If you’re a music student, you’ve probably heard your teacher tell you, “Don’t forget to practice your scales!” once or twice or maybe a thousand times. If you’re anything like me, you would probably groan and quickly play through your scales so you could move onto practicing your pieces. However, scales aren’t just about putting in the time. They give you the opportunity to strip away the dozens of other variables you would otherwise encounter in a piece to expose what is essentially the building blocks of music. Below is a list of reasons why scales are probably the most important thing to practice on a daily basis.
1. Intonation - For most instrumentalists (aside from pianists), we need to learn how to play in tune. Scales allow you to practice basic finger patterns while checking the intonation of each note. Familiarizing yourself with the sounds of the different major and minor keys can help you develop your ear.
2. Rhythm - Scales are a great way to work on your internal pulse. Start by playing each note of the scale as a whole note. Next, play each note of the scales as a half notes, then quarter notes, then eighth notes, and so on. For string players, this means playing the scale with one note per bow, then two notes per bow, then four notes per bow, then eight notes per bow, and so on. I recommend using a metronome to make sure your note divisions are precise.
3. Technique - While playing a piece of music, there are dozens of technical aspects to focus on all at once. Scales allow us to focus on the fundamentals of technique, such as tone, bow speed, contact point, smooth shifts, and vibrato. We can then apply these techniques to the challenges we encounter in our repertoire.
4. Music theory - As you progress in your studies as a music student, you begin to learn about all kinds of aspects of music theory, such as key signatures, chords, modulations, modes, and more. Music theory will be much easier to understand if you know your scales.
5. Sight reading - If you learn how to play all of your scales, you will have learned how to play every note on your instrument. This will help develop your music reading ability, as in turn, your ability to quickly translate the notes you see on the page into sounds on your instrument.