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 Sabira Woolley BellaOnline's Musician Editor

Major scales

When I first learned scales, I learned them one note at a time, and played them that way for years. But gradually, as I found out what I could do with a scale, I realized it’s more useful to look at a scale as a PATTERN.

In another article (http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art48010.asp) we saw that a major scale is a pattern of half-steps: 2-2-1-2-2-2-1. In this article we’ll learn to see other patterns that make scales easier to play.

So what are those patterns?

We can learn the C Major scale (and also G, D, A, E and B scales) by grouping the first 3 notes of the scale, and then the last 4 notes of the scale. Let’s take a C major scale. The first three notes are C-D-E (like Do-Re-Mi).

On the piano, play them with your first three “fingers” – your thumb on C, then your index finger on D, then your middle finger on E. If you play them all together (not a nice sound because it’s a clump of notes), it’s a pattern of three notes (C-D-E). Then tuck your thumb under and put it on F. Your “fingers” are now on four notes: F-G-A-B, another clump of notes if you play them all together.

Your PATTERN for the C major scale is therefore a pattern of 3 notes (the first clump), then 4 notes (the second clump). Three notes: C-D-E. Four notes: F-G-A-B.

That gives your brain only two positions or patterns to think of: clump one and clump two. Practice those two clumps till they’re comfortable and you’ve got the pattern of the scale – a group of three notes, then a group of four, all the way up the piano. Descending, you have the same thing – only two groups to think about.

If you play guitar, or a flute, trumpet, sax or any other single note at a time instrument, you can still think of those same patterns. Think of the first pattern, and in your mind play the fingering (C-D-E for a C scale). Then play those notes. Then think of the second pattern, and in your mind play the fingering (F-G-A-B for a C scale). Play those notes. Even though you’re playing only one note at a time, you’re still visualizing only two groups.

Visualizing groups of notes as you play – or better yet, before you start to play a scale, or any music phrase, helps you to play those notes in a much smoother fashion, because you’ve already grouped them together in your mind.

Instead of thinking of the first note, playing it; then the second note, playing it; the third note; playing it, etc., the groups or patterns you think of allow you to phrase music more easily. If you can hum the phrase to yourself, when you play it you can put much more expression into it – even when you’re practicing a scale.

Visualizing and then playing can make practicing more fun. Because you can do different things with each group of notes. For example, play group one (the first three notes) from soft to loud, and play the second group from loud to soft. Or accent the first note of each group. Or accent the second note of each group.

The variations will make practicing scales far more interesting and fluid than just thinking of one note at a time.

All the best,

Allan,
BellaOnline’s Musician Editor

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