Scaling The Heights-Why Play Scales?

Scales. Oh my goodness. Soooo boring and tedious and dull and unexciting, right? And, like, what’s the point? Why can’t we just get on with playing the pieces, the fun bit?

This is what I used to say to myself in my younger years, growing up first playing piano and tasked with scales, then clarinet and then guitar.

Anyway, in my formative years I struggled to see the point of practicing ones scales. At best, I thought it probably a half decent way of warming up the hands and fingers ready to play. At worst, I thought them a bloody wste of time, a complete drag and just getting in the way of the fun stuff.

In the wisdom of advancing towards my middle age (eeeek!), or let’s say taking stock of the the experiences of my (mis-spent?!) youth, I can now see the error of my previous thinking.  I have a relatively new-found and growing appreciation for those eight little notes we put together and call a scale.

So then. Scales are boring and tedious and dull and unexciting?

Nope. Wrong! As with many things, it’s all about your attitude and your approach to them.

We’re musicians right? And we make music? Playing a scale is no different to playing any music. The bare bones of the notes are there for us to shape and phrase, following the contours, playing in different timbres or tone colours, crescendo, decrescendo, legato, staccato and so on. The choices are almost limitless as to how to make music from scales, as with any other musical passages. And then we have consideration of our tone quality to add into the the mix too.

And so what’s the point of all of this?

Well, aside from practicing making music from notes on the page or in our heads there are a number of significant benefits that can really only be derived from regular playing and practice (which means a little every day – better a little every day than a whole lot once or twice a week) of scales.

In a nutshell, these benefits are:

  • Finger dexterity
  • Left and right hand coordination
  • Touch control and sensitivity for the left hand – i.e. programming in that you don’t have to press harder to get a louder volume from the guitar
  • Touch control and sensitivity for the right hand – developing your free and rest strokes
  • Developing a good quality of sound and tone production
  • Securing your knowledge of the fretboard/ fretboard geography
  • Generally facilitating an ease of playing, with things falling much easier under the fingers when you come to play your pieces without you really having to think about it
  • This is in turn means that sight reading becomes a relative doddle

And if that didn’t convince you, a quote from Andres Segovia sums up the point of scales very nicely:

“The student who wishes to acquire a firm technique on the guitar should not neglect the patient study of scales…..he will correct faulty hand positions, gradually increase the strength of the fingers and prepare the joints for later speed studies. Thanks to the independence and elasticity which the fingers develop through the study of scales, the student will acquire a quality which is difficult to gain later: physical beauty of sound…”


 

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