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Best way to learn scales

(4 Posts)
StuntNun Sat 14-Dec-13 18:59:32

DS1 is struggling to learn his grade 5 trumpet scales. He has always had a bit of a blind spot for scales, he can practise them for months but never get them fluent and he has such a hard time remembering them.

When I was a child I learned scales by memorising the major key signatures, or for minor scales working out the equivalent major by visualising a piano keyboard and counting up three semitones. As an adult my saxophone teacher had me play scales more by feeling and practice than by explicitly working out which sharps or flats each scale has.

I don't think either of these methods would work well for DS1 and his theory of music is way behind his playing ability. Does anyone have any tips for learning scales since playing them over and over again just doesn't seem to work for him?

Janek Sat 14-Dec-13 19:18:30

Tone tone semitone tone tone tone semitone - that's how my less musical friend learned her violin scales - i knew them from playing the piano, but she just wanted a formula! There's one for harmonic minor scales too.

Ferguson Sat 14-Dec-13 19:35:54

I would have thought that the progression, from first easy ones to gradually getting harder, would, to some extent, help with learning, and I agree the 'kinaesthetic' feel, or 'muscle memory' as it's sometimes called, can also help.

As a teenager I tried to teach myself trumpet, from a tutor book, but never got much good. Trumpet is difficult in that, at first there don't seem to be a logical reason for the combinations of valves to achieve different notes, but presumably he is well on top of that by now.

Do you have a piano or keyboard available? There will be at school anyway, and I assume he in in secondary to be doing Grade 5? One of the hardest things to absorb at first is why, on a keyboard, there is not a black note between E & F, and between B & C. As in so many things, UNDERSTANDING is important, as just being told the 'rules' isn't much help if you don't understand why.

Do you, and he, know and understand the 'harmonic series' and 'cycle of fifths'? :

On an instrument such as the cello, if you pluck the C string, the string will vibrate along it full length to produce the note C. BUT it also vibrates in half, to give C an octave higher. It continues to sub-divide, giving different notes, and this provides the basis of western harmony.

This website explains about it, but you can probably find lots of similar things on-line:

The diagram can be enlarged by clicking on the 'double box' sign.

So it is a characteristic of natural physics the way sounds are produced, which is why 'western' music sounds so different from Oriental or African.

StuntNun Sat 14-Dec-13 22:43:23

We do have a piano Ferguson and I was wondering whether that would help DS1 visualise the notes since, as you say, brass fingerings are arbitrary. But then I thought that was maybe my bias from learning piano first. I know when I learned scales as a child I learned C major first, then G, then D etc so it was a logical progression of adding sharps or flats. DS1's scales seem to be added more randomly and his teacher only has him playing the scales for his current exam so he doesn't see the big picture. Also because he skipped grade 1 and grade 4 his theory of music is quite behind his practical skill. I'm working on that with him now but it will take time.

One technique I was thinking of using was to let him use the music but to Tippex out one note at a time starting from the middle so he doesn't have to go from using the music to playing from memory in one go.

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