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Stressed Scale Practice Patterns


(NB: If you're unfamiliar with stressed scale practice patterns (SPPs) and can't make sense of the Stop Press 20-08-21 release, you will have to work through the audio examples below until it becomes approachable.)

SPP 20-08-21 - In Threes over Two Octaves

Stressing scales in threes over a vertical span of two octaves presents at least two possible 'contour' patterns.

First pattern

If T is for tonic - the name-note of the scale - you can see the pattern goes straight up two octaves, down again and up again. That will 'bring it out' - end on a stressed note.

The second diagram shows the pattern starting from the top.

Second pattern

An alternative is to play up an octave then down again, then up two octaves, then down one octave and back up. Check that you see how the diagram represents this.

The second diagram shows the pattern starting from the top.

The video

This video was uploaded to celebrate the completion of the major, melodic minor and harmonic minor demonstration videos, and showcases the two patterns in C major, C melodic minor and C harmonic minor.

The patterns start at the bottom or finish at the top, or vice versa. When playing through the suite of three scales, start where you finished (top or bottom).

One novel result is that you start playing the melodic minor from the top - i.e. descending. Expect to find this unusual!

Note that the descending melodic minor is the only segment of your minor scale practice where the key signature actually applies (i.e. without accidentals in the MS).

(The key signature actually prescribes the Aeolian mode, sometimes called the 'natural minor'. You can of course play the Aeolian mode ascending - that is, play a rising minor scale according to the minor key signature.)

Here's a snap-shot of the MS. For preference, play from an understanding of the pattern, using strong stressed groups of three notes to get you three to the final tonic.

Once you have learned the two-octave scales, use this pattern to structure your daily scale practice and work through the twelve keys methodically.

 Start your methodical study here!

Rhythmic stress (emphasis) makes your playing interesting. In addition, rhythmic stress in scale practice patterns helps you learn your scales by making you want to ‘keep the notes coming’ until you get to a satisfactory ending note.

For example, if you stress every second note, your scales will 'come out' at two octaves. That is, they will finish in a satisfying way on a stressed tonic after two octaves. This example plays both up and down.

If you stress every third note, your scales will 'come out' at three octaves:

The three octaves don’t have to go straight up or down. This pattern in threes goes up one octave then down two, making a total of three.

If you accent every fourth note, your scales will naturally end after four octaves:

The pattern in fours goes up one octave, down two, then back up one octave to make up the four. As an exercise, try turning it upside down.

Here's the pattern in threes inverted (turned upside down):

Playing stressed scales to a ‘contour’ diagram

It’s a great idea to practice two (or more!) things at once.

While you are practising stressed scales, you can also be practising your ability to see and follow patterns – and transpose them.

The following written-out scale practice patterns have an accompanying line diagram which shows their shape (‘contour’). In the diagrams, R stands for ‘root’ – the name-note of the scale and key. The vertical distance R to R is one octave.

These are four-octave patterns – count the root-to-root (R-to-R) stretches – so they’re stressed in fours. The stress cuts across the octaves – that’s what drives you to keep going until the very last note of the pattern.

Once you can play the practice patterns fluently in C…

… and you can see how the contour diagram gives the shape of the practice pattern

… try playing scales in other keys according to the contour diagrams.

Note that the fingering for all Group One scales (G, D, A and E major) is the same as for C. Other keys present a bigger challenge.

Patterns with contrary motion

Contrary motion fingering for Group One scales is simple – both hands put thumbs under and fingers over at the same time.

Here’s a three octave pattern stressed in threes.

Here’s a four octave pattern stressed in fours – only the audio and the contour diagram.

Scales in threes with contrary motion

Once you’ve got your contrary motion going, you can start mixing it into your scale practice patterns.

This little ‘suite’ in threes plays the original, plays it backwards (its reverse), upside down (its inverse) and repeats the original for symmetry:

The fingering isn't given in these scale practice patterns. Remembering the fingering is part of the exercise. Here are the contour diagrams for the last exercise. Play from just the contour diagram.

Scales in fours with contrary motion

Here are some mixed contrary motion patterns in fours.

Here's a pattern in fours that has both a reversed and inverted versions. Study it, then play from the contour diagrams below.

Scale practice is often incredibly mechanical. Mechanical practice makes for a mechanical musician! Rhythmic scale practice – including contrary motion, from the contour diagrams, perhaps in other keys – really forces you to pay attention. Paying attention as you practice makes you a better musician!

Contrary motion pattern in sixes

This pattern covers a total of six octaves, so stressing in sixes makes it 'come out right'. It's a long time to 'keep going'!

Here's the inversion:

Here is the contour diagram for the two versions so far:

This is the reverse of the original - the notes played backwards, in effect.

You see how much this is about concentration!

Scale practice can become very mechanical. Mechanical practice makes for a mechanical musician! Rhythmic scale practice – including contrary motion, from the contour diagrams, in other keys perhaps – really forces you to pay attention. Paying attention as you practice makes you a better musician!

That's why it’s worth making rhythmic stressed scale practice patterns like these your ‘default’ scale practice mode. It’s not really about scales – that’s just a bonus. Once you know the keys, you’re actually practicing ‘being good at the piano’ without being distracted thinking about what notes you’re playing. “Bake two desserts in one oven!”; rehearse your keys and your musicality at the same time!

Here’s another contour pattern for a scale in contrary motion stressed in sixes. The hands individually only cover a span (height) of two octaves, but cover six octaves in length – that’s why the stress in sixes brings the pattern out right in the end.

No audio – this is one for you to work out on your own! Count yourself in six-eight - "ONE-and-a two-and-a ONE-and-a two-and-a" to keep the rhythm steady and the notes coming.

Patterns in thirds, tenths and sixths

As soon as you can, start playing scales in thirds or tenths (or sixths!). You really have to know your keys on the keyboard – which black and white keys to play – for your hands to play ‘in two places at once’ successfully.

Go back to the preparatory one-octave scale exercise patterns on the Scale Practice Patterns page to get things going. Example:

Played in thirds (in C), this pattern gives:

You might find it a bit easier to play the pattern in tenths first:

Then start playing the contrary motion scale practice patterns on this page in thirds. You ignore the ‘R’ (for root) for the upper line and start the right hand off on the third.

Here is this pattern.

Played in thirds:

You might want to go back to the beginning of the contrary motion section and build up with these patterns:

Here’s its sister in fours:

Here are some more of the rhythmic scale patterns in thirds or tenths.

In threes:

In fours:

In sixes:

Playing from these contour patterns makes your scale practice fly by! You can't fail to see the improvement in your playing generally when you put this time in playing your scales.

Browse the tabs in the Scales series nav (page top right) for more ways to enjoy your scale practice.

Thanks for practicing with Musicarta! Come back soon!

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