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Scales: What so good about them?

Scales (and arpeggios), love them or hate them. They play a big part in musicians learning and life. For a long time when I was first learning to play the flute and piano, I hated playing them and didn’t really get the point about doing them. I only learnt them to pass my exams and thought that was the main reason we did them. Now as a musician and a teacher, I understand why they are so important, I sometimes find myself getting a little excited when I’m talking about scales and their importance to my students.

Firstly, scales and arpeggios are an excellent tool for warming up your instrument and your body ready to play. You can play them slowly to hear the tone of each individual notes. To see if there are any adjustments you need to make to either your instrument or yourself to create a better sound. You can play them quickly, to warm your fingers and wrist up. It helps you with the coordination of fingering. It also gets you familiar with the layout of the instrument you are playing. You can practice them with different articulations and dynamics. I like to play the scale that the piece I am about to practice, to help me to remember the key it is in.

Scales and arpeggios help us when reading music. If we can spot passages that contain scales or broken chords, we know what fingering to use when we come to play them. We have practised it when we have practised our scales.

Learning scales and arpeggios is a way of learning music theory and applying it to music. By looking at the relationship between a major scale and its relative minor scale. You can spot the similarities in notes used, and the differences; the difference in sounds and the use of the raised 6th and 7th (depending on the type of minor scale). Knowing the circle of fifths and playing around the circle, helps to spot more relationships between the keys, It also helps to reinforce the importance of the dominant and subdominant notes.

As you can see scales and arpeggios are an essential part of a musicians practice routine, even if they may not be the most exciting part of it. I will explore in further details ways to practice scales and arpeggios.

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