I love scales! Odd, you might think, but personally, I think scales and arpeggios get a bad press! They’re essential; they are the foundation of the music we listen to and play and therefore, we should learn all about them, to get the absolute best out of our own music making.
As a music teacher, I’m aware it’s all too easy to get bogged down with technicalities. It’s easy to forget the excitement and enjoyment of the music and most importantly, the reason you picked up your instrument in the first place!
There are loads of good reasons why you ‘should’ work on your scales and arpeggios:
- develop your musical ear
- establish accurate fingering
- develop muscle memory
- develop hand co-ordination
- seeing the ‘key’ scale patterns when written down to help sight-reading
The problem is that we tend to learn them playing up and then back to the root note which can be pretty dull and robotic. Actually, though you may not think so, this does give some benefits: internalising a steady beat and learning to play notes accurately and consistently.
To really learn, your brain needs to be stimulated and excited.
Who remembers learning their ABC to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star? Learning times tables to songs (Taylor Swift does a mean 6x table) and of course fabulous nemonics, for example, to help remember the order of the sharps (Father Christmas Gets Drunk And Eats Bread)!
So, stimulate your brain and have some fun learning your scales – be creative and make them musical not robotic! Try the following tips:
- Change the scale playing pattern – rather than up and back again, play around with the order of the notes – start in the middle of the scale. The purpose is to learn the notes of a certain key and the notes aren’t always written in ascending/descending order!!
- Introduce rhythmic variations – play them slowly, play them ‘swing’ style, make up your own rhythms. Why not use the Sax Bandits fruity rhythm patterns (The Fruit Toot Express)!
- Introduce different tones and articulations – play with the volume, vibrato, staccato, legato
- Play with your teacher or saxofriend, and alternate which notes of the scale you play, or play the scale as a round
- Use a drum beat rather than a metronome (here’s ).
- Play along to a backing track in the appropriate key – there are loads of different styles on Youtube – but remember, if you want to play around with the G major scale and you’re playing an alto sax (Eb), you’ll need a backing track in Bb and if you’re playing soprano (Bb) you’ll need a backing track in F major.
Practising scales and arpeggios doesn’t mean ‘playing the same thing every time like a robot’. Scales and arpeggios practice means strengthen your fingers, train your ears, explore your own musical style and have fun! After all, that’s what you started learning an instrument for, isn’t it?
Louise is a saxophone superhero, teaching at her studio in Yateley, Hampshire (she also teaches clarinet, flute, voice and music theory). You can find out more about her exciting music school at.