No matter how much students may groan when it comes to scales, they are very important for all beginners to know, particularly for the violin. Almost all of your knowledge about playing the violin starts with learning how to play scales, from reading sheet music to better understanding the fingerings. Of course, it is not nearly as exciting as playing one of the songs you love, but practicing scales will give you a strong foundation that will help you progress and improve.
Violin scales are typically introduced early on in violin lessons, and while it might feel a bit like torture, there are a number of benefits to learning them. Scales are something you have to learn for everything musical, including voice lessons. Ultimately, knowing them inside and out is what will give you the foundation you need to master your instrument and your music.
What You Need to Know About Scales
To practice violin scales, players simply start at a specific note, and then ascend and descend the musical range. Depending on which scale it is, there may be sharp and flat notes used. There are 24 major and minor keys to learn, but it is not as difficult as it sounds. For example, C major scale includes no sharps or flats.
Method to the Mundane
When you first begin learning to play violin it can be overwhelming, especially if it is your first instrument. You have to learn how to hold the violin and the bow, read music, where to place your fingers, maintain a rhythm as you bow, and more. Scales play a role in all of these violin basics.
One of the trickiest part of playing the violin is learning where your fingers go to make the right sounds. Many beginners use tape to mark the notes at first, but ultimately you need to be able to find the fingering without markers. Unlike many other instruments where it is relatively easy to know what to play (there are designated keys on pianos, certain buttons to press on horns, and guitars have frets), with the violin you need to have a sense of where your fingers go without any assistance.
This is where violin scales give you one of the biggest benefits. When you are playing scales, you are focusing on just the notes and your fingers. As you become familiar with switching strings (both your fingers and your bow hand), you’ll learn where each note is, and how far your fingers need to stretch. This is also where you will get the biggest benefit from your teacher. Your teacher can help pace you to learn each scale, and help you overcome any roadblocks.
As you learn to play violin scales, you will also learn how to read sheet music. Each of the different scales has a designated number of sharps or flats. As you practice, these will be easier to identify, which is part of reading musical keys.
Foundation for More Complex Pieces
Scales are very versatile when it comes to more specific techniques, as well. When you’re learning to play staccato, for example, your teacher can teach you how to hold the bow by having you play the scales that you have learned. As you learn your violin scales, you will come to memorize the notes on the sheet music, their placements, and where your fingers to play those notes. When you learn vibrato, the familiarity of the fingerings you’ve gained from practicing scales will help with your technique.
This is also why it is key to learn how to read sheet music as you learn your violin scales. All music provides the key that the piece is to be played in, and if you know your scales you will know which notes you need to play as you get started.
As you learn to bow, violin scales can be your default fingerings so that you can focus on your bow and the different types of bowing. Scales are also a great default for learning how to practice with a metronome. When you begin learning a song, the metronome and scales can dictate the pace you need to maintain as you play. Eventually when you get to more advanced pieces like “Flight of the Bumblebee”, knowing your scales and pacing while make this song significantly easier and fun!
Tips for Practicing Scales
For starters, check out parts one and two of this helpful scale tutorial. Then move onto more specific tips below!
When you first start learning scales, you should have a copy of a violin fingering chart. This will show you how close your fingers should be and when you should switch strings (or as you get more advanced move up the string).
Take the scales one at a time and memorize them before moving on to the next scale.
Feeling bored? Your teacher can provide you with variations to keep the exercises exciting.
Record your scales and play the recording against a professional playing the same scale online. This will really help you hear when you are getting it right, particularly in the beginning.
Start with one octave per scale. Once you’re comfortable with one octave, try two, then three. This will mean moving up the neck, which requires a different finger spacing. If you are more comfortable learning all of the scales at one octave first, that is fine too. Your teacher can give you guidance and feedback to make help you know when you are ready for more complex movement on the neck.
A strong foundation and knowledge of violin scales will help you with all aspects of your playing, from maintaining your rhythm to mastering the different fingerings. Good luck, and keep practicing!
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