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Stressed Scale Practice Patterns


Rhythmic stress (emphasis) makes playing interesting to listen to!

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 previous pattern - in threes - inverted (turned upside down - flipped vertically).


Playing stressed scales to a ‘contour’ diagram

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

While you are practicing 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 including 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 'similar motion' 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. 

Play from just the contour diagram - in any key!


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 can become mechanical. Mechanical practice makes for a mechanical musician!

Rhythmic scale practice, including contrary motion, from the contour diagrams, obliges 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:

Next comes the reverse of the original - the notes played backwards, in effect.


You see how much this is about concentration! Patterns can be flipped horizontally as well as vertically.

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 six octaves in length – that’s why the stress in sixes brings the pattern out right in the end.

Count "One-and-a-two-and-a Two-and-a-two-and-a..."

Application: Stressed contour-diagram SPPs in C major and minors

Here's one example of how you can make stressed scale practice patterns a useful part of your daily practice routine.

Stressing scales in threes (or sixes) over a vertical span of two octaves generates at least two possible 'contour patterns'.

First pattern

From T-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' - the performance will end in a satisfying way on a stressed note.

The second half shows the pattern starting from the top.

Second pattern

As an alternative, 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 shows the two patterns played in C major, C melodic minor and C harmonic minor in sequence.

Both of the two patterns start at the bottom and finish at the top, or vice versa. When playing through the suite of three scales, you start the next scale 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 part of your minor scale practice where the key signature actually applies - without accidentals in the MS.)

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, you can use these patterns to structure your daily scale practice. Work through the twelve keys methodically!

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.

Use one of the one-octave scale exercise patterns 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.


Graduate to octaves:


Here’s its sister in fours:


Then start playing the contrary motion scale practice patterns on this page in thirds.

You ignore the T-for-tonic in the right hand upper line and start on the third.

For example:


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

Another, accented 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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