started but not always.

I also think any time spent handling the instrument is valuable. Even if I loaf in the sofa and knock out jolly tunes with a busked accompaniment I think it all helps.

#3 Mike Pierceall

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 09:19 PM

Lots have been said in other threads about learning those scales.
Let me ask you: How really important it is?
Given that most of us are amateurs, having very little time to practice, it seems that emulating the leasrning process of how it's done in the concervatories would be silly.
Unless you practice 4-6 hours a day, every day, with proper instruction and regular new challenges from the teacher, without a goal to become professional who must pick the tune or accompaniment in any key on a fly, why would self-teaching amateur waste his precious hour, stolen from sleep?
I am of the opinion, that the more clever way to work it out would be just learning pieces of music, each new one presenting, as you Anglo-speakers say, "challenge". Then gradually you'll learn larger scope of the instrument without doing mindless scale excercises, done hastily, improperly, without much theoretical backing.
I'm learning fairly challenging arrangements, with little control of the key (whatever I can find), and these come in various keys randomly. I am getting better, my finger dexterity, reading, accentuation - everything is very slowly coming into shape, without a second spent on scales or etudes.
I even don't warm up, as it is 15 minutes lost. After all, when you'll be out and asked to play, you woldn't spend 15 minutes warming up.
To resume, future amateur should be taught differently from future pro, distinction must be made early on and their ways part.
For most of us, to get better and use time efficiently, we must select new pieces, so each new one is above the old.

What's you takes?

I play for pleasure and just enough challenge to make it interesting, but I started with the basics. Mike

#4 david watkins

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 05:10 AM

Hi

If anyone has seen my previous posts they'll realise I'm a rank beginner at concertina, I've never played any instrument before and I'm slowly working through Mick Bramich's excellent starter book. I dont know whether I'll be able to play by ear, I suspect that only comes with time, so for the sake of a few minutes everyday ( and at the moment I only practise for 15-20 mins a day ) I start with the scales. If it turns out I'm not so good at playing by ear it'll perhaps have been time well spent.

I dont know for sure but the scales possibly helps my brain 'tune in ' to the notes again, limbers up my fingers and gets my brain going on finger positioning. I'm sure the procedure of doing the scales has to help subconsciously, I'll certainly carry on with it, though it strikes me from the forum posts here, that with the concertina there is no one recommended way of learning.

David

#5 meltzer

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 09:03 AM

Learning scales on the anglo isn't rocket science (in 2 keys, anyway ;) ). But I find the odd one useful, to practice the staccato thing, and to help with not relying on the bellows to change notes. Also, playing scales in octaves is a handy thing to practice, I've found. As is playing (simple!) tunes in octaves. Even though I'm not a "tunes" player.

#6 David Barnert

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 02:04 PM

Scales are what many tunes have in common. If you learn scales, then you already know large chunks of most tunes, and are that far ahead of someone trying to learn a tune from scratch without already knowing their way around scales.

#7 wntrmute

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 02:37 PM

I agree that scales can be important. There are other execises based on scales that are good: do a scale but in between the notes of the scale go up a third. C-E-D-F-E-G etc. Then do that in octaves. Do it for different scales.
At least I did that kind of thing for piano.
Arpeggios are common exercises, too. Easy on an anglo in the root keys, but what about the off-root keys? Try for those, and then try them in octaves or in minor keys. Run a set of arpeggios around the circle of fifths. C-G-D-A-E-B-F#-C#-G#(Ab)-Eb-Bb-F-C. It makes you think about what each note is (and this will hit them all) and the relationships between them all.

#8 Dirge

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 03:09 PM

Ah but is that more valuable than learning a piece of music? We're not talking in abstract here; the question asked isn't actually the heading, it's about the choice between using your time on scales or music. I would be deeply embarrassed if someone expected me to do some arpeggios I'm sure; but does that matter? On the other hand I have a couple more pieces in my repertoire, learnt when others might be doing scales.

For me the clincher is that scales are boring, learning a new piece is challenging so I would expect to practice the latter with more concentration and enthusiasm. Keeping a good practice regime up is helped if I'm not inflicting tiresome exercises on myself. Others are almost certainly more disciplined.

I would never try and dissuade anyone from practicing scales if it suits them. I'm just not convinced that there is a true gain.

#9 ragtimer

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 09:53 PM

I would never try and dissuade anyone from practicing scales if it suits them. I'm just not convinced that there is a true gain.

The Hayden Duet concertina is an odd case. It's trivially easy to play Major scales in the keys of C, D, E, F, G, and A. The relative minor scales of these keys are just a little tougher. But they're all the same fingering pattern, just starting on different buttons.

But scales in other keys, that "wrap around" or "fall off the end" of the rows, are tricky, and well worth practicing, if for no other reason than to get you accustomed to the location of funny notes like Eb/D# and the like, and how to handle the long hand reaches needed to get a wrap-around note.

So I do practice scales once in a while on my Hayden, to remind me how much work it is to play in those remote keys.
--Mike K.

#10 Nigel

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 04:13 PM

Lots have been said in other threads about learning those scales.
Let me ask you: How really important it is?
Given that most of us are amateurs, having very little time to practice, it seems that emulating the leasrning process of how it's done in the concervatories would be silly.
Unless you practice 4-6 hours a day, every day, with proper instruction and regular new challenges from the teacher, without a goal to become professional who must pick the tune or accompaniment in any key on a fly, why would self-teaching amateur waste his precious hour, stolen from sleep?
I am of the opinion, that the more clever way to work it out would be just learning pieces of music, each new one presenting, as you Anglo-speakers say, "challenge". Then gradually you'll learn larger scope of the instrument without doing mindless scale excercises, done hastily, improperly, without much theoretical backing.
I'm learning fairly challenging arrangements, with little control of the key (whatever I can find), and these come in various keys randomly. I am getting better, my finger dexterity, reading, accentuation - everything is very slowly coming into shape, without a second spent on scales or etudes.
I even don't warm up, as it is 15 minutes lost. After all, when you'll be out and asked to play, you woldn't spend 15 minutes warming up.
To resume, future amateur should be taught differently from future pro, distinction must be made early on and their ways part.
For most of us, to get better and use time efficiently, we must select new pieces, so each new one is above the old.

What's you takes?

This is one of the rare occasions that I agree with you! When time is limited, practise what you enjoy playing. I often only play for 10 minutes a day - just before I leave for work. If I fit in a reel, a jig and a hornpipe I leave with a happy buzz inside. Somehow I don't think playing scales would do the same for me. I've no doubt that if you have the time, playing scales are beneficial - I have worked my way through most of Mick Bramich's book and it did help to play scales before tackling a different key. However if you don't have the time, play for fun - isn't that why we picked up the concertina in the first place?

#11 njurkowski

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 08:34 PM

I think playing scales can be valuable, even for an amateur. I try to start my playing by playing a scale up and down the entire length of the instrument. If you have aspirations to play in any keys that are less than common, it helps to get the spatial locations in your fingers. I'd imagine there are a lot of English players who can play very comfortably in keys like G, F, and D, but might have more trouble when reading something in F# or Bb minor. My routine doesn't take a lot of time, but I think even the minute or so it takes me to run a random scale up and down will do me benefit in the long term, especially since it has helped me familiarize myself with the extreme upper range of the instrument. The other benefit of scales has already been mentioned: when you learn a scale really well, you have in effect learned small parts of many tunes, which means you'll learn music faster and be a better sight-reader.

My experience with other instruments (trombone and piano) has led me to believe that while scales are boring (and I never practice them enough), they do produce tangible results when you practice them diligently, even if it's for very brief periods of time.

#12 wntrmute

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 09:49 PM

The other thing, is I'm not saying Noel Hill or anyone else with a solid technique would benefit from doing scales over and over. For a beginner whose greatest musical accomplishment is Mary Had a Little Lamb, though, doing scales is not at all a waste of time or effort.

#13 m3838

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 09:50 PM

My experience with other instruments


While I agree with you in general, I think we don't need to bring other instruments here.
English Concertina is stand-alone thing, fingering is very straight forward and easy. I too, would practice scales on chromaic accordion, because even Cmaj diatonic scale is not so easy and one has to aquire enough dexterity.
Another benefit of Piano and Accordion is their wider useful range, so one can comfotrably practice scales in 2, 3, 4 and 5 beats. On EC, esp. on instruments with compromized upper range, like Jackie or Albion, just wrapping the scale around takes solid skill, that is redundant, and practicing only in 2 octaves is a one time exersise. Perhaps those with rare high level instruments can enjoy playing in upper register, so practicing there makes sense, but majority of people with $2000-$3000 instruments may not even bother.
Anglo is even worse, why practice difficult scales, when you will never play in those keys? Familiarity comes with experience, and if you need exersise, make it out of tunes in your repertore. If your piece requires stacatto, practice it, if legato, practice it, and what's the point of running up/down the keyboard, practicing some fancy rhythm, if it's not a part of your music? Exersice becomes futile thing on it's own. It was the biggest problem with my accordion teacher. He insisted on my warming up for 15 minutes, playing extremely boring routine that was not part of my music. Sure, down the road it will pay off, but I haven't arrived at that spot, and where exactly is it? It doesn't exist. So practically you'll need to take lessons all your life. This becomes idiotic, if you don't get enjoynment now. The Russian system of musical training is very selective, it's designed to produce small number of professionals, and accepts alarming number of drop-outs as a norm. I think mistake many people make is when listening to some professional and deciding they want to play like that. So they hire this type of teacher and then get disappointed, believing it's their fault.
Which makes me think that American way of learning things, through short and non-obligating "workshops" is the best way. Of course it's nice to have one-on-one lessons for a year or two, but then, it is my believe, such lessons become a hindrance. If in two years a student is not taught to pick up simple tunes and express himself, these were 2 years wasted. it's espesially true with adults.

#14 njurkowski

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 11:41 PM

My experience with other instruments


While I agree with you in general, I think we don't need to bring other instruments here.
English Concertina is stand-alone thing, fingering is very straight forward and easy. I too, would practice scales on chromaic accordion, because even Cmaj diatonic scale is not so easy and one has to aquire enough dexterity.


I don't agree with this statement at all. Playing a scale in Db is going to have an entirely different feel than playing a scale in G on an English concertina, because of the placement of accidentals. Furthermore, the presence of doubled enharmonics means that it is necessary to figure out which hand you will play certain notes on (for example, when playing in the key of E, it makes logical sense to take D#5 in the left hand, but when playing in Eb, it makes sense to take Eb - the same note - in the right hand), so that it becomes reflexive when reading. It's my goal to be fairly comfortable at playing in many keys, because when transcribing music for the instrument, I often find that I end up in an unusual key (for example, the key of Ab works fairly well for many things, because that way you get the lower G as a leading tone to tonic, and you often find pieces where ti is the lowest note).

Another benefit of Piano and Accordion is their wider useful range, so one can comfotrably practice scales in 2, 3, 4 and 5 beats. On EC, esp. on instruments with compromized upper range, like Jackie or Albion, just wrapping the scale around takes solid skill, that is redundant, and practicing only in 2 octaves is a one time exersise. Perhaps those with rare high level instruments can enjoy playing in upper register, so practicing there makes sense, but majority of people with $2000-$3000 instruments may not even bother.


It depends on what music you want to play. If it's folk, then yeah, range might not be an issue. If you're doing transcriptions of things, the extra range is necessary. I plan on eventually upgrading to a tenor-treble or (ideally) baritone treble, so it makes sense for me to practice, even if, as it stands, my Stagi makes my ears bleed.

Scales and exercises do pay off - but you do have to be diligent. It is fallacious to say that just because you never had luck with it on accordion, it's useless. You have to believe in what you're doing - if you don't then it's absolutely a waste of time, because you're not giving it real practice.

#15 m3838

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Posted 06 May 2008 - 12:23 AM

Furthermore, the presence of doubled enharmonics means that it is necessary to figure out which hand you will play certain notes on


What I'm finding is that no matter how you play the scales, real fingering is going to be different, depending on the phrazing and the way you play the piece. It takes quite an trial and error to find which fingering gives better result soundwise, and as you learn the piece more, the fingering may change a few times. I found using the accidentals on both sides regardless of how I played that scale before. So to me it's a minor element.

It's my goal to be fairly comfortable at playing in many keys, because when transcribing music for the instrument, I often find that I end up in an unusual key


That's a valid point, but again, how difficult will it be to just learn a piece and as you learn it in particular key, practice a scale a few times. If it has relevance to your music, it'll make sense. Otherwise you'll ran out of time without getting to learning pieces, or will do exersises in haste, wasting time.

If you're doing transcriptions of things, the extra range is necessary.


Always down the range for me, never up the range. The whole idea of transcribing pieces for EC is to move them down. And again, as you moved them to unusual key, practice that key, not all the scales in existence.

I plan on eventually upgrading to a tenor-treble or (ideally) baritone treble, so it makes sense for me to practice, even if, as it stands, my Stagi makes my ears bleed.


I did that and the result was bad. After all, with two kids and a job it's hard to justify doing something without immediate result. Loundry and dishes seem to have bad habit to accumulate when I practice.

Scales and exercises do pay off - but you do have to be diligent. It is fallacious to say that just because you never had luck with it on accordion, it's useless. You have to believe in what you're doing - if you don't then it's absolutely a waste of time, because you're not giving it real practice.


As it happens, I agree with you. I just don't think that one has to emulate a pro and turn wold be life saving habit of playing music into erroneous game of always feeling incompetent.
I didn't have expected luck with accordion precisely because I spent too much time practicing three scales in every key, plus arpegious, plus chords in all inversions, so I got pretty good at them. My music didn't reflect that, and I had a chocking discovery that most of early jazz musicians couldn't even read, yet nowadays learned composers arrange their works and make a living out of it.
So again and again, to each it's own, and we need to carefully examine which of each is ours. One of the ideas is to be very practical, realistic and efficient. Sounds like good business plan, doesn't it?

#16 njurkowski

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Posted 06 May 2008 - 08:16 AM

Furthermore, the presence of doubled enharmonics means that it is necessary to figure out which hand you will play certain notes on


What I'm finding is that no matter how you play the scales, real fingering is going to be different, depending on the phrazing and the way you play the piece. It takes quite an trial and error to find which fingering gives better result soundwise, and as you learn the piece more, the fingering may change a few times. I found using the accidentals on both sides regardless of how I played that scale before. So to me it's a minor element.


Fair enough. I'll certainly grant that there's a lot of context involved, but I like to have a "base" way of doing things, which can then be changed as needed. I think systematizing makes for a more efficient process, and helps to make the best time out of limited practice time.

That's a valid point, but again, how difficult will it be to just learn a piece and as you learn it in particular key, practice a scale a few times. If it has relevance to your music, it'll make sense. Otherwise you'll ran out of time without getting to learning pieces, or will do exersises in haste, wasting time.


Which is exactly why I only play maybe two minutes of exercises each practice session. It's absolutely true that you will get nothing out of such exercises if you do them without any thought. The benefit comes from doing the exercises very mindfully - paying attention to how each sequence feels, and how you interact with the instrument. You will often find passages in classical music (particularly of the more modern sort) that are in very different keys from tonic, so if you can familiarize yourself with all scales, it will make learning these passages more easy when you get to them. It really comes down to establishing a familiarity with your instrument. Ideally, you don't want your instrument to get in the way of making music. That comes with comfort and familiarity, and even a few minutes of scales, practiced mindfully, can help with that process.

Always down the range for me, never up the range. The whole idea of transcribing pieces for EC is to move them down. And again, as you moved them to unusual key, practice that key, not all the scales in existence.


Absolutely you transcribe them down when possible. But what happens when you run into something written below your range? You have no choice but to transcribe it up. This happens frequently with keyboard music.

I did that and the result was bad. After all, with two kids and a job it's hard to justify doing something without immediate result. Loundry and dishes seem to have bad habit to accumulate when I practice.


Again...we aren't talking about tons of time here. In a minute or so, I run up and down a scale, and each time, I get a little more familiar with the upper range (even if it's just by degrees). Keeping conscious of the nuances of the instrument will lead to a bigger payoff, faster. Believe me, as a grad-student, I don't have tons of time either...

As it happens, I agree with you. I just don't think that one has to emulate a pro and turn wold be life saving habit of playing music into erroneous game of always feeling incompetent.
I didn't have expected luck with accordion precisely because I spent too much time practicing three scales in every key, plus arpegious, plus chords in all inversions, so I got pretty good at them. My music didn't reflect that, and I had a chocking discovery that most of early jazz musicians couldn't even read, yet nowadays learned composers arrange their works and make a living out of it.
So again and again, to each it's own, and we need to carefully examine which of each is ours. One of the ideas is to be very practical, realistic and efficient. Sounds like good business plan, doesn't it?


I think we more or less agree here. Everyone should do what works for them. My point is only that even very limited amounts of scales or exercises can pay off if you adopt the right mindset. If you pay attention and don't consider it drudgery, it will do you good.

I would also say that while early jazz masters might not have read, they sure understood the nuances of their instruments. The instruments became extensions of themselves, and simply provided the way to express the musician's ideas. I for one don't practice or play concertina as much as King Oliver or Kid Ory played their instruments, so I need all the help I can get in mastering the nuances - which scales help with.

#17 David Barnert

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Posted 06 May 2008 - 08:37 AM

Ah but is that more valuable than learning a piece of music? We're not talking in abstract here; the question asked isn't actually the heading, it's about the choice between using your time on scales or music. I would be deeply embarrassed if someone expected me to do some arpeggios I'm sure; but does that matter? On the other hand I have a couple more pieces in my repertoire, learnt when others might be doing scales.

My point is that an hour spent learning a tune may take you an hour closer to learning that tune, but an hour spent learning scales takes you perhaps 15 minutes closer to learning each of hundreds of tunes. The savings add up quickly.

I am reminded of a comment I heard many years ago (1980 or 81?). It was at a benefit concert for Caffé Lena, held at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, NY. Many big stars of the folk music world performed. After David Bromberg played, Michael Cooney came on. At one point, he said (paraphrased through years of memory): "A lot of folks tell me 'I don't need to learn scales, I just want to be able to play [guitar] like David Bromberg.' Let me tell you. If you want to play like David Bromberg, learn scales."

#18 m3838

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Posted 06 May 2008 - 11:46 AM

If you want to play like David Bromberg, learn scales."

Agree 100%.
What if you have only 30 minutes a day, if lucky?
That's the whole point of been realistic. Setting the unacheavable goal is sure way to disaster.
I don't understand how it is possible to do even one single exersise in only 2 minutes. If you play one scale, on 2 beats, on 3 beats, stacatto and legato. Varying stacatto and legato, playing softly and increasing volume, then back to softly - it's 15 minutes easy, and you're not done yet.
Just running up and down the keyboard calling the notes aloud to memorize them is not really an exersise I'm talking about. Sure you need to do that once in a while, even every time will not take much effort.
But as far as "playing like David Bromberg" is concerned it is not that kind of "playing scales".



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