Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Importance of Practicing Scales

(Yes most find them boring, but they area necessity!)

Scales are useful for a number of purposes. First, scales reinforce the concept of key and tonality as they relate to the fingerboard.  Knowing scales helps the sight-reader anticipate what notes he or she may encounter and where they might be played. 

Second, scales serve as a wonderful daily warm-up drill.  What better way to invigorate the hands while the mind is still rebelling against discipline? Why are they a wonderful warm-up drill?  Scales allow the guitarist the time and progressive resistance to limber the muscles of the hands and arms gradually.  There are very few (if any) players who can jump out of bed in the morning and play a blindingly quick-tempo’d virtuoso piece. Muscle strain will result from the attempt.  By playing scales very slowly, one allows the muscles to loosen up and blood flow to increase.  Once warmed up, the virtuoso piece flows easily and the muscles do not rebel.  Practice with a metronome.  This strictly regulated practice should not be initially intended for speed.  Indeed, it is easier in many ways to play scales quickly.  Practice slowly—it is then that you will hear any inconsistencies in tone and volume between right hand fingers AND have the opportunity to correct sloppy or incorrect left hand placement and fingerings.  Slow metronomic practice of scales will also offer the opportunity to work methodically on vibrato. (See section on vibrato in this volume.)

I have grouped the scales together by key signature, giving the three forms of minor scale in each instance.  Is it recommended that the student practice the natural and harmonic minor scales on a daily basis? Not necessarily.  Hence the simple ‘cheat-sheet’ entitled “Daily Survival Scales.”  These scales are simply the moveable (sliding) forms of the major and melodic minor scales that will cover all the key signatures.  It is rather brainless and repetitive, but this is just the ticket for an easy warm-up!

Right hand fingering is simple.  Alternate first and second fingers (i, m), then repeat the scale reversing the fingers (m, i).  Proceed to the second and third fingers and repeat similarly.  It has been noted that most students’ second and third fingers are weaker than the first and second combination.  I strongly recommend repeating the two arrangements of the second and third fingers for a total of six repetitions of each scale. This practice will build up the weaker fingers.  Do this with free stroke first. Repeat the entire scale regimen with apoyando (rest stroke).  It is imperative that the student should be as strong as possible with both types of stroke.

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