Friday, February 20, 2009

Teaching Scales: Ideas and Resources

I really need to finish off my scale postings because I have a number of other things that I’d like to write about! So, here are some ideas and resources I have used in teaching scales.

Solidifying fingering

1. Graphical scales at Practicespot
Rather than showing the notes on the staff, these graphical scales show the fingerings on a keyboard. Since we’ll be playing scales without a score anyway, these make a good introduction to scales for the first-time scale player. These show 2 octaves, but with my beginning scale players, I only ask for one octave. My students have a section in their notebook for these.

2. Fourth finger rule
The idea here is that the 4th finger only plays one note within the octave, so if you pay attention to where the 4th finger is supposed to fall, it will help to keep your fingering accurate.

3. Practicing to the next bump
This is my short-hand name for a practice technique that I recommend to my students when they are learning to play scales with hands together. The “bump” is a finger cross-over or cross-under. I have them start the scale, play through the very first “bump” and stop. For instance, on a C major scale, the student would start, play up through F - that is, through the thumb crossing under finger 3 in the RH, and stop. They are to repeat playing that far until it becomes automatic. Then, they start over and continue on to the 2nd bump which would be on A when the LH 3 crosses over. They repeat this until they can play with ease and perfect fingering. Then they start over, and play through the 3rd bump which is on the second C when the RH 1 crosses under 4. And so on. And, once the fingering is solid, we work to make all of the bumps become non-bumps - invisible and inaudible!


Practicing in rhythms
I don’t know why this works, but it does. Imagine the scale in 16th notes. For each group of 4 notes, pick one to elongate. So, your rhythms are 1) long, short, short, short, 2) short, long, short, short, 3) short, short, long, short, 4) short, short, short, long. Start slowly, but build speed until you play at the fastest speed that you can control.


Metronome Madness
Choose a metronome speed that is slow enough that you can play with complete accuracy. For practice session one, play the scale at the starting speed, and then begin working up one notch at a time through 6 notches. For practice session two, start at one notch faster than you started the day before. And so on.

Key Signatures

Learn the order of sharps and flats
For the sharps, we say "Fat Cats Go Dancing After Eating Breakfast." For the flats, it's "BEAD, Geese Can Fly" or else we just write down the order of sharps and read it backwards. I'm not crazy about my saying for the flats - open to suggestion! I do know that there's a widely used one that goes "Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle," and "Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father," but I get them confused, and if I do, then students will, too. (I have the same complaint about "Every Good Boy Does Fine" and "Good Boys Do Fine Always." We say "Every Girl Born Deserves Fudge" and "Great Big Dogs Fight Alligators.")

Update: Natalie has a key signature matchup worksheet for download at her blog!


Get Ready for Scale Duets – Scale duet books for Pentascales, One-octave scales, and 2-Octave Major Scales - available from FJH. The student plays a scale which becomes an accompaniment for the teacher's tuneful part.

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