11. April 2014 · 4 comments · Categories: Ramble

I’ve written before about the importance of scales, and I’m not going go through that again at the moment. What I am writing about it how so many of my school-aged students are learning them in schools.


Band directors frequently have students learn major scales using either the circle of fourths or the circle of fifths. That’s fine some of the time, but at some point I think it’s good to mix it up a bit. Some students I’ve gotten can only play them in a certain order. Good old muscle memory. I’d love for band directors to check and see if their students can play them out of order. C’mon, give it a try!

My students have to learn a lot of scales. They play the chromatic both in duplet and triplet form, slurred and tongued. They play major, melodic minor and eventually whole tone scales as well. As they learn them I use their assignment sheet to mark which they know and how they are doing on them. When they play them for a lesson I put a check mark above the scale for a note mistake, below I might place a “g” for a “glitch”, H for what I call the “half hole hop”, HN for high note issues, the half hole symbol if I hear what I call the “half hole pop” when they move the half hole finger slightly after the rest of their fingers. And yes, I have even more things I might put below. I’m picky. What can I say? I hope in the long run they start to understand why. (Side note: I don’t ask for every scale at every lesson once I believe they’ve learned them fairly well. We do have other things we want to get to!)

I believe that how we approach scales is important. It’s not only about understanding keys and scale structure, or the fact that they appear fully or in snippets in our music. I ask that students treat their scales as they treat anything: musically! Sometimes I’ll stop them and go through a rather long story:

The lights dim to half and the concertmaster walks out, bows to the audience, turns around and looks at you. All alone, you must give a lovely, in tune A. And another. And sometimes even one more, depending upon the group. Then the lights dim all the way and out walks the conductor, taking a bow and then turning to the orchestra. The strings begin with a very soft tremolo. Now it’s your turn. You have to start the work with a solo, playing a scale. Make it the most beautiful scale you can play. Now go for it!”

It’s funny how things change if one thinks of a simple scale as an important solo.


  1. Do you refer your students to a particular book for scales? Also, do you think it is important to run through all the scales–major, minor and chromatic at the beginning of every practice session? I’m trying to structure my practice sessions better. I’m an intermediate player working slowly working her way through Ferling. Sometimes I don’t think I spend enough time on fundamentals. My oboe teacher has recommended Daily Scales for Oboe by Whitney Tustin.


  2. I don’t use a scale book, KJC< as I require them to be memorized, but I think the Tustin book would be fine to start with! My students play a "G warm up" (I'll try to remember to write about that ... starting on low G, going down one half step, back to G, down a full step, back to G, down 1 1/2 steps ... in other words: G - G-flat - G - F - G - E - G - E-flat - G - D - G - D-flat... all the way to low B-flat). Then they play long tones on A-440. 16 second each of mf, ff, pp, crescendo, decrescendo, crescendo-decrescendo and decrescendo-crescendo). Then it's chromatic scales (with metronome), slurred and tongued duplets, slurred and tongued triplets. All the other scales follow, out of order. We end with major key tripets. Needless to say, I don't do ALL of this at every lesson when they are close to mastered. I have a very structured lesson practice, and I expect students to follow that structure in their practice sessions. 🙂

  3. Thank you! Looks like a very good warm-up and practice to get them ready for college auditions too.

  4. I hope so, KJC! 🙂