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 Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: CarlT 
Date:   2011-01-29 00:41

I believe many, if not all, good method books suggest that the student memorize scales. I did a search and found several good posts on "how" to memorize, but I didn't run across any that explained "why" it is good to commit scales to memory. I know it can't hurt, but does it really help that much?

I have practiced the easier scales (C, F, G, D, Bb, etc.) enough now that although I really didn't try to commit to memory, I can play from memory if I go slowly enough, but I wonder how important it is, especially for the harder scales, to commit to memory. Why would it not be sufficient to just practice from written scales, and then if practiced enough, it might (or might not) be commited to memory?

I would appreciate your comments on this, as I've pondered this since beginning clarinet study almost 3 years ago.

CarlT

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2011-01-29 01:02

When you read written language, you tend to read to a large extent by recognizing whole words or at least parts of them (regardless of how you first learned to read). It would be a very slow process to read each word in a long piece of writing phonetically, letter by letter. When a skilled reader runs across a word he doesn't recognize, he still has the ability to "sound it out" and may be able to make an educated guess as to the word's meaning, or he can look it up in a dictionary. But to do that for every word in an essay or a story or a novel would make reading a laborious chore.

Scales, along with arpeggios and other patterned "rudiments" mostly give you a vocabulary that makes reading music easier while playing them builds basic technique. You can read every note of a classical concerto one at a time or you can see (recognize) much of it as familiar patterns of scale and arpeggio fragments, which takes much of the labor out of the learning process. When you run across a pattern that doesn't fit - a synthetic scale in a 20th century piece or even one of those almost diatonic scales or arpeggios in classical repertoire with a note left out or a chromatic change somewhere in the middle, it's easier to decode how the specific pattern differs from the memorized diatonic version, having read most of the context without the need for such close scrutiny or analysis.

Besides that, rudiments are useful for developing many other areas of technique in inverse proportion to the attention you need to pay to the notes themselves. If you can completely take your mind off the notes, you can concentrate on tone, smooth fingerings, etc.

One question: when you read your scales from printed music, what do you use? Is each chromatic sign (sharp or flat) marked next to each note that needs one, or are you reading scales with key signatures at the beginning?

Karl

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: moma4faith 
Date:   2011-01-29 01:07

CarlT,

As an ex-band director, I think memorizing scales is very important. Sort of like knowing your alphabet before you start reading and writing. Music is based, for the most part, on scales. If you are familiar and versatile with the key that a piece or section of music is written in, it will help you with sight reading right off the bat. Also, it will help you as you work through the piece and really hone the performance. I also find that being fluent with scale studies (dealing with intervals and different rhythms) is a great aid in sharpening your sight reading skills, as well as your all-around performance and reading skills. Every great house is built on a solid foundation, and scales are the foundation of music. Just my two cents.

Jennifer

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: Bob Bernardo 
Date:   2011-01-29 01:08

For me, part of knowing scales and actual music solo's should be memorized. Once you know these by heart you can speed up the scales, 3rds, minor, major, 7ths, whole note scales, and any other scale you can think of. The cool part of remembering scales will surely help you sight read, learning different fingering, and even learning to play with feeling and developing a keen ear for music. You learn how to slur, articulate, both, learn how to tongue fast, and a bunch of other exercises I left out. At auditions for a concerto contest, even college auditions, one of the first lines for the contest will say you must play your prepared piece by memory. This is a good thing as you are forced to know what the piano player is doing or the orchestra. Spending hours on scales also helps you develop an ear for telling if you are out of tune.

Unless you have some sort of brain disorder, which is uncommon, but this does happen, you may be in need of using sheet music. Dyslexia can be one of these issues, but people with dyslexia sometimes have no problems playing by memory. There are other brain disorders that can be related to your memory.


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Post Edited (2011-02-01 05:25)

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: Bob Bernardo 
Date:   2011-01-29 01:12

If you think that is hard I played under frederic Fennal, from Eastman, and he had most or all of the scores memorized. I talked to him and he said it takes about 5 minutes per measure.

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: CarlT 
Date:   2011-01-29 01:30

Karl asked, "when you read your scales from printed music, what do you use? Is each chromatic sign (sharp or flat) marked next to each note that needs one, or are you reading scales with key signatures at the beginning?"

Karl, most of the time I do the latter...reading scales with key signatures at the beginning. The only time I do write the chromatic signs above notes is when I am trying to play unfamiliar notes (like the first altissimo Eb or the first altissimo F# that I've been lately practicing) until I am familiar enough with them (which hopefully won't be much longer now).

I do see your reasoning though, Karl, and I will continue to try to learn to play the harder scales by memory. I have a goal of learning a new scale at least every 2 weeks, up to the first altissimo F. When I get to E Major, or Ab Major, I might have to extend my goal time though ;-(

Jennifer, if I were given a test, I believe I could write down every note in any major or (simple) minor scale, for I do know how to read the Key signatures; however, "playing" them from memory would be quite a challenge at this point, but I am willing to work hard at it.

Bob, as I said in my original post, I can already play the simple scales by memory, especially if I go a bit slower than reading them, and I do that without even trying to memorize it...just by everyday practice, so I think there is much hope for me learning to play the hard ones by memory, given time.

Thanks to all.

CarlT

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: 2cekce 2017
Date:   2011-01-29 01:56

would one say its easier to memorize and play scales on an octave instrument verses one thats in 12ths because I find it a lot easy to write out the scales but when it comes to playing them on the instrument its a lot easier on sax than on clarinet.

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: luca1 
Date:   2011-01-29 04:01

Pedagogically unsound. Memorizing scales will no more make you a musician/clarinetist than memorizing your "times tables" will make you a mathematician. Sure, we all want to attain a fluid style, and technical control, but there are many ways to do this. Blind repetition of the scales ... scales scales... mantra is not helpful. Sometimes teachers default to the repetition of cliches instead of really looking at the challenge. There are many ways to skin a cat. Some are less boring than others.

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2011-01-29 04:23

I guess we disagree strongly on at least two things, then - memorizing rudiments and multiplication tables. Learning "times tables" won't make you a mathematician any more than learning the rudiments will by itself make you a musician or learning to read will make you a scholar, but in each case it makes many practical things - figuring a tip or tax without a calculator, reading a newspaper or sight-reading a new piece of music - easier, more immediately fulfilling and less laborious, and _can_ open the door to higher levels of achievement. As for its being "pedagogically unsound" it depends on what pedagogue you're asking.

Karl

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2011-01-29 04:34

Your answer interests me. It's been a long time since I memorized scales and I only have a dim memory of how I did it, but I don't think I ever really used printed music for them. I often wonder, though, why my students seem so dependent on those scales in the books that indicate a key signature at the beginning and then simply show each scale note with no indication of sharps or flats (as you seem to use). It always seems to me what they're looking at is simply different versions of a C scale starting on different notes while having to remember the key signature to know which notes to alter. But then the written scale is the same 7 notes for each one - the notes A through G starting on whichever the tonic is.

Without meaning in any way to criticize this or belittle it, I'm curious what you find looking at a scale of all "white notes" in sequence does to help you play the various scales correctly (as opposed to simply looking at the key signature and then playing one of each letter name between A and G with the correct chromatics applied.

Karl

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: davetrow 
Date:   2011-01-29 05:03

One thing scale memorization helps with is getting a solid muscle memory of the finger patterns that are necessary in any given key to avoid being trapped into finger-sliding or impossible fingerings. Of course, sometimes the fingerings are impossible!

Dave Trowbridge
Boulder Creek, CA

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: Bob Bernardo 
Date:   2011-01-29 05:20

Luca1 wrote "Memorizing scales will no more make you a musician/clarinetist than memorizing your "times tables" will make you a mathematician"

When you play scales you are also traing all sorts of muscles, your brain, and nerves to a finite level. This is repetitiion of course is needed to become a great musician.

Since Luca stated the same thing about math, well I have to redirect this to sports. Tiger Woods is the best player in the world because he started learning how to train his muscles at the age of 3, simply by practicing with his father. You can't expect a pro golfer or a pro musician getting into professional groups such as the PGA tour or a top symphony orchestra, with not knowing how to do your fundamentals.

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: Tony M 
Date:   2011-01-29 05:38

I'm intrigued (and trying not to be sceptical) but could you please elaborate on the other ways to skin the cat? Scales won't make anyone a good musician, I agree, but I think of them as so fundamental to what I understand as developing facility with an instrument that I find it hard to think of any instrument without thinking of how you play scales on it.

I read a review this morning of a biography of Alan Lomax, the person who collected songs and other things for the Library of Congress and others. Whilst he might have been somewhat disorganised in his own life he was insistent on instruments and tuning: "It is very important to record the tuning of all instruments that play a part in the music, to photograph the instruments and to get the informant to explain how he plays it." Now I realise a Galician fisherman might not sit down and learn scales in order to play but certainly the relationship between the tuning of an instrument and the scales that are normally played on it takes us a long way to understanding a type of music.

And let's not forget the value of learning scales in switching instruments. Fingering and embouchure only gets one so far (try easing your airflow or relaxing your bite as you move into the higher registers of a piano - not a lot of help), scales allow one to navigate new instruments. Where you sail, and how fluidly you get there is your business.

I never knew that I was so devoted to scales and this self-revelation must be my excuse for going on so long. But I am genuinely intrigued by other ways of skinning the cat, please tell.

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: Bob Phillips 
Date:   2011-01-29 06:09

Imagine Mozart sitting at his clavier whipping out a riff in the form of the Amajor scale in thirds! Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle in 1/16ths at about 144 to a 1/4 note.

Now, you're challenged to blow that gesture on your clarinet in Bmajor -5 sharps.

Which side of the instrument do you take the B4? If you've memorize your 5# scales in thirds, its a whiz --otherwise, you're going to end up stumbling over the D#.

If it's "in your fingers" (muscle memory), your eyes see what's going on, and the whole thing is processed in you brain stem --fingers flying, and your more thoughtful brain parts can turn those flying fingers into a nicely turned phrase.

Whenever I run into something that doesn't sight read readily, I analyze it and put on my "to work on list."

Bob Phillips

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: sonicbang 
Date:   2011-01-29 13:30

I usually practise scales about one hour each day from Baermann's daily studies. Sometimes I add some excersises from the Klose method book.

I finished the Baermann 5th time and I feel more comfortable than ever when playing a new piece at first time. And I will play it as many times as I can, because it's the best daily studies collection ever written. It's our Bible.



Post Edited (2011-01-29 14:38)

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: pewd 
Date:   2011-01-29 14:44

Sonic - also look at the Kroepsch books (4 volumes).
I mix them up - Baermann one day, Kroepsch the next. With a sprinkling of Kell.

- Paul
private teacher - Dallas, Texas


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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: luca1 
Date:   2011-01-29 15:14

CarlT opened this up with a question that shows an active mind. Not happy with merely fulfilling the teacher's request, CarlT wants to know the underlying reasoning. Such a questing imagination is probably not an individual who will be satisfied/fulfilled by practicing/memorizing scales for an hour every day. Some souls find this slavish repetition compelling, others do not.
I do play scales every day, many by memory - not because I memorized them consciously, they just stuck. I would not however spend more than 10 or 15 minutes a day on them. I need a richer diet. There are all kinds of "musical" studies one can use to gain technique: Uhl, Lancelot, Galper...etc. I'd rather spend time playing music. Find joy where you find it.

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: Claire Annette 
Date:   2011-01-29 15:23

I think that appegios should accompany scale memorization.

Scales do indeed teach muscle memory and, as well know, portions of scales/appegios appear in many pieces of music.

To me, memorizing/mastering scales is to clarinet players what practic drills and strength training are to football teams. (I use this analogy because my son plays football.)

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2011-01-29 15:35

luca1 wrote:

> CarlT opened this up with a question that shows an active mind.
> Not happy with merely fulfilling the teacher's request, CarlT
> wants to know the underlying reasoning. Such a questing
> imagination is probably not an individual who will be
> satisfied/fulfilled by practicing/memorizing scales for an hour
> every day. Some souls find this slavish repetition compelling,
> others do not.
> I do play scales every day, many by memory - not because I
> memorized them consciously, they just stuck. I would not
> however spend more than 10 or 15 minutes a day on them. I need
> a richer diet. There are all kinds of "musical" studies one can
> use to gain technique: Uhl, Lancelot, Galper...etc. I'd rather
> spend time playing music. Find joy where you find it.

No argument from me with this - I wouldn't ask a student to spend an hour a day memorizing rudiments. And I'm not sure that "slavish repetition" is the best or even an effective way to memorize (that was another discussion that CarlT alluded to in his original post). But, really, given a basic understanding of a diatonic scale's structure (which should come at the beginning of the process) and some kind of sequential set of goals, I'm not sure why it would take more than 10-15 minutes of each practice session to get at least the major and minor scales up to, say, 4 flats and 4 sharps, worked into memory. The other three pairs can come later, when the music the student wants to play requires them. In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the possible pain of spending 15 minutes on basic rote learning. The command of the basic vocabulary embodied in truly learned ("in the fingers") rudiments can make those musical studies, not to mention actual performance literature, easier to approach and allow the player's diet to be even richer.

Karl

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2011-01-29 16:27

Just learned from the Julian Bliss live chat on WWBW website that Sabine Meyer had him play TWO SOLID YEARS of rudiments with NO MUSIC before she then started him on Stamitz!!!!

Rudiments , Rudiments , Rudiments


Although I know you are all talking about finger gymnastics, if you think about it you only have ONE major scale pattern, one melodic minor pattern, etc., so go by the sound and just let your fingers fall where they must.



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



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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: EEBaum 
Date:   2011-01-29 16:37

I've been musing over this question quite a bit lately, though more from a different angle... why do most jazz players, when they're improvising, even when they're improvising things other than jazz, always sound like they're playing jazz? Because they've drilled jazz scales, arpeggios, and patterns for years.

So why learn scales and arpeggios rather than just learning a bunch of lit? No huge reason, if you're not planning on improvising. Learning tonal scales will make learning tonal repertoire easier, because the patterns are under your fingers. Whatever patterns you're used to playing are much easier to recall when playing a piece. If all you play is 12-tone music, major and minor scales won't do that much for you.

If you spend a lot of time learning tonal repertoire that's in a variety of keys, you'll probably learn the useful patterns found in most scales without "playing scales." Learning the scales themselves will enhance your versatility and ensure that you didn't miss a few combinations that never happened in the music you learned.

I was taking wind improv lessons a while back, and at my first lesson, my teacher commented that my melodic language consisted primarily of major and minor scales and arpeggios and suggested I practice a greater variety of patterns so I have more to pull out of thin air, which has helped me greatly.

I'm now thinking of experimenting on myself, carefully selecting a handful of unusual pitch combinations to learn very well, and see if this creates a particularly distinct language when I improvise.

-Alex
www.mostlydifferent.com

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: EEBaum 
Date:   2011-01-29 16:47

Man, would help if I read your original post more thoroughly. For me, it's not an either-or. If I play something enough times, it's memorized. For scales, it's more of a feel than thinking notes. I can accelerate the process by trying to not look early on, which is what you seem to be asking. Whether for scales, rep, or whatever, this can be hugely helpful because it releases you from the confines of the page, which can have subtle yet significant effects on your playing. It can force you to feel, remember, and anticipate things rather than always staring at the page, and, in my experience, allow a greater connection with HOW you're physically making the notes happen.

-Alex
www.mostlydifferent.com

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: clarinetguy 2017
Date:   2011-01-29 18:53

I agree with the others. Memorizing major and minor scales in every key has been extremely helpful to me. I think it's essential for serious clarinet players.

Having said this, it all depends on what you want to do with your clarinet playing. For adults who play only in low-pressure situations for fun, it's helpful to memorize scales, but not essential. For high school band students who play only for fun but really aren't serious about it (and are content to sit at the end of the third clarinet section), it's probably sufficient to memorize only the "easier" scales. For everyone else, though, who really wants to improve his/her clarinet skills, I highly recommend memorizing scales.

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: srattle 
Date:   2011-01-29 19:54

It's great to do rudimentary work, but I'm surprised everyone is talking about scales as though the only way to work on them is to mindlessly bash them into your fingers. Memorizing is fine, but if you actually work on scales then there is no 'memorizing' to do.

I find scale work to be very useful, but not JUST to learn the scales so they can be repeated, but they can be useful to learn so many more things.
Scales are a really great tool to work on sound, evenness, response, air flow, articulation and a number of other essential clarinet related things, specifically because they are so simple.

I go completely crazy practicing scales if I am doing it to just learn the scale, put it to memory, and move on. Honestly I don't see the point in that, not because it's useless to know your scales, but because that, to me, it completely wasted practice. Instead, I actively engage my mind, and use the scales to focus on many other factors. In the end, of course the scale gets learned.

Normally, when I 'practice' scales, I will never go through all the keys in 15 minutes and pack away, but rather put in 1 hour of work on one scale (this is the amount of time I feel I can get the full amount out of that scale) and then I leave the next scale to the next day. It makes no sense to be able to play every scale sloppily, without really understanding how each note works, not knowing which chords each note of a scale can take you.

I completely advocate learning scales, but learning them in a smart way, not mindless. Then both your fingers and your mind can know intimately how to play the scales when it comes to the real music.

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: Bob Phillips 
Date:   2011-01-29 21:08

srattle:
So important to stress: Do not allow errors in your scale practice. If you do, you'll be stuck with a lot of work to unlearn those mistakes and correct things. For years after the correction, your muscle memory with have two alternatives, and with me, its always the bad one that comes out.

2cekce:
It seems as though there are pluses and minuses in learning clarinet scales. When you've learned to start on a chaleumeau note and play the scale up, you punch the register key, and you've got the 12th scale in your fingers!

E major gives you second register B major.
F#minor give you C3 minor, ...

Bob Phillips

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: sonicbang 
Date:   2011-01-29 22:45

Thanks for you advise Paul. I have played all the Kröpsch books (twice) and I am now working on the 17 staccato studies by Kell along with Gabucci etudes. I'm happy to find another clarinettist who likes these works.

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: Arnoldstang 
Date:   2011-01-30 22:36

I have a recollection that the Russian approach to technique is through repertoire rather than scales. Does anyone have information on this?

Freelance woodwind performer

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: sonicbang 
Date:   2011-01-30 22:44

I have seen 3 large (300-400 pages each) volumes by a russian editor, and there were a lot of small pieces in them with piano accompainment. Maybe we are talking about the same.

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2011-01-31 00:10

But we haven't been talking about approaching technique exclusively through scales. CarlT asked what point there was in memorizing them and many of us responded that there was value in building technique and easing the task of learning a piece from written music (reading). There is - must be - a considerable place in the process of developing technique for literature, whether etudes, recital and concert repertoire or ensemble parts. Certainly, none of my teachers stressed scales, or more generally, rudiments, to the exclusion of other material. The rudiments were never a major part of any lesson, but they were a constant even through my college study when each 1 hour lesson would begin by way of warm-up - "preparatory set" in the parlance of some teaching approaches - with the complete Klose major and minor scales, which takes maybe 5 or 6 minutes once they're learned. Then the rest of the lesson consisted of the etudes of the week and solo literature.

This isn't an either-or, scales-or-repertoire situation.

Karl

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: salzo 
Date:   2011-01-31 15:53

I practice scale studies pretty much every practice session- I alternate between Klose, Baermann, and Kroepsch, and a few others.
I know my scales backwards, forwards, upside down, right side up, yet I still practice them for reasons beyond learning the keys and their key signatures.
I find scales are the best thing to practice for staying in shape with the instrument. Breath control, embouchure control, finger dexterity are covered quite nicely in scale practice. Different keys require subtle, and sometimes not so subtle differences in technique. E major requires different technical aspects compared to F major.
And on musical and expressive elements, again scales are the best to practice. Phrasing, dynamics, articulation, etc- practcing scales allows one to develop musical and expressive concepts that covers any "music" one might play.
If one "learns" scales correctly, it goes well beyond knowing the notes in the specific keys-that is just the surface.

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: mrn 
Date:   2011-02-01 00:16

If you have to "memorize" your scales, you haven't practiced them enough. Adequately practiced scales "memorize themselves." ;-)

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: CarlT 
Date:   2011-02-01 02:26

Thanks to all who responded. Your postings have helped me to better understand the value of scales.

I never doubted that scales are important; I did doubt that trying to "memorize" them (as Rubank and other method books say to do early on) was "that" helpful.

mrn's post (just above) I believe sums up my feelings, too: If scales are practiced enough, they automatically go into one's memory bank.

CarlT

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: Bob Bernardo 
Date:   2011-02-01 09:58

If you get tired of playing from the same books buy some scale books for violin. These scales go extremely high above the staff and you can really have a good time learning how to play these notes in tune and with the correct fingering. Playing these violin scales in 5 and 6 sharps and flats will drive you insane at first, but you will be a heck of a musician after you've done these and memorized them, with speed. Give yourself at least a full year just for the basic scales. Then when you want to play one of the Spor Concertos you will wiz right through them.

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: BethGraham 
Date:   2019-05-03 01:42

This old thread has so much good information that I couldn't resist bumping it so that those of us new to this bulletin board won't miss reading it.

Great stuff on *why* musician spend so much time with scales. As Red Auerbach would say to young basketball players, "Learn the fundamentals!"

(Going back now to finish reading this thread.)

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 Re: Why Momorize Scales, etc?
Author: EaubeauHorn 
Date:   2019-05-03 05:37

Glad I read through to the end to find out it is a bumped post....when I was a violin major I was required to do an hour of scale studies a day; that included three octave scale, double stops in thirds and sixths, octaves, and arpeggios. It taught me the instrument. And I became a very fine sight reader. Since I've taken up quite a few other instruments since then, knowing what that type of study did for me, I always learn the scales by ear. I don't need to learn to read them because I already can.....and on every other instrument I've taken up, that practice has made me a good sight reader on it too. Plus....especially on violin, that hour of scales became a meditation which has carried over to all the other instruments and made practicing a relaxing joy instead of drudgery.

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