Practicing Scales and Arpeggios

Why Practice Scales and Arpeggios?

One of the very convenient things you can do to learn playing violin, or any instrument for that matter, is to use practice drills. There are just so many things to consider while learning to play a musical piece – the key, the tempo, the rhythm, the melody, the musicality, the expression and so on. Although you can learn everything there is about playing violin just by practicing several pieces, musical pieces by themselves don’t make very good learning exercises. There is just too much to think about when learning them, and it can be distracting if you are not clear about your objectives.

That’s where practicing scales come in. In a technical sense you can consider them musical pieces too. I personally love the C harmonic minor scale. Scales are much simpler than your average musical piece and yet offer an abundance of learning opportunity. You can focus on a different characteristic of the sounds as you play scales – different techniques of your instrument, different aspects of your hearing. And you can do each of it in an isolated environment.

What to Practice?

Take the D major scale for example. In a few minutes, you can learn what notes construe the scale. After that, you can use the scale to practice intonation. You can use the scale to learn perfect fingering. You can use the scale to practice rhythm. You can use it to practice slurs, staccatos and legatos. Almost, if not everything you can learn about your instrument. If you’re so inclined, you can simply purchase one of the numerous scale practice books and work at it the first few minutes of your daily practice. But, I’d rather invent my own scale practice routines. It’s fun. Some examples follow –

  1. Practice legato. Legato means to play the notes without any noticeable break between them. It’s not like a slur – you have to change bow direction between notes. But you have to make it smooth and unnoticeable as reasonably possible.
  2. Practice slurs. Play the scale with different slurs. Two note slurs, then three note slurs, then four note slurs. Even a full octave slur.
  3. Practice rhythm patterns. You can either make up your own rhythm patterns or you can pick a small number of notes from one of your favorite musical pieces and play your scale notes in that pattern.
  4. Practice instrument techniques. There are techniques unique to your instrument and you can use scales to practice them. Playing the scale with pizzicato for example.

What about Arpeggios?

Arpeggios aren’t very far from scales and they might even seem redundant. But there still is merit in practicing them because these little broken chords are common patterns found in a lot of classical (as well as modern) music pieces. Practicing patterns like these build more foundations into your muscle memory. The more foundational techniques you commit to your muscle memory, the more your mental bandwidth is freed up for expressions and other techniques. You might not specifically analyze your sheet music and single out these subsets from them, but your mind knows. As you practice all these patterns in different techniques (staccato, pizzicato, legato etc.), your mind will start working with sets of notes, rather than individual notes. Helping you play more easily and comfortably as you progress.

There are also other neat gains from practicing sheet music. It reinforces learning key signatures and automate you playing the right sharps and flats in your music pieces. As a beginner, you can even use it to reinforce your note recognition and sight reading skills. It is noted that several acclaimed musicians still practice scales (even after becoming very skilled playing their instrument) to hone and maintain their talent.

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