Making Woodwind Scales Fun
Post by: Pablo Beltran
Scales are crucial to developing a technique on woodwinds, but sometimes playing them feels too tedious. Scales are the bricks that construct the music. In other words, songs are built by putting together little fragments of scales. Therefore, the more you know your scales, the easier music is going to be for you. I will show you three approaches to practicing scales on woodwinds that both unlock your fingers and make practicing more enjoyable.
Use your scales to practice sound
Long tones are the most hated part of the practice, but here is the good news: you can practice long tones and scales at the same time! In my experience as a woodwinds teacher, I found that new students do not practice long tones because they quickly lose focus on them. But if the student is focused on the shift between notes, they achieve more prolonged periods of concentration. And there is more - usually the goal is the sound, so you can practice long tones, scales, and tone quality simultaneously: three birds with one stone. So next time, practice your scales in whole-notes and just direct your attention on the sound, specifically the airstream between notes, and you will realize your improvement on sound and technique.
Use different rhythms to practice your scales
Most young woodwind players practice their scales in quarter-notes, eight-notes, or sixteen-notes, but most music works differently. I recommend my students use random rhythms to practice. As an example, I will use the first bar of Fried Bananas by Dexter Gordon. Here is the rhythm he played.
And I transform it into this:
Practice and repeat small chunks
As I mentioned before, songs are a compilation of parts of the scale, so it’s a good idea to practice the scale in small pieces and repeat them. There are infinite combinations to try this (using the first 3 notes of the scale, the last five notes of the scale, etc.), but the idea always remains the same. First, select a part of the scale and repeat it. It’s always good to focus on an area that is giving you the most trouble. I will illustrate it by using the first four notes of the scale: