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  • Chris Anderson

Eight Ways To Make Playing Scales More Interesting

Everyone says it, and I’m not going to be any different; playing scales can be tedious! It doesn’t matter how much we get told that without scales there’d be no music. Or, scales are the foundation on which all music is based. Or how beneficial they are to assist us in building our technique. All this is true but it does little to brighten up an otherwise dull essential part of making music. In this blog I give some of my top tips I give to my students in the hope that I can help you inject a bit of fun and interest into playing scales and arpeggios.



Playlist Rhythms

Find a playlist you like and select a random song for each scale, arpeggio or broken chord. The idea is that you listen to the first few seconds, or wait for the chorus. Then you take that rhythm and play the item you need to play. For example if your chosen song was “I’m Walking On Sunshine” then you’d go up and down the scale to the rhythm of the chorus. This can be done on any instrument.


I'm Walking On Sunshine Rhythm C Scale

Swing Baby

Swing music is made up of alternating long notes and short notes, or if you listen to a swing beat on a keyboard often it goes “long short short”. In this suggestion you will be swinging your scales. As a variation you can staccato the long notes on the way up, and the short notes on the way down. Then swap. This can be done on any instrument. For a super duper challenge on piano: play swung ascending with the RH and straight in LH and descending swap. Then for a super, super, duper challenge do the staccato thing as well! To help with the swing rhythm use the word “baby” with a long first syllable. For the long-short-short version the phrase “cheese doctor” works well.


Two Note Swing C Scale

Three Note Swing Scale

Repetition Of Notes

This will get your fingers or tongue going! Play your exercises with repeated notes. Using the scale of C major as an example you could do quavers - CCDDEEFFGG and so on (the word coffee will help with the rhythm). Then you can do triplets - CCCDDDEEEFFFGGG (using the word pineapple will help with the timing of the triplet). Then you can do semiquavers - CCCCDDDDEEEEFFFFGGGG (I like to use “sticky toffee”) for this.


Quavers C Scale

Triplet C Scale

Semiquaver C Scale

Play With Your Food

Think about your favourite meal or drinks and play in the rhythm that is created by the words. For example “sausage and chips” would give you a triplet followed by a crotchet. “Fish and chips” would be two quavers followed by a crotchet. “Lemonade” would give you two semiquavers and a quaver. “Hot Choc’late” crotchet followed by two quavers.


Food C Scale

Dynamic!

Start soft and get louder as you go up, on the way down get softer. Then start loud and get softer on the way up, on the way down get louder. A variation would be to alternate the notes loud-soft-loud-soft. Then reverse it.


Dynamics C Scale

Tempo

Get faster on the way up, get slower on the way down. Reverse it.

Staccato/Legato

This one is exclusively for keyboard instruments. On the way up have the LH play legato and the RH play staccato. On the way down LH staccato, RH legato. Then swap the starting articulation.


Tango

Play the scale in the rhythm of a tango. The phrase “Squashed tomato” may help with the rhythm.


Tango C Scale

The benefits of doing these exercises are (at least) two fold. Not only do they make the playing of scales and arpeggios a bit more interesting but they also demonstrate how well you know a scale. I say to all my students that they should learn the scale well enough so that they can have a conversation with someone and still play the scale without going wrong. Doing these exercises has a similar effect because you are having to focus on something different. I hope this is useful to you and inspires you to come up with your own ways of making scales more interesting. Good luck!

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