As we begin another school year and welcome our students back, we all know that many of them will not have practiced as consistently as they did during the school year. The loss of technical ability can be one of the more noticeable effects of a busy summer. After establishing, or re-establishing, a characteristic tone, I like to focus on increasing the student’s technical ability. Scales are a highly effective tool that may provide maximum results for the time invested.
MakeMusic Cloud (SmartMusic) has several scale exercises that can be used in a full ensemble rehearsal or individual practice. Here are some scale exercises I regularly use in full rehearsal as well as assign to students individually in MakeMusic Cloud. Some of these exercises are already provided in MakeMusic Cloud under the “Exercises” tab (see the screenshot below). I also introduce scale patterns that I have found useful. Please note that none of these exercises are my creation. They have been taught to me by other teachers or I picked them up along the way. I by no means take credit for any exercise below.
I believe that it is important to teach the students that while the goal of technical exercises is to increase their dexterity on the instrument (chops), we never sacrifice characteristic tone, intonation, articulation, or musicianship, for speed.
Traditional Ascending & Descending Scales
This is a no-brainer. MakeMusic Cloud has the chromatic, major, minor, half diminished, and fully diminished scales available in different ranges and rhythms. For beginners, I personally like to teach five-note scales. It is easy to add notes to the scale as their range increases. Once a student can perform a traditional ascending/descending scale, I challenge them to perform the scale from the lowest note they can play to the highest (with a characteristic tone), avoiding starting/stopping on the tonic. I also like to have students play different scales at the same time. It forces each student to really listen to themselves and not just follow the group. It can create some dense harmonies that students are rarely exposed to in repertoire.
After learning the basic interval patterns that are provided in the MakeMusic Cloud Interval Studies, I like to incorporate some of the following ideas. Work articulation by repeating each note. For example, instead of one quarter note per pitch, play two eighth notes per pitch, or a triplet or four sixteenth notes. Then mix it up. Eighth notes on the down beats, triplets on the upbeats. You can further work articulation by working the style of the repeated notes. Staccato, legato, etc.
MakeMusic Cloud has a free series of exercises (no subscription required) called “Twisters,” and there are tons of them for you to choose from. Here are a couple of my favorites that I find work well with younger students.
- Toggles (credit Todd Campbell, Woods Cross HS): Just what it sounds like! Scale degrees 1212, 2323, 3434, etc. Up to the octave. Descending 8787, 7676, etc. This really works those basic finger patterns from note to note. Kids like it because this is an easy exercise for increasing the tempo.
- 3-Note Bursts: 123, 234, 345, etc. Descending 876, 765, 654, etc.
- 4-Note Bursts: 1234, 2345, 3456, etc. Descending 8765, 7654, 6543, etc.
- Ladders (also Todd Campbell): 12, 1232, 123432, 12345432, etc. Up to the octave. Descending 87, 8767, 876567, etc. It is important that you vary starting this exercise at the bottom and the top of the scale.
There are plenty of scale resources for strings, including Alfred Music’s Sound Innovations: Sound Development (available for Intermediate and Advanced strings), including 3-octave scales in the Advanced level. This curated MakeMusic Cloud playlist features scales and scale patterns from Habits of a Successful String Musician, Essential Elements 2000 for Strings Book 1, New Directions for Strings Book 2, and Measures of Success for String Orchestra.
All the ideas listed above can be applied to any scale/arpeggio you like. For students interested in jazz improvisation, these types of exercises are easy to apply and facilitate the learning of various scales often used in jazz, such as:.
It is important when working in jazz idioms that correct style/articulation is used (swing, latin, funk, etc). Always make sure that each student understands your approach, so they practice correctly. This curated MakeMusic Cloud playlist has a wealth of jazz scales from different resources that will help lay an important foundation for improvisation as well as facilitate their sight-reading ability.
I hope you have gained a couple ideas of how to integrate scale studies into your rehearsals and student practice routines.