Practising Scales (1)

Here is an example of how Musicarta can help you learn your scales efficiently. Use this pattern (and the ones that follow – see links at the end) to revive your scale practice regime and start reaping the benefits of ‘knowing your keys’!


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This Musicarta module has MIDI support. You can download the MIDI files for this module using this link. The files are in a zipped folder called PSF_3x5 – you can read how to ‘unzip’ the folder in the MidiPiano page - see the link in the next paragraph. The relevant MIDI files are shown in the table which contains the Flash audio player, below each musical example.

Musicarta strongly recommends you download and install the free MidiPiano application to use these files. Link through here to read all about MidiPiano and how to install it, or, if you are confident of your ability to get right to it, link through here directly to the MidiPiano download location.


    The ‘Three-times-five’ pattern

This pattern will help you help you learn where to turn your thumb under in the Group One scales – C, G, D, A, and E majors.

These scales divide the octave very obviously into a group of three, and a group of five notes. The thumb passes under finger three and finger three passes over the thumb (both hands) to give enough fingers to play the eight notes of the octave.

    Start learning the pattern

Practice the right hand first.

Starting at the bottom on tonic (home note) C, run up and down the first five notes using ‘true scale fingering’, that is, passing the thumb under finger three even though to play just five notes you don’t really have to.

3x5001

While the right hand is doing this, the left hand will simply be walking from the little finger side to the thumb side, without any ‘tricks’ at all.

3x5002

Play the bottom five notes of the scale, up and down, hands together. The right hand practices turning the thumb under finger 3, while the left hand just runs across the fingers and back.

3x5003

Then you will want to run all the way to the top. Add this on to the end of your three-times-up-and-down-the-first-five-notes. The left hand runs out of fingers at the thumb but with three notes still left to play, and so passes the third finger over to complete the octave.

3x5004

Here is a line diagram of the pattern so far:

Look what it indicates:

“Up and down the bottom five notes three times, then all the way to the top.”

Listen to the rhythmic pattern of the little study, which is indicated in the music and exaggerated in the performance files. Imitate it, and use the rhythmic pattern in your practicing to help you ‘keep the notes coming’.

    The whole pattern

The second half of the pattern – descending from the top – is the mirror image of the first half. The right hand has the easy part (just walking from one side of the hand to the other) while the left hand practices passing thumb under and the third finger over.

Here’s the preparatory study for the second half of the pattern. Practice the left hand on its own first if you find you need to.

3x5005

You do that three times then run all the way to the bottom, passing right hand finger 3 over the thumb to play the last three notes of the octave.

Then, follow this line diagram and complete the second half of the pattern.

As before, it shows up-and-down three times (actually down-and-up), then all the way to the bottom.

Here is the music, plus audio and MIDI files, for the second half of the pattern.

3x5006

    Playing the whole pattern

Here is a line diagram of the whole pattern.

Here is the music and audio and MIDI performance files of the whole pattern in C major.

    C major

3x5007

You play only the white keys in C. The lozenge shape indicates the tonic – the home- and name-note of the scale. (The tonic is nearly always the top and bottom notes of scales.)

    The pattern in other Group One keys

This useful scale practice pattern teaches you where, in Group One scales, the thumb passes under and where the third finger passes over, and gets you used to the feeling of the thumb passing under in one hand while the other hand is just ‘plain’.

Once you are comfortable playing the “Three-times-five” pattern in C, go on to play the pattern in all the other Group One keys. Here are key-specific keyboards, music and audio/MIDI performance files for all the Group One scales (excluding the B major right-hand-only).

The lozenge shape on the keyboard and in the music indicates the tonic – the home- and name-note of the scale. The Three-times-five’ pattern always starts on the tonic (both hands).

    G major

3x5008

    D major

3x5009

    A major

3x5010

    E major

3x5011

If you want to press on and force the pace a bit, try graduating to these two variations on this pattern.

The first variation preserves the same shape exactly but plays the notes in what is called ‘dotted rhythm’, or in ‘swing quavers’, ‘with a triplet feel’. It’s quite a bit harder to play like this. (The example is in C.)

3x5012

The second variation has a different but similar shape. See if you can play the exercise from the line diagram and the audio performance file alone.

3x5013

Hopefully, you can see from this module how you can use Musicarta's novel and constructive ways of learning and playing scales to build up your musicality generally. Musicarta is a treasure trove of ‘killing-two-birds-with-one-stone’ ideas like this.

Click through to the next module in this series for a method of tackling head on a classic problem encountered in playing two-octave scales.

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