3. Major scales - first practice

The Purpose of Scale practice - Major scale in Quavers - Fingering - Etude No.1 - Practice Material
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IF 3.1 - The Purpose of Scale Practice

The purpose of practising scales and exercises featuring scales is twofold.

  1. Gaining technical control over your instrument.

  2. Gaining intimate knowledge of all member notes of each scale.
    This makes sight reading in various key signatures much easier.
    For the Jazz musician it is also essential knowledge for the purpose of improvisation.

The primary technical objective of playing scales is not just learning to play faster, but learning to play notes evenly spaced and exactly in time. This is called fluency.
Playing fluently is most difficult at a slow tempo, because the time span from one down beat to the next is much longer at a slow tempo than at a fast tempo.
Once exact timing of each note is mastered at a slow tempo a gradual increase in speed is achieved naturally without the loss of fluency, and while maintaining control over your instrument.

if001.gif Playing each scale from the tonic note up and back down over a wide range of your instrument is a first essential step towards getting to know that scale.
As a Jazz improviser however you must have a far better knowledge of each scale.
Just ask yourself : how often do you start an improvised phrase with the tonic note of a scale. Sometimes of course, but not every time, that would become a very boring solo.

You must learn to start at any point within a scale and select any combination of scale-tones for your solo instantly. This requires more and different practice then just running up and down each scale from its tonic note. In this Session we make a start towards this objective.

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IF 3.2 - Major scale - first Practice

The major scale is by far the most important scale in all Western music, including Jazz. You need to know this scale therefore intimately in all 12 keys.

If you are getting into these scales for the first time start with the major scale in C, G and F, then D, A, and E. After that the Bb major scale, then Eb, Ab, Db, F# (Gb) and B.
If you are already familiar with the major scales play all 12 scales each time you practise this week.

How to Practice
Play each scale in quavers (eighth notes) from the tonic note upwards over 2 octaves with the metronome at tempo MM 40 (40 beats per minute). Accent each note that falls on a down beat, as shown below.

Always first listen to the metronome (or count the tempo in your mind) for a few bars before you start to play.

Audio IF 3.1

Play all scales legato (smoothly, wind instruments slurred).
Do not increase the tempo until you can master all 12 scales without any hesitation or stumble fluently in all 12 keys at MM 40.

Keyboard players
For improvisation you will use these scales mainly in the right hand, but for good instrumental technique you should learn to play them with both hands, separately as well as together. (You may find coordinating both hands not so easy at first, but don't get discouraged.)

Wind instrument players
Listen very carefully to each note in the scale, especially when two or three fingers move at the same time from one note to the next. There should be no lazy fingers causing unwanted transition notes between scale-tones. (Slurring scales will show this up, while tonguing each note will disguise this lack of accuracy.)

After the first few days start using the metronome only half of the time. Practise the other half of the time without it. (The metronome helps you to get a better sense of timing, but it should not become a crutch!)

Instrument range
The 2 octave range for some of the scales may fall outside the pitch range of your instrument. Play those scales in a 2 octave loop, as shown below for the A major scale on the saxophone.

Audio IF 3.2
(in Alto sax pitch)


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IF 3.3 - Major scale fingering

There are standard fingerings for the major and other scales for most instruments.
Fingerings for the keyboard are included in this Session (p.1 and p.2).

For more advise on fingering and instrumental technique keyboard players see the Scales & Arpeggios Book and the Piano Technique Course on CD-ROM

For more advise on fingering and instrumental technique saxophone players see the Saxophone Course on CD-ROM

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IF 3.4 - Etude 1

Major scale - Etude 1 is an 8 bar long exercise of scale runs over the major scale. Each run starts on a different note. The exercise is transposed into all twelve keys and follows the Circle of 5ths.

Play this Etude from memory witout reading the score.
The score is there for you to check out when you are not playing, but by playing from the music you will entirely miss the objectve of this exercise. You need to get your brain involved, and as long as you are struggling you are really learning something !

First look at the score and memorise (or write down in numbers) on which scale-tone each run starts.

  1. The first run starts on the 5th note of the scale and goes down to the 4th one octave lower.

  2. The second run starts on the 4th note of the scale and goes down to the 3rd one octave lower.

  3. The third run starts on the 3rd note of the scale and goes down to the 2nd one octave lower.

  4. The last run starts on the 2nd note of the scale, it goes up to the 2nd one octave higher, then ends on the tonic.

Audio IF 3.3

The ending note of each 8 bar exercise becomes the first note (in some cases 1 octave higher) for the exercise in the next key.

Play this Etude slowly at your own speed. Don't panic, just work your way gradually through the keys. When you can play through all twelve keys try the play-a-long midi track provided.

For the Play-a-Long : Bb- instruments start in the key of D, Eb instruments in the key of A, both on page 3. Continue to the bottom of the page then go to the top of page 1.

Keyboard players
Suggested keyboard fingering for the first note of each run are shown below the staff in the music.
Play chord root tones in semibreves and minims in the left hand.
Play the tonic chord root with the little finger and all other chord root tones above this note as demonstrated on the Audio. Play the same pattern consistently though all keys.
The Chord progression is :

Audio IF 3.4

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IF 3.5 - Practice Material

General File Manuscript Paper
Major scales page 1 page 2
Major scales - Etude 1 page 1 page 2 page 3
clarinet p.1 clarinet p.2 clarinet p.3
Metronomes MM = 40 MM = 45 MM = 50

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