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 Scales: recommended speed
Author: Fishamble 
Date:   2010-06-23 13:28

Is there an accepted or recommended speed that one should be able to play scales to be equipped for most playing situations, say at an amateur level?

I can play scales comfortably up to 120 bpm. I tried a piece marked adagio (I took this to be 70 bpm), but got stung with a run of demi-semi-quavers. I'd have to practice at 140 to facilitate these in my basic technique, which made me wonder. I can tackle 140 bpm scales, but should I stop there; or where should I be aiming?

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 Re: Scales: recommended speed
Author: johng 2017
Date:   2010-06-23 13:59

An accepted speed for amateur level? Not really, but there must be set speeds listed for various playing levels by organizations. Just wondering, if you mean 120 bpm using 8th notes, or 16ths? I recommend scales practiced at all speeds, especially very very slowly and also at the top end of your ability.

I play scales quite a lot and use Fernand Gillet's "Exercises for Scales, Intervals and Staccato for Flute" . His approach is methodical and produces interesting scale variations. He intended his scales to be played slowly, concentrating on each note to note transition. By getting it right slowly, the speed you want comes along nicely.

John Gibson, Founder of JB Linear Music, www.music4woodwinds.com

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 Re: Scales: recommended speed
Author: pewd 
Date:   2010-06-23 14:03

Depends - how are the scales you are studying written? e.g., what rhythm and articulation pattern are you using?

Short answer - as fast as possible.

We use a quarter note/eighth pattern for school auditions here - first note a quarter, following eighths.

I expect middle school students to hit qtr=120 or more, high school students qtr=168 or faster.

HS students need to be able to articulate 16th notes at 120 or faster for placement in the top group.

hope that helps.

- Paul Dods
Dallas, Texas

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 Re: Scales: recommended speed
Author: William 
Date:   2010-06-23 15:07

I would recommend a moderately fast tempo that allows you to play your scales excercise perfectly while you concentrate on eveness of rhythm and tone quality from note to note. You will have to determine what this "base" tempo is. If you master the eveness of your controlled techinique, you will always be able to play faster if the the music requires you to. Most amateur musicians try to play scale and arpeggio excercises too fast, too soon before actually mastering the finger technique required for smooth execution. Although I have been playing for many years, I still practice my scales--three octaves wherever possible--four to the beat at about mm=80 to 112, tongued and slurred. It just keeps my fingers disciplined to play anything that I need too. I'm 69 yrs old, play in a regional professional symphony orchestra, lots of local bands and a jazz ensemble--and I practice almost every day that I do not have a gig.

Post Edited (2010-06-23 21:20)

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 Re: Scales: recommended speed
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2010-06-23 16:04

The Adagio problem of which you speak sounds self inflicted. There is NO set beat per minute for a given tempo marking such as Adagio or Lento. I would play the fastest notes at a comortable (un-crazy sounding) pace and allow the rest to be comparatively slower.

As for a good scale speed, I knew a good sax/clarinet doubler who only felt competent playing 16ths at 132 per minute for all scales on all horns. This is a reasonable speed but not an upper limit by any means.

............Paul Aviles

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 Re: Scales: recommended speed
Author: mrn 
Date:   2010-06-23 17:19

Fishamble wrote:

I'd have to practice at 140 to facilitate these in my basic technique, which made me wonder.

No you don't. You have to practice them SLOWLY to improve your basic technique.

It takes mental concentration to change what you are doing with your fingers. When you play scales quickly, you give your brain insufficient time to "change the program."

You'll get better results by staying at a slow speed longer and really perfecting what you do--slow and deliberate. Remember that practice, per se, does not make perfect--practice makes *permanent*. So what matters most is that your practice is *accurate*, not fast. The speed will come.

Remember "Karate Kid" (if you haven't seen that movie, rent it)--"wax on, wax off." It may not seem like slow practice will help you play faster, but it does. And just like Daniel-san, you'll suddenly discover that you can do it (play fast), even though you thought you were working on something completely different (playing slow). Fast, slow...there really isn't a difference. The only thing that matters is accuracy. Well....that and you have to have the patience and discipline to make it work.

It also helps to think carefully about how to make smooth and economical finger movements, using your entire hand as a unit when possible. I have found in my own experience that good mental preparation (even without the instrument in hand) can save hours of practice time.

You should read Tony Pay's remarks on "slow fingers" in the following thread, which I have found to be an invaluable mental aid to effective practice:


Another good resource is Sean Osborn's notes on building technique, which contains many good tips:


Finally, I'd like to add that, although I value scale practice highly myself, I somewhat disagree with the notion that practicing scales will, per se, make you "equipped for most playing situations." (I don't know that you actually intended to imply that with your post, but I thought I'd address the subject anyway.)

This point was brought home to me when I was in college. I had a piano-playing friend who could play Hanon all day long at lightning speed in all the keys, but had difficulty sight-reading piano music that even I could play (and let me confess right now that I have very little skill as a pianist). So clearly, scales are just part of the equation--even with regard to technique.

In addition to scales, arpeggios, and exercises, you need to gain experience playing (as well as reading) as many varied kinds of passages as you can, including passages that have little relation to major and minor scales. The etude books by Uhl, as well as those by Jettel (some of Jettel's are extremely difficult, though--buyer beware), are good for this sort of thing.

The more different kinds of things you expose yourself too, the easier everything gets.

Post Edited (2010-06-23 17:28)

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 Re: Scales: recommended speed
Author: bmcgar 2017
Date:   2010-06-23 20:31

I'm constantly struck by how many players (even some of the "pros") can play just about anything at any speed, but whose playing leaves me cold because they play lots of notes, but little music.


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 Re: Scales: recommended speed
Author: Bob Bernardo 
Date:   2010-06-23 22:21

For me, playing 16th notes, using the metronome and articulating each note I try for somewhere around the 130. For slurring it will be 150 or so depending on how many sharps and flats there are.

Designer of - Vintage 1940 Cicero Mouthpieces and the La Vecchia mouthpieces

Yamaha Artist 2015

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 Re: Scales: recommended speed
Author: Mark G Simon 
Date:   2010-06-24 01:26

I agree with mrn's post. Forget about how fast you should practice scales. Think about how slow you can play them. Getting the notes is the easy part. Work on consistency of sound from note to note. Work on making a really smooth legato. Work on proper hand position and efficient finger motion. When playing with articulations, work on efficient tongue motion. Spend lots of time on these and then every once in a little while, play your scales fast, just to demonstrate to yourself how much progress you've suddenly made.

Clarinetist, composer, arranger of music for clarinet ensemble

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 Re: Scales: recommended speed
Author: Fishamble 
Date:   2010-06-24 10:57

Thank you all for your time and thoughts; very generous, and I'm finding this very informative.

I intend to change my approach and spend more time at a slower tempo. I'm interested to observe the effect, as it will be a sea change on what I've been doing.

But, let me see that I've got this right: *most* time spent on slow work, and and *some* time spent on playing faster - right?

Last year I had a target of playing all my scales at 120 (semiquavers/16th notes), and found that unless I worked up to that speed gradually, the mental model for playing significant portions of scales that fast simply didn't exist for me. So in order to be prepared for a fast run of notes, and to play it well and with ease, I feel I need to have been there before. Hence, *some* fast playing.

And thanks mrn for the reminder on passages, and the links; the Tony Pay one is characteristically clever, and I'm looking forward to delving into the Simon Osborne article.

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 Re: Scales: recommended speed
Author: mrn 
Date:   2010-06-24 17:30

Fishamble wrote:

But, let me see that I've got this right: *most* time spent on slow work, and and *some* time spent on playing faster - right?

You got it. :)

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 Re: Scales: recommended speed
Author: Paul Miller 
Date:   2010-06-26 04:25

Recommended speed for practice?

40 bpm

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