If you're anything like me, you may find practicing scales to be monotonous, boring, or tedious. For my entire musical career, I have always struggled to motivate myself to practice my scales (or arpeggios, or thirds, etc...). They can be so boring!
Coming from a music teacher, you may find this to be a little weird. How could someone like me dislike scales?! I even taught a technique course for three years as a graduate clarinet assistant in which all I taught was scales and arpeggios!
Well, the truth is: I do not like to practice my scales. They kinda make me feel like this:
So how do I motivate myself to practice something I find so boring? Read on to find out!
A little sprinkle of music goes a long way
Practicing scales is supposed to help you to become more technically proficient at your instrument. The purpose is ultimately that you can play music with more ease. So, why not approach scale practice as not practice, but as making music? In the end, we are musicians - so let's harness our creative energies even when doing something as tedious as scales!
There are two ways to do this easily: drones and backing tracks.
You don't need any fancy equipment for this. I usually use YouTube to find an interesting drone or fun backing track. I also highly recommend the app Tonal Energy, which is an all-in-one tuner, metronome, drone, and recording device! With the Tonal Energy app, you can easily play drones in multiple octaves, or create drone chords. It's much easier than trying to find a good drone on YouTube! However, I also frequently use YouTube to find more creative drones, such as this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXczL1j0wio. In the end, it's up to you to decide what kind of music you want to make!
So, once you've found a drone or backing track, what exactly do you do with it? Let me explain!
With drones, there are many things you can do simply with scales and arpeggios that exercise your creativity, your listening skills, and yes, help you to practice technique. Here are two ideas:
Play a slow scale/arpeggio while listening to the intervals/harmonies created with the drone
Improvise a melody over the drone, making sure to focus on scales, arpeggios, thirds, etc.
Play a simple song you know, like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, using the drone note as tonic (or Do)
When you do these with a drone, you're not just simply playing scales, but you are also making music!
2. Backing Tracks
If you want something a little more entertaining than drones, I suggest you use backing tracks! There are so many different kinds of backing tracks you can find for free on the internet, or on Spotify.
With backing tracks, my only suggestion is to be spontaneous! Start by playing the scale/arpeggio in the key of the backing track, then branch out and dip your toe in the pool of improvisation. ;) It will help you to become more comfortable with the scale as well as help you to increase your musical creativity! As an added bonus, you'll feel as if you're making music with another human being, which we lack when we practice alone.
To help you get started, here are some YouTube links to various backing tracks (I have also listed the concert key of each one):
Db Major - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wktmiq0Wf7Q
Bb Major - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BGDew-JNRo
Ab Major - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKR0OiniyKM
The possibilities for backing tracks are endless!
So there you have it, two easy ways to spice up your scale practice! I'd love to know how this helps you. Share with me your favorite drone or backing track!
Until next week, happy practicing!