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What do we learn from playing scales?


isua
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Hi everyone,

I'm new here, and just had my first viola lesson last week. My teacher began by pulling out a bunch of very scary books and telling me if I ever wanted to play I'd have to do scales and etudes and everything very very seriously. I'm fine with that. But I don't quite understand what I will be learning from the scales, and what I need to be concentrating on as I play them.

I can sing alto and read piano music, so I'm not complete musical beginner, but I haven't taken music lessons before, and really know nothing of what I need to be thinking about as I practice, and what I'm supposed to get out of the scales. Clearly I'm supposed to get a lot out of them; the teacher told me he plays an hour of scales every day. (I won't have a chance to ask the teacher any of this till next week, alas.) Any advice for a girl who can barely saw out "Jingle Bells," with brand new copies of "Mogill's Scale Studies" and Wohlfahrt to mess around with?

Thank you very much!

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As an adult (okay, middle-aged) beginner the first thing my teacher gave me was the Hrimaly scales and the Garlitsky etudes. You have to know what the notes on a scale sound like in order to have good intonation - i.e. play the notes correctly. Since there are no frets or keys you have to be able to "hear" a D or an A and the other notes on a scale and you have to be able to hear a whole step difference in tones and a half step difference in tones. .

It is also good practice for your fingers. There are many, many pieces that involve runs of several succesive notes on a scale.

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Hehe, I have a suspicion that your teacher wants to make certain before he even starts that you are serious, know that playing the violin will be hard work, and that's why he pulled out the "scary books" - to see if you're up to it. I'm an adult student. When I began looking around the violin forums, I read from a lot of violin teachers that when they get adult students, many of them expect to be able to play wonderful things in a short time, and are not prepared for the initial little baby steps and the sheer work involved just to get the left and right hands working reasonably well in the beginning. In a sense you are part of the instrument: the functioning and even shape of your left and right hands are crafted through the exercises over time to become an extension of your instrument as though you yourself were being crafted. With a iano, you basically sit down and play it.

Scales are important because very simply you start finding out where the notes are. There are no keys on a violin like on a piano, and no frets like on a guitar. A few millimeters can make a difference between being in tune and not in tune. As you play your scales, you start getting a sense of where the notes, how far apart the intervals of a note are, and even how fat or skinny your fingers are. At the same time, your fingers begin to be able to stretch and mould themselves more to the demands of the instrument. If you've been playing a G major scale for a while, then playing a melody in G major falls more naturally to the fingers.

How do you practise and how do you take lessons? In the beginning especially, pay as much attention to the how as to the what. If you are having inordinate trouble achieving something, ask your teacher whether he can see what you might be doing to make it hard, or what will make it easier. Many teachers will notice that anyway: an elbow angle, a slumped body: as you are continually corrected, you will find yourself going into a good posture unconsciously just thinking about playing the violin. It becomes second nature.

When you practise, do it mindfully. Listen to what you are doing. Don't practise for such a long time that your body starts being fatigued because then you will start having bad form, be out of tune, a weak sound etc. Listen to your notes and try to be in tune. Aim for a nice tone. You probably won't have a nice tone in the beginning, but after a while you'll notice how much better you sound. Don't be discouraged. Progress can seem incredibly slow in the beginning but even when you think nothing is happening, a great deal is happening. Over time you see the fruits of your labour. I'm entering my fourth year and suddenly it's starting to be fun!

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++++++++++++++++++++++++++

What do we learn from playing scales? ( original question)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Learn to do movements of your arms and the coordinations of your hands, your wrist without dealing the complication of the music. It is not all a trivial matter. For example, how much bow you are going to use? Which part? How much pressure (too much or too litle)? Effect of each choice. /yuen/

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Thank you all! That makes a lot of sense. I'll keep it in mind tonight when I go home and practice. I definitely need all the help I can get staying (more or less) in tune!

If the teacher's trying to test me a bit to make sure I'm serious, I hope I can move fast enough to pass his test! He mentioned in passing that at my second lesson next week I'd start learning third position. I hope I manage to get a slightly more secure handle on first position, not to mention the viola and bow themselves, by then! Lots of scales, clearly.

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Quote:

Thank you all! That makes a lot of sense. I'll keep it in mind tonight when I go home and practice. I definitely need all the help I can get staying (more or less) in tune!

If the teacher's trying to test me a bit to make sure I'm serious, I hope I can move fast enough to pass his test! He mentioned in passing that at my second lesson next week I'd start learning third position. I hope I manage to get a slightly more secure handle on first position, not to mention the viola and bow themselves, by then! Lots of scales, clearly.


Third position during your second lesson???!!! Do you any prior string playing experience at all? Third position is not usually covered at the second lesson of a beginner . . .

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I don't have much of a string background - a few violin lessons fifteen years ago when I was 13 and dumb as a rock. I think he might be overly optimistic in having me get books on third position, and hopefully he's going to realize this. In the meantime I'll practice my first position, and hope for the best!

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I think I'll work on the open strings a lot when I practice tomorrow, as Yuen suggested. I'm definitely not really controlling the bow too well yet, and should worry about that first before I worry about the inadequacies of my fourth finger, which scales are showcasing all too well. Good thing most of my roommates are away this week and don't have to listen to me! Thank you everyone, your advice is really helpful!

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Hrimaly is a good book, there is no doubt. There's a lot of variety in it, and it takes you all the way up and down the fingerboard, eventually. But it's so densely packed that it can be intimidating for a beginner. I usually introduce it about the time a student already has a decent handle on first position scales and finger patterns. If you're a beginning violinist, I would highly recommend you get the "Tune A Day" scale book. It's published as "A Beginning Scale Book for Violin," written by C. Paul Herfurth. Everything in here is in first position. What I like about it is that in each of the elementary keys and finger patterns, he covers not only scales and a few bowing patterns, but scales in broken thirds, and arpeggios in various patterns; also some rudimentary "double stops" (using open strings), which helps educate the student's ear as to how certain intervals should sound. All my beginner students work from this book from the very beginning, so scales and arpeggios are part of their practice routine from what I hope will some day seem like "prehistory" to them. Too bad this isn't published for viola - at least as far as I know.

Scale patterns and of course arpeggios in all their permutations are absolutely fundamental to music. Listen to the Beethoven and Brahms violin concertos, for instance: whole melodies are constructed almost entirely of scales and arpeggios. Getting them to be second nature is going to make life as a musician on any instrument far, far easier.

Joan

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My scale time is also my "technique" time. Scales are the one thing I do that isn't really musical so I am not tempted to worry about musicality, phrasing and all that other stuff. This leaves my mind relatively free to focus on keeping the bow straight, hand (both of them position), tone quality, etc. The same applies to my scale practice on the guitar. I often hear people complain about scales saying that they are "brain dead" exercises and I look at them and reply, "uh.. That's' the whole point" If, however, you are bored when doing scales, then you are not making use of your time wisely.

OT: Austen. If you read this PLEASE call me or contact me ASAP. Your mailbox is full so I can't write you, I can't find your new number and I cannot even go to see you 'cause I don't even know where you live. (GRIN)

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Joan, I agree with you that the Herfurth scale book is great for a foudation of scale work. I too wish it was available for viola. I also found that the Applebaum Scales for Strings book 1 is similar but lacks some of the arpeggios and intervals work. Perhaps the second book has more of this.

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IMHO, the best scale book is Nadaud's Gammes Pratiques (the Bozza edition), available from sheetmusicplus.com. It is French, but both of my most recent Amercian teachers have agreed that it is better than any of the ones traditionally used in this country.

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These books that have been mentioned are all excellent. After a certain point of proficiency, the Carl Flesch scales are the ultimate. This is what many great players have used over the years. They contain all of the double stop scales, which are really essential over the long haul. Also included are scales in all positions on one string, three octaves and harmonics (which are my "bete noir"!)

Each key is explored exhaustively, the key word being "exhaust". So it can be used in sections, or to improve a weak spot in one's technique.

All Best, Larry.

P.S. I realize that this is not a beginner's book, but it is good to be aware of it and work up to it.

.

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If your looking for some prepatory scale books, then try Sevcik op.8(?) prepatory scale and shifting exercises, also their is another Sevcik op. that focuses soley on shifting op.1 part 2, or 3... Flesch is also great. If you're not so advanced you can just do the first page of each of the Flesch scale exercises.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Taught and used properly scales can teach smooth shifting, tone control, improved string crossings,tonal relationships, and countless other important things. Scales are a good place to work on different bowing techniques, learn vibrato, and improve lefthand speed and precision. There is less to think about when you are playing scales so it is easier for the player to focus on minute but important details that will improve their playing in all the pieces they are working on.

It would be tedious to focus on only scales but I think a really good teacher will have scale work for their students, a little bit practiced everyday and touched upon at each lesson. As the student works the teacher can listen for intonation, clear sound, etc. to increase the musicality, harmonies and rhythms can be played over the top of the scale making the scale itself a richer and more interesting entity.

Scales are the feet upon which music stands. There is beauty and depth in their seeming simplicity. Over time done under the right conditions scales can bring a calm centering like a mantra to the player and the listener.

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I visit violin shops often to try their violins. Sometime

a saleman played it for me and let me listen at some distance.

The saleman is usually a good player. He played the scale (3 #) of the piece (also in 3 #'s) before he played the piece.

why? He needed to get all basic notes (sound) in his mind first. Hohmann's practical method book has the same idea in mind. The book has a scale of a particular key first. Then a very nice piece of music follows right after. Just to share this thought with you. /yuen/

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I am glad someone still uses Hohmann. It is a very excellent method book. However, this book has two parts in all its exercises, meaning that the teacher should play WITH the student, and also the teacher must play to the student the scale first, students usually do not know that only the A is same as a "piano", the three other strings (and all other notes) are different, and there are more than one way to play "a scale".

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Hi Mile,

No, I did not mean that. In fact, my first lesson was a combination of scale and a short piece. He was a retired violin professor. I almost could do it myself. My biggist mistake was that I did not practice carefully enough and long enough. Try to attack "advanced piece" when I was not quite ready. Boy, I suffered humiliation for a long time.

( I played other musical instrument very well before I started violin, like many others, over-confident is my shortfall)

Do careful practice, go slow at first. You will get there. Trust me.

You could start with Book 2, Practical method, by Hohmann. and Suzuki book 1 and 2. Book 1 teachs you how to hold the bow and the violin. Music starts from book 2. Before anying, I assume you know how to tune your violin. (some say easy, I have to see it and hear it it then to believe it). /yuen/

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