Why do I have to practice scales? You must have asked yourself this question already, especially when you’re struggling to get through one of them.
You might not understand it yet, but students just have to take it on faith that practicing scales actually saves you time in the long run!
Trust me! I am an impatient person, and I wanted results without wasting time on silly things like scales. I was not lazy by any stretch of the imagination. I worked my butt off! I just didn’t believe that spending time on scales was a faster way to improve than spending all my practice time learning showpieces and repertoire.
It was interesting to watch as my colleagues at school spent less time in the practice room than I did (yes, I kept track, being the little booger that I was) and yet they kept right up with me, no matter how hard I worked. Trust me! I would not lie to you!
Scales and arpeggios are the building blocks of music. They are the amino acids for a solid technical foundation. If a passage isn’t comprised of scales, then it’s comprised of arpeggios, with very few exceptions.
So if you approach a new piece, suppose it is in the key of A Major, much of that piece is going to feel very familiar, because you have already played those same notes in a very similar sequence a zillion times! Your fingers will seem to know their own way and you’ll have a good idea of what fingerings to use.
But being proficient at scales doesn’t just mean that you can play them. It also means that you understand them intellectually, as they apply to your instrument. This is what is referred to as “knowing your fingerboard.” It means that while playing a scale, you know what notes you are playing, what key you are in, what position you are in, what interval you just shifted, and what the finger patterns are. This takes a lot of concentration and practice! It doesn’t come overnight, and a beginner certainly isn’t expected to know all of that information yet. However, it helps steer you in the right direction if, as a beginner, you keep the end goal in sight and form good habits of faithfully practicing your scales.
Never do it just by “rote” or on “auto pilot”, but with full awareness and concentration on both the qualitative elements of violin and on the intellectual nuts and bolts of scales as they apply to the fingerboard.
With that said, for beginners I would recommend knowing what note you are playing at any given time in a scale. I would also recommend that you pay attention to where the half steps are. There are only a couple half steps in each scale and the rest are whole steps, so it’s easy to keep track of where the half steps are. In addition to all the mental work, make sure you are playing in tune, with beautiful sound, and with perfect posture and form! (Look around on RedDesertViolin.com for helpful tips about tone, posture, and form. Also see my demo videos on YouTube. )