Staff%20paperHave you ever found yourself bored with your practice routine?  Ever practice something over and over but can’t seem to get into it?  If you have ever asked yourselves these questions don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone.

Musicians of all levels and backgrounds have faced these questions at different points in their development and in my many years of teaching I have found that they are some of the biggest roadblocks students will ever face.  In this series of five articles I will tackle these very issues and present exercises and approaches that will hopefully help to get rid of any monotony you may have in your practice routine.  This first article will deal with one of the most dreaded areas of any practice routine, scales.

As a student I used to find myself spending countless hours playing up and down scales.  Though I found that practicing scales greatly improved my technical ability I would often find myself daydreaming or “zoning out” when practicing them.  Since I was becoming bored with practicing scales, but knowing that I still needed to work on them, I decided to try and make my scale practice as musical and enjoyable as possible.  In doing so I found that not only did the emotional content of my playing improve, but I finally started to feel like I really “knew” my scales inside and out.  Here are a few exercises that have helped me energize my scale practice.

  • Playing with dynamics.  One thing that I find most students lack when they are playing their scales is dynamics.  Instead of simply running up and down a scale try playing them with a wide dynamic range, say from ppp to fff.  You can play an entire scale at one dynamic level or add crescendo’s and decrescendo’s as you see fit, the choice is up to you.  The goal should be to make each scale you play as musical as possible while still achieving your technical goals.

  • Playing with emotion.  When I was studying classical guitar in high school I was lucky enough to have a teacher that opened my ears and mind to many new possibilities.  One of the exercises she had me do was to change the emotional context of my major and minor scales.  Instead of playing “happy” sounding major scales or “sad” sounding minor scales she has me flip them around.  I had to come into my lesson and make my major scales sound sad and my minor scales sound happy.  By practicing scales this way I started to become tuned into the different sounds contained within each scale.  How by simply accenting certain notes or intervals I could change the emotional context of any scale I was playing.  If you don’t like the happy vs. sad idea you can take any emotion and portray it with your scales, anger, excitement, surprise etc it’s up to you.
  • Improvising with scales.  If you are not accustomed to improvising than adding this element to your scale practice can be both exciting and a little scary.  Improvising doesn’t have to mean that you completely rearrange a scale or that you create an entire solo on the spot, it can be much simpler than that but just as effective.  The next time you practice your scales try sliding into a note or two, or add a few slurs or vibrato here and there.  You might want to change the rhythms you use.  Instead of playing straight eighth notes try two eighth notes and two triples or any other rhythmic combination you can think of.  Another great approach is to randomly change directions when playing a scale. You might play “up’ three notes, then “down” two, then up five, then down 4 etc.  By adding any or all of these improvisational elements to your scale workout you can find out how well you really know your scales.  Like I tell my students “if you can play a scale then you have memorized it, if you can manipulate a scale than you have internalized it.”

These are just a few of the ways in which you can inject some fun and excitement into your scale practice.  If you try these ideas out and find that you enjoy them feel free to come up with your own ideas and approaches.  Scales are a fundamental element of any player’s technical repertoire but that doesn’t mean that they can’t also be a fun part of our practice routine.  Thanks for reading and stay tuned for next weeks article on practicing chords.

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