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Do's and Don'ts of Violin Scales

Ah, scales. The most wonderful, boring, monotonous, effective portion of practice. While some violin students like performing scales, many others will learn to love them over time. Because regardless of whether or not playing scales is something you like, to effectively learn to play violin, or any other string instrument, you must constantly, and religiously practice them.

However, you may not be aware that there are right ways and wrong ways to practice violin scales. Learning to play the violin is a challenging process for almost everyone. Although some people are born with a measure of natural aptitude, the training process is the same for everybody else. Learning a completely new concept like music notation, combined with strenuous physical training and exercises required for a string instrument, means that you have to focus a goodly portion of your time to the dedicated practice of fundamental techniques. And, deliberately practicing scales forms a key ingredient to successful, speedy training.

Learning violin scales helps you develop the correct finger and arm muscle memory, which is an important factor in making measured progress. These do’s and don’ts can help you make the most of your practice time and become more adept at playing your violin scales, and thus, your violin.

“Don’t” ignore your scales. Many of the most beloved compositions and timeless songs feature natural phrases that contain portions of a scale. Knowing how to perform them with precision can help you master other pieces of music, and it will help you learn how to improvise beautifully and eventually compose music.

“Do” set aside a certain amount of time during each practice session to focus on playing different violin scales. It’s a good idea to perform them during your warm-up and “cool-down” portions of practice. After you finish doing some quick finger stretches, of course.

“Don’t” just speed through your scales mindlessly. Deliberate practice is necessary to ensure that your practice time isn’t wasted, or that you’re not just “perfecting” your mistakes. For example, if you notice that you always miss a certain note (you’re flat, sharp, or off-beat), practicing the same way without thinking, you’ll train yourself to perform the mistake. Instead of correcting it, you’ll strengthen the problem. Deliberate practice means that you focus your entire mental energy on performing the perfect physical task, and has been proven effective in many studies.

“Do” play with an exaggeratedly slow tempo. This will help you perform deliberate practice. If you, for instance, slow your tempo down to one second per beat, and use whole notes at 4/4 time, you’ll knock out two important practice tasks. Holding a long, sustained bow stroke helps you learn straight bowing and improve your quality, both essential fundamentals.

“Don’t” think that practicing scales has no value. In addition to learning to play key portions of music beautifully, scales contain arpeggios, and once you realize that you can alter the timing and the length of each note, you’ll be able to develop smoother shifts and better bow control (speed and contact point).

“Do” mentally say the notes in your head as you play them. This is very important for beginner violin students. Saying or singing the notes to yourself as you play them will help solidify your intonation, and enhance sight reading skills.

“Don’t” ignore your sheet music. Having the sheet music in front of you, and focusing on each note as you play it is essential for helping you build your music reading ability. Find print outs of any scale here.

“Do” make sure that you are holding your violin, bow, and posture correctly. Practicing scales gives you a great opportunity to work on your form, but it also allows you to explore your string instrument and develop your own playing style. Things that you can experiment with include:

  • Finger and bowing pressure
  • Bow speed and contact
  • Transitions and similar fundamental techniques

“Don’t” forget that playing scales also strengthens your other fundamental violin skills. As mentioned before, by playing at a very slow tempo, you’ll be able to develop improved timing and rhythm. In addition, repeated practice of your violin scales improves your natural ability to detect and correct problems with your tone, articulation, and consistency.

“Do” understand that practicing your scales will help you make faster progress than if you neglect them. Scales form the building blocks of all music, so naturally, if you plan to become a musician, scales are crucial.

Learning to deliberately practice your violin scales will help build improvements in a number of your playing skills. So, the next time you practice on your string instrument, remember all the advantages you can gain by perfecting your violin scales.

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