Hi, I'm a highschool student, and I've played flute in the band for three years, and I have an all-state audition coming up where I have to play scales as part of the audition. I've never played scales before. Where should I start?
Learning scales for the first time
If you've never studied scales before, a good place to start is with the help of a private flute teacher. What many band students don't at first realize is that it's not just a question of knowing scales and being able to whip them off; it's a question of playing them absolutely breathtakingly beautifully, just as though they are a piece of real music.
Why? Because real music is chock a block full of beautiful scales (not ugly horrible ones ;>), and if you play the scales wonderfully, you'll play at lest 75% of any piece of music wonderfully.
To prove the truth of this to yourself, have a look at the PDF free version of the Mozart Concerto in C+ for flute and harp;, or at any piece by Haydn, Bach or, even more modern composers. What do you see? Tons and tons of scales that make the music beautiful and flowing and emotive.
Think to yourself: If I already knew these scales by heart, and played them beautifully, I could SIGHT-READ these pieces of music much much faster without so much hard work learning note-by-note.
So, where to start?
First, download a PDF of either easy major scales in one octave or two octaves, or some basic highschool level scales.
Start working these few scales very carefully by first warming up your longtones (while you're waiting for the download and printer) and then concientiously apply your best tone to learning these few scales by heart.
Play these scales slowly, stopping and pausing on any note just when you're just starting to feel out of breath, then breathing and restarting on the note you stopped on. It's not important to go fast or to get to the top note your very first time.
It's also very important not to feel strained or massively out of breath.
One Inch Chunks are EASIEST: Instead of feeling frustrated or tired, make your work ridiculously easy:
Break each scale into easy one-inch chunks, and play each one-inch chunk ALL-SLURRED (very important; tonguing can tend to wreck the tone if added to quickly.)
Working slowly on bite-sized portions of each scale gives your body many more chances to memorize the scale, too. It gives it more time to make the connections it needs to in order to OWN the scale, eventually.
Going too quickly and making poor sound quality and slamming fingers makes more work in the longrun for you. It'll cause you to have to un-do all that bad work you did.
Don't teach your body how to play badly! :>)
As one teacher said to me: Let your "computer" take its time to download the scale into its "hardrive". Don't break the computer by breathlessly pounding away at it.
As you're working one inch chunks of a scale, only proceed if your tone remains fabulous as you go up or down a scale. If your tone goes wonky at any point, back-track to where your tone was fabulous,longtone around, and hang out there for a minute or two going up and down over the rought spot in careful longtones (all-slurred) going right through the notes where the tone seems to get worse, and fixing the tone. Improve the tone before you continue upwards or downwards.
Another way to work scale chunks, if the tone is already pretty good, is for fleetness and lightness of fingers. Fast and agile fingers aren't learned by pounding the flute, or racing up scads of notes; fast fingers come from a well-balanced flute in the hands, and very precise and easy finger motions where the fingers don't lift too high.
Trilling for fun:
A great way to improve finger technique (and to lighten the heart when you're climbing up what might seem like a mountain of scale chunks) is to stop and trill very delicately and precisely between only two notes that you're looking at in the scale. Here's a sample page showing F major in pdf (but you can be much more creative then just playing the sample page straightforwardly--so do be creative!)
ie: FGFGFGFGFG. Start the trill very very very slowly (half-note F, half-note G) and only speed it up very gradually, lightening the finger and making its position very accurate and with the easiest motion possible.
You can stop and delicately trill slowly, and then more gradually faster on any two notes in any scale.
This is a great way to break up your work into different skill areas, and never get bored too. :>)
After you've played each scale for at least 10 minutes a day, move on to learning a new one. The first few should go easily (C Major, G Major etc.) and the last few with the zillion sharps and flats may need a week of ten minutes or more a day just for each complexly sharped-flatted scale.
Don't let that bother you. Take the time to learn B-Major or F#- Major a few minutes a day for a week. Afterall, you only need to learn them by heart ONCE, and after that you'll have each one for LIFE!! :>)
Once you've taught yourself about ten scales by heart, all other scales are much much much easier, and you can rest assured that you'll find ALL music much much easier.
It's like learning to speed-read a book; now that you have the alphabet learned, and you are starting to recognize words and sentences (scales), you will get faster and faster and faster at reading.
Just make sure you get specialized help from your flute teacher for any areas that you have questions about (Tone, Breathing, adding pauses to scales when they're slow, Finger venness, Tricky finger-switches, Keeping the right-hand pinky on the Eb key, or raising the left-hand index finger when required, Tuning, Whether to play one-octave or two-octaves, Tonguing, Slurring, Arpeggios that go with scales etc....)
When the basic scales are fully learned, add one new scale every few days.
Some really great resources are below:
Part one of a basic flute technique book by Herbert
Lindholm (in PDF).
See pg. 1 and 2 for the basic one octave scales, and proceed on in the book for two octave scales and forms for practicing them in for the future.
After you've memorized all the major scales (with the help of your private teacher who will assist with tone, fingerings, and fleetness of fingers etc.) begin the three forms of minor scales:
1) Natural Minor is a simple minor scale. Take any major scale and count up to the sixth note; ex: CDEFGA...."A" is the 6th note.
Start the natural minor scale on that 6th note, and go up to the "A" one octave higher. Descend again (all-slurred up and down.)
ABCDEFGA = a natural minor scale.
2) Harmonic Minor is a natural minor scale with the 7th note raised by a semi-tone.
Ex: ABCDEFG....G is the 7th note. Add a sharp to it to raise it a semi-tone:
ABCDEF[G#]A. This is A harmonic minor.
3) Melodic Minor is a natural minor scale with both the 6th and 7th notes raised by a semi-tone on the way up, but lowered back to their natural position on the way down.
Ex: ABCDE [F#] [G#] A and back down: AGFEDCBA
If this all seems like greek to you, check with your private teacher or at the theory links below.
For flute scale pages that show the different forms of
minor scales: Harmonic and Melodic, see:
FREE SCALE BOOK FOR FLUTE by Jen
For a copy of Major scales,and Harmonic minor scales and scales in thirds, as well as all kinds of other useful exercises, in free pdf book by Jen, download
and print out:
Part 1 - (chromatic warmup, wholetone, dim7 and major/minor scales.
Part 2 - Arpeggios made of any three notes; dominant, diminished and augmented 7th chords for easy practice.
Part 3 - Major and Minor scales in thirds; a fun exploration with improv/etudes.
Explanations of the above simplified Moyse Exercises Journaliers re-writing for novice/intermediates.
How to re-write scales for self-created and more interesting scale patterns.
For the musical theory (explains the difference between harmonic
and melodic minor scales) see:
Minor scales in three forms: easy music theory lessons online for beginners.
Scale theory for intermediate level flute players.
More "how to" information on flute scales from Jen's webpage.
Samples of how to teach scales to young beginners.
Good luck with your audition!