DD can't nail her violin scales - suggestions?

(26 Posts)
cingolimama Mon 11-Jul-16 11:35:21

Hi there, wondering if anyone has a similar problem? DD (10, almost 11) is playing violin at Grade 5/6 standard. She has not yet taken any ABRSM exams, but her teacher thinks she'll be ready for Grade 7 sometime next year. She practises every day for the most part and loves it.

The problem is - and this only is a problem with scales work - that her fingering never seems to "stick" in her muscle memory. She still makes tune mistakes on her scales, some of which she's had in her roster for months. Eeeks! This is never a problem with her violin studies or any of her pieces, but seems just to be a problem with her scales.

I've asked her to slow everything down, and go over each an d every note in a scale. Write stuff down if necessary, to remind her. She needs to be really rock-solid secure in her fingering before she can speed up to the necessary tempo.

It seems a particular block. She wants to really deal with this over the summer, and I'm wondering if there are any online scale support websites that anyone trusts or apps that anyone can recommend. Any other suggestions would be gratefully received.

Maursh Mon 11-Jul-16 11:40:02

All scales are patterns. if she is good at maths then she should see it as a pattern: eg major scale, tone, tone, semi-tone, tone, tone, tone, semi-tone. That is the interval gap and on a stringed instrument is either a gap, for tine, or tight, for semi-tone between the fingers.
I assume that all this must have been explained to her
In any event, she will need to have sat Grade 5 Theory to even enter Grade 7 so she will know all this theory come exam time.

FarelyKnuts Mon 11-Jul-16 11:41:05

Repetition repetition repetition I'm afraid.
Constant playing of the scales over and over is the only real way to get it to "stick".

ReallyTired Mon 11-Jul-16 11:52:58

We had the same problem with ds and his guitar. He hated scales with a passion and seemed to hope they would go away if he ignored them.

One possible suggestion is to suggest that your dd does Trinity instead of associated board for her grades. That way she could opt out of scales and do technical exercises instead. Trinity offers other options like musical improvision or musical knowledge or aural or sight reading. The candidate can play to their strengths and interest.

I don't understand why many music teachers look down on Trinity as an exam board. I think that following the trinity instead of associated board has made ds a better guitarist.

cingolimama Mon 11-Jul-16 11:53:16

Thank you Maursh, I'm aware of the Theory prerequisite. However, there's a big difference between theory and playing.

Farely, I would agree with you, BUT, there's no point of repitition if you're consistently making tuning mistakes. My gut feeling is she needs to start over, re-learning them slowly and correctly, and then speeding up.

ReallyTired Mon 11-Jul-16 11:55:28

For UCAS points purposes Trinty carries the same weight as Associated Board. Unless your dd is planning to go to music college it really does not matter that Trinity is less pretiguous. You can do grade 6 Trinity without grade 5 music theory.

cingolimama Mon 11-Jul-16 11:56:33

Yes, I'd thought of Trinity and while I don't "look down on it", I think opting out of scales is basically a bad idea. I'm glad that it's worked for your son, but for DD, who really struggled for a period with her instrument, but worked through that, it sends the wrong message, imo.

cingolimama Mon 11-Jul-16 11:57:14

The Grade 5 Theory isn't the problem!

PieceOfPaper Mon 11-Jul-16 11:58:03

I'm only an aspiring teacher and not familiar with current grade 7 requirements, but I'm trying to remember what helped me for grade 8, which was when I really knuckled down and learnt my scales.

Does your dd truly understand how scales work - where the tones and semitones and so on fall? Does she really, really know what a scale should sound like (and everything else that falls under the heading of scales like arpeggios and so on - I'm assuming they're also problematic?)? Can she sing them (not in every key, just within her vocal range - but this will show whether she knows what it should sound like)?

Does she have a good fingering system that she understands? Although it's good to be able to play scales in different positions you can use whatever fingering you like in exams (as far as I know) so once you know A major, you just start a semitone higher for B flat, another semitone higher for B and so on, using the same fingering. I remember my teacher drawing out some diagrams of the fingerboard, marking where the tones and semitones were - that really helped me to visualise and feel it.

Other than that I would suggest systematic practice - we have a tendency to focus on things that are easy and that we play well, when of course what you need to do is focus on the harder, less familiar ones. If her rota gives equal weight to difficult and easy scales, she might need to adjust it. She could still play an easy one each day, if she finds that encouraging, but then work through the harder ones too. She could randomise the difficult ones somehow (write them on bits of paper and draw them from an envelope?) or just have a chart and work through in order.

I hope this helps. As I said, my scales were really ropy until, with the help of an excellent teacher, I knuckled down and learnt them for grade 8. Admittedly I was a lot older than your dd!

cingolimama Mon 11-Jul-16 12:02:00

Piece, that's exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for! Some kind of diagram for the the fingerboard, and some kind of system. She understands the theory, but doesn't directly connect it with her violin playing (it's so much easier to make a direct connection with piano).

I'm not a string player, so whatever help I can give is limited.

ReallyTired Mon 11-Jul-16 13:31:07

Have you looked at YouTube video tutorials for learning scales?

Ds' guitar teacher made him do th scales option for his grade 4 trinity exam inspite of ds hating scales and the scales being optional. He played his scales along to YouTube videos on trinity grade 4 scales. I would be surprised if there are not tutorials on YouTube for grade 5 violin associated board scales.

PieceOfPaper Mon 11-Jul-16 13:47:59

Glad it helped cingo! Your dd could have a go out drawing out her own diagram - she doesn't need to draw the whole fingerboard, just four lines to represent the strings as if she were looking down the fingerboard. Then she can write the finger numbers to show where they go (I circle them to make the spacing clearer). So for the A major example she would write a number one in a circle near the end of the fingerboard on the G string to show where A would go. Then a gap before 2, because it's a tone not a semitone. Another gap then a 3, for the next tone. To help with this explanation I'm going to say put a 4 right next to the 3, because it's a semitone, though she could play open D. Then on the next string up, first finger goes in the same place so she would write a 1 on the D string, next to her first 1. And so on up the scale.

I hope that makes sense! If she wants she could then mark shifts in a different colour, or highlight the semitones - whatever will help her. It's probably easier to concentrate on majors first but minors can be written out in the same way (bearing in mind that a harmonic minor is different on the way down from how it was on the way up!) and so can dominant sevenths and what have you if necessary.

onlymusic Mon 11-Jul-16 14:38:08

cingolimama did she play scales on the lower level? Like grade 1, etc? May be it worth going back a bit? Also, how is about arpeggios? Is it the same problem?

There is also an app for scales, but we have not used it, though we used aural app of the same maker and it was excellent. Scroll down for link
www.playnote.com/web/index.html

Witchend Mon 11-Jul-16 16:22:54

For major scales you can say
"Tone, tone, semitone, tone tone tone semitone"
Our music teacher in year 7 made sure everyone knew this. I didn't really work at scales but could work it out fast enough using this. I used to sing that in my head as I did it. I usually only just scraped a pass on my scales though. blush

HerestoyouMrsRobinson Thu 14-Jul-16 23:57:06

Does she know the names of the notes as she plays them?
Can she play easy scales - like 1 octave D major - and say as she plays "D...tone to E...tone to F#...semitone to G..." etc?
Some kids cope better once they know the combination of label for the note AND the physical feeling they need to make that note (F# is 2 on D in first)

cingolimama Fri 15-Jul-16 14:38:04

Yes, she sings them beforehand in solfa (do, re, mi etc) so she absolutely hears it (correctly) in her head. It's the confident fingering that's the problem.

MomOfTwoGirls2 Sun 24-Jul-16 15:29:38

Does she understand how the finger pattern applies to the solfa?
That in a major scale the semitones between mi and fa means those fingers will be touching, and likewise with ti & do?
Similar for Minor, only start with La instead of do.
Our teacher has my girls group scales together based on what finger they start on. So 1st finger scales on one day, 2nd finger scales the next day, etc.
That helps with the muscle memory.

Not sure if any of that helps, my girls do Suzuki method but are starting to do lots of scales.

MomOfTwoGirls2 Sun 24-Jul-16 16:02:40

Regarding an app, our previous violin teacher recommended ScaleHelper.

Alicekeach Sun 24-Jul-16 16:26:21

Does she play any of her pieces / exercises from memory? Thinking back to when I was learning, the thing that helped me with scales was when I swapped to a teacher who taught the Suzuki method. I started learning the scales from memory straight away rather than reading them from the book and then trying to commit them to memory. It's a different kind of learning and, if like me your daughter is a good sight reader, can be a tricky skill to develop. But if she can do it, it'll help her playing in all sorts of ways. It'll help her to see the scales in terms of tone and semi tone intervals, rather than just notes on a page.

Oh, and I was told not to practise them slowly too much, or I'd get stuck in the habit of playing them slowly. If they need to be fast for the exam, she needs to learn them fast from fairly early on in the process. Sorry!

howabout Fri 29-Jul-16 16:24:40

I second learning scales from memory rather than trying to follow music book.

By grade 8 you only need to know 2 sets of finger patterns for all keys of violin scales, believe it or not. The first set is the open string 3 octave pattern starting on G. The second set is the 1st finger 3 octave pattern starting anywhere you like on the G string.

Nail the pattern for these in 1st position for major and both minors and both arpeggios. Once these are automatic everything else will be easy.

PizzzaTheHutt Wed 03-Aug-16 22:34:41

I have two DCs (9 & 11) working on grade 5 and grade 8 violin at the moment - for us it's learning the finger patterns, lots of repetition and playing scales along with piano (to ensure they're in tune) helps.

QueenoftheVerse Wed 03-Aug-16 23:08:34

Yes absolutely from memory, or along with a piano. Also try to work on her sight reading as I found this helped me a great deal when I was working on grades 5-8 in cello. Let her hear what she's supposed to play and then try and replicate it and I found that made it stick much more easily in my head.

cingolimama Tue 09-Aug-16 11:51:39

Just to say thank you all for your advice!

80schild Wed 07-Sep-16 22:40:06

I am a woodwind player and something I have found amazingly helpful is practising in front of a mirror. Not sure if this would help with violin but if you can see what you are doing and can visualise where everything is going it helps. Also, is she just trying to learn them by rote? Google circle of fifths on the Internet and it shows the relationship between all the scales. It will make it much easier to learn. People learn differently and sometimes hammering away is just the wrong thing.

SouthDownsSunshine Wed 07-Sep-16 23:06:22

There's a brilliant book for scales that I used at junior music college, I'll dig the name out for you tomorrow.

Invest in a machine that shows if each note is in tune. I dig mine out when I'm rusty and need to make sure I've got my tuning right. If she uses this and plays the scales slowly, she'll learn.

Also, 11 is still young to master every element of a string instrument. I didn't really master scales until I was 15 (having been at music college since 11!). But, the effort really does pay off with scales. It'll make sight reading, orchestra and general playing/tuning so much better.

Finally, a serious chunk of practice time beds to be given to scales/arpeggios etc. It's dull but the effort pays off.

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