Scale It Up (part Deux)

Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.
~Alfred North Whitehead


Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

More in the practical realm this week, continuing the scale-related theme started last week. Here are some patterns to consider for your scale practice. Because it’s so pervasive and is used to explain many aspects of music theory, I’m going to use the Major scale as a reference, and particularly, its numbers, like so (CLICK ON THE WRITTEN MUSIC FOR A LARGER IMAGE):

Major Scale = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

You can (and should) mix these numbers up, for example, every other note (also known as scales in 3rds). There are at least two options: the first is most common, but try the second as well.

1, 3, 2, 4, 3, 5, 4, 6, 5, 7, 6, 8, 7, 9, 8 (and reverse back down)

3, 1, 4, 2, 5, 3, 6, 4, 7, 5, 8, 6, 9, 7, 8 (and reverse the pattern back down)

Here’s what the notation looks like in the key of C. Of course you should do these in all keys….

Thirds version 1:

Thirds version 2:

These are pretty easy patterns, and you might already know them. If you know them as they are, vary the rhythm, articulation and style. I like to practice my thirds using a triplet pattern, which is 3 notes per beat. This is a nice effect when you use a 2-note pattern like thirds. It looks like this:

Of course, you should apply this triplet pattern to the second thirds pattern above as well.

For articulation variations, use a two-note slur-tongue pattern. Tongue on the beat and slur to the next note. A more interesting pattern is to tongue on the off beat. To get this started you have to tongue twice at the very beginning. It’s a little tougher to master but is an excellent effect, especially if you’re playing jazz. Many jazz players articulate like this because it gives a bit more emphasis to the off beat.

Forgive me if you’re a string player, or play a bass-clef instrument. String players, I know you’re not using your tongue but either a bow or a hammer-on technique, and pianists have to use different “touch” to achieve this sound correctly, but I hope you get the idea. I’m a trumpet player, so talking about tongue-slur comes most naturally. As does the treble clef. It’s easy enough to transfer these ideas to bass clef….

Here are two versions of the articulations I mentioned:

Notice that the first two notes are tongued. You can emphasize this even more by giving that off beat note a heavier accent.

And finally, here’s another pattern for the C major scale, but of course you can (and should) use these patterns on all types of scales. I’ll give you a cool example after I show you what I call a “rolling thirds” pattern on the C major scale. Again, once you have this down, play with different articulations and rhythms.

Here’s the pattern w/ the numbers: 1-2-3-1, 2-3-4-2, 3-4-5-3, 4-5-6-4, 5-6-7-5, 6-7-8-6, 7-8-9-7, 8……; 8-7-6-8, 7-6-5-7, 6-5-4-6, 5-4-3-5, 4-3-2-4, 3-2-1-3, 2-1-7(lower one)-2, 1…..  Here’s what it looks like in notation:

So those are some basics to get you going on your scale practice. With even these few simple ideas, you’ve now got 36 different scale patterns to practice (3 patterns x 12 key signatures), and another 36 if you count the two types of articulation, for a total of 72 scales. Don’t be overwhelmed by this. Once you get the basic scale under your fingers and in your ears, these patterns will become more easy.

If that’s all old news to you, try applying this to other scales, like the blues scale. The blues scale is one of the most useful, especially if you want to jam with other players. It’s used in the blues (no surprise there), jazz, rock, country, hip-hop, and many, many, many other styles. The blues scale notes (using the Major scale as the basis, remember) is:

1, flat-3, 4, flat-5, 5, flat-7, 8. It looks like this:

So now for the fun part. Take the rolling thirds pattern and apply it to the blues scale. This is gonna be kind of funky because if you notice, the blues scale has only 6 notes (I don’t count the top note as it has the same name as the bottom note…both are the tonic), while the major scale has 7. This throws off the pattern in interesting ways. Also, the blues scale is what’s called a gapped scale, which means that the scale doesn’t move stepwise as the major scale does. There are jumps in this scale. You can see this in the notation. Here’s the rolling thirds pattern using the blues scale. I love the way this sounds. Try it with the off beat articulations and you’ll have a great building block for interesting licks when you improvise.

You can practice scale patterns when you’re away from your instrument by singing the pitches and doing the fingering, or envisioning the fingering. For added challenge you can do all this while imagining the music notes, too, though this isn’t really necessary in my opinion. Singing is more valuable. As a lifeguard, I’d get in tons of scale practice while I watched the lap swimmers and sang softly under my breath, fingers twitching in these patterns.

In the next week or so, I’ll be posting a video for trumpet players that explains these ideas with the added bonus that you can hear what they sound like and, if you’re a trumpet player, can see the fingering used.

For a lot more info on scales and written music in general, check out my book, Basic Music Theory: How to Read, Write, and Understand Written Music.

Hope this helps. Have fun and good luck with your scale practice.

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.


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