How Can I Learn to Play My Scales?

This question was just sent to our site recently and has been an issue through the ages for most musicians.

The easiest answer and unfortunately the most often suggested remedy is…. “Practice playing them”!

When we began studying our instrument, one of the features of most method book was the slow and gradual introduction of increasingly more difficult scales. This has been the practice for decades and most players adhered to this routine. Many years ago I started our youngest son on trumpet and began to introduce the different keys in a less orthodox way. His first key was C and his next key was C#. Each note was accompanied by its name, fingering and the appropriate accidental. We eventually went through all of the keys in this manner and none of the keys was any more difficult to learn than the others. Would I suggest that we change the way we teach scales to this approach to which I would say No! It was done as an experiment and proved that one scale was no harder to learn than another for a young musician. I still favor the gradual introduction of progressively more sharp and flat keys as the student continues his/her study.

Educators have discovered through the years that people learn things in different ways. Some can read an instruction manual and put the most difficult product together were in some cases, the assembler starts putting the parts together and only refers to the instruction when something doesn’t fit correctly. I have to admit I am one of the latter examples. I can’t (nor do not want to) read the instructions. Still other people learn more quickly from watching someone else assemble the item. We all learn in different ways and unfortunately we are expecting our youth to learn in only one way as illustrated by our approach to learning scales.

To address this issue, I will approach the learning process from different angles in hopes that these diverse techniques will be of value to our readers.

Method #1- Learn from accidentals first, not key signatures.

To a younger player, the F# indicated in the key signature has much less meaning than when it is attached to the note itself.

Example 1

Method #2- Train your ear to anticipate the sharps and flats

Example 2

Example #3- Learn by following an example

I have included an MP3 recording for you to practice with in a “listen and follow” manner

Example #3

Download material here- Scale Study- Sheet Music and Recording of Example #3

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.