Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Flute Scales Flute Scales Flute Scales Whoooeeee!

G. writes:
I'm practicing flute scales again just to see if they will help my playing of real music. (Yes, I know scales can be called real music, but I wouldn't play them for a recital.)
Anyway, I'd like to know what tempo to strive for. How fast would a beginning music major be expected to play all the majors and minors? How fast do you play them? Do you play all of them equally fast, or do you have to slow down for some? Do you vary the articulations, memorize, play all octaves? I'm still not convinced of the value of this type of work to my general flute playing, once the basic keys are learned, but I want to give it a try.

Dear G,

A beginning music major would want to know all three forms of scale (Major, Minor-Melodic, Minor-Harmonic) by the end of their first year of University, if not earlier.
And yes, that means about 45 minutes of scale practise a day, starting with ten minutes, and working up gradually.
The scale speeds expected are usually measured in quarter notes, with the scales being played in sixteenth notes.
But if the student is truly remedial (never played scales before) then eighth notes might help make the scale easier to read, and easier to make even with the metronome.

A good first goal for a college/university flute music major be quarter note = 60 (four sixteenths per second), with the student working their way up gradually to quarter note = 112 or so over the next four years. (four sixteenths per quarter).

Scales must be listened to for Tone Quality (very important) and of course precise evenness of fingerings. They should be practised at first played all slurred and consistently checked with a metronome, with the student writing down their speed achieved in the margins of their scale book.

A good, easy to read, basic scale book with etudes and finger exercises in it would be the lightweight collection of exercises published by Mel Bay, and entitled: "Indispensible Scales, Exercises and Etudes" by Mizzy McCaskill $12. This is a flute grade 6 level book. (Royal Conservatory grades shown here.)

In many flute exam systems flute students start at a very easy level with eighth note scales. For those who don't know the scales, even quarter note scales are fine to start (all slurred of course, for tone, and breathing and pausing as necessary. No strain :>))
A typical flute exam requirement for each level is given below (from Royal Conservatory flute exams):

All scales memorized:

Grade 1: (beginner) Played in eighth notes with a goal of mm=60 per quareter:Learn C Major, Bb major one octave by memory. Add their relative minors.
Learn, G, D, and F major in two octaves. and add their relative minors.

Grade 2: Add scales up to three sharps and three flats. Increase speed to quarter = 66, scales are played in eighth notes. Add articulations (*all tongued, slurred two-tongued two, and then tongued-two, slurred two.) Add arpeggios played in triplets one octave, or two octaves. Triplets are tongued and slurred similarly (two slurred-one tonuged and reverse. All tongues, all slurred. etc.)

Grade 4: Play scales up to four flats and four sharps. Play in eighth notes with quarter = 72.
Learn chromatic scales starting on any note. Add all related major and minor arpeggios to four flats. Add articulations (as suggested above, and add slurred in twos, and slur-three-tongue one and reverse it to tongue one, slur three.)

Grade 6: Play all majors, all minors, and all chromatics two octaves. Play in eighth notes, with quarter = 80 Add all arpeggios with various triplet slurrings/tonguings. Add all articulations to scales including:

- all slurred, all tongued
- slurred two, tongued two, and reversed
- one tongued, three slurred and reversed.
- one tongued, two slurred, one tongued.

Increase metronome speed to sixteenth notes, with quarter = 72......80......92 etc. Slower speeds for newer/more difficult scales, faster speeds for well-known scales.

Add whole tone scales, Dominant Sevenths, and Diminished Seventh arpeggios. These are easy to memorize if written out by the student.

Grade 10: All the above, plus add Augmented Fifth arpeggios. Play all scales in sixteenth notes with quarter = 104. Always start all-slurred and then gradually add all articulations.

Jen continues:

My take on "should I play the hard ones slow and the easy ones fast?" is this:

Yes, while you're learning them, you will play the easy, good ones (C major) as fast as you can play while keeping tone and finger evenness, and you will gradually increase the speed of the slow ones (C# major for example) until all your scales level out at the suggested metronome markings given above.
For some people, one grade above might take a year, others may do it more quickly.

This means every flute student will find that they spend WAY more time on the tougher scales and arpeggios, gradually increasing the speed over many days per scale.
Again: Writing them out or creating a booklet of them (especially the creativity in creating complex arpeggiated chords) really helps the memorization process.

Eventually, you will have all the scales at the same slower and very even speed with gorgeous tone, and then you can move up to the next speed goal one click at a time on the metronome.
Adding new scales several weeks apart is a good way to pace yourself.

The above chart of metronome speeds and scale names is directly out of the flute exams from the Royal Conservatory Syllabus, but there are also other syllabus pdfs online from the UK that give similar road maps to scale security.

Personal rant/in-coming:

What kills me is that I still get a fresh crop of flute "music majors" each year at the small community college where I teach whose idea of a scale is the one ocatve Bb major scale they've been playing in each band class for the past four years in highschool. (with no private lessons.)
They inevitably play a badly out of tune, bad tone, sloppily bored, all tongued Bb major scale, and each and every one plays it slowly, ploddingly and without any idea of what they're supposed to do next or that there's anything else AFTER Bb Major.
Drives me insane. Seriously. Eeek!

ie: If I had to endure Hades for some terrible crime I committed, it wouldn't be full of fire and brimstone and people playing bad violin. For me it would be a bored flute section from a band class playing over and over again, a Bb Major scale, one octave with hard splitty tongue, bad tone, and careless insouscience! ;>)

More on "Why learn your scales, and Why practice them (for gosh sakes!) in next email, see below.
Jen :>)

G. continued: I'm still not convinced of the value of this type of work to my general flute playing, once the basic keys are
learned, but I want to give it a try.

I think that the lightbulb really went off (or the FOGHORN went off; hard to say which.hahahhaha!) when James Galway said on his youtube teaching videos " know your keyboard" and "you have to keep the keyboard steady, like a piano keyboard."

When you compare the scales learned by young pianists to the scales learned by flute students, the flutes are wondering around in confused circles, don't you think?

What I've noticed over the years is that thing about flute scales is that flutists think they're a bunch of dancing crazy notes wearing angular sharp and flat outfits, and that they twist themselves into black gargoyles on the page, and never quite make it into mind let alone the fingers.

Flute students if asked, might even realize that they perceive them as half-understood horrible finger tangles and doing them even slowly make the flute feel off balance and uncomfortable to hold!

If you envision instead, scales as fluid, easy flourishes up and down a piano, you'll suddenly envision the FREEDOM that knowing them truly gives you.
Ask the student:
Can you see yourself sitting at the piano's black-and-white keyboard and playing it without looking at the keys, like the world's most gifted blind pianist? Able to change to any tune anywhere any time, doesn't matter what key it would be if it were written down?

Can you imagine improvising, or sightreading from a place where there is no combination of notes that's not perfectly familiar and fluid already?

And can you see the flute keyboard, like the piano keyboard staying level, solid, and placid while your fingers move around on it at high speeds, with no finger or hand tension whatsoever?

Well THAT'S the goal of flute scales.


Now, regarding those lists of scales from the start of this blog post:

When the little flute professors make up the tiny flute exams with all the scale requirements, all they're doing is working backwards from the huge list of possibly useful scales that everyone should know if they're going to have artistic freedom, and then just assigning the easiest to grades 1 and 2, and then gradually adding more each year, for each higher level.
This is "little" thinking, really. It's commendable to make and keep lists, and to grade them,. but those lists don't mention too much about artistic freedom, artistic vision, and brilliant facility....
They just list the common materials. :>)

So let's talk artistic freedom now:

If we flutists were young pianists, and we were playing the piano at a basic level, we might feel limited if we only knew one or two scales really well, and the rest were somewhat hazy.

What kind of creative and flexible musician only plays by himself all the time in F Major and G Major?
If you want to play simple folktunes by ear; okay. But how many years of simple folktunes played with one finger, using only two black notes on the piano could you stand?
Right. Even a child will try out all the black notes and try and get more interesting sounds.

But flutists feel unstable when playing F#, or C# or high G#, and so avoid this, and settle for simple folktunes with very few sharps and flats.
Then they see scales as this uncomfortable mountain that has to be climbed.

I suggest; avoid that trap altogether.

Picture this instead:
Let's say that one fine day you find yourself "jamming" with some really great musicians, and they call out: "Flute take 8 bars of rocket fast solo, and I've got the capo on, so that'll minor, and I mean play REALLY fast!" then you're probably not going to up to the challenge unless you know all your scales equally well and have got them fast and fluid already BEFORE that amazing jam-session.

Or try this scenario, in the classical world:
The phone rings, and an orchestra needs a quick sub for the weekend, to play second flute in The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky. You say yes, because this is exactly what you've always wanted to do, (How FUN!) but the defining moment for whether you'll ever get asked to play for a ballet again will glaringly arise when you discover that there's one whole dance number that is made up of flute B Major scales at quarter = 116. Yes, high speed, perfectly ringing, all sixteenth note, rocket fast scales to high B. And you have to play 14 perfect repeats of that scale, each one being ringing and delightful to the ear.

Can any of us do that in three days without having practised it for three years, gradually building up from half-note B Major scales? I'd like to see that!!!


So let's pretend we're gifted young pianists, willing to try out every key on our keyboards, and learn to start slowly and experimentally enough to keep that keyboard light, balanced and steady, with fingers easy, low and curved.

All we have to do is START.
I've got to get back to my book (I'm writing the scale chapter right now, I imagine that you guessed that.) but your question really helped me clarify my thoughts, and of course this is freeer forum for blathering than my book is .
Look for all the links for your student's scales you'll ever need below.


Here's a painless way to learn scales:

1. Put a drone on The Tuning CD. ( )
D minor is a great one to start with.
Choose different drones every few days....

2. Find the matching notes on the flute and improvise over the drone. Expand in every direction.

3. Discover the various scales arising out of the overtones that appear, just like the ancients did. D Major creates a different set of overtones than D minor, D chromatic creates even more. (Note: For the sake of truly listening to ancient principles of sound, try this even if you know all your scales already.)

Very fun!
More backing tracks for scale inventiveness at links below.

SCALE "How to" links for flute scale learning

Article with links: "How to learn flute scales"

Article with links:
FLUTE SCALE KIT (everything you need)

Flute scales with free background music on mp3

Easy pace flute scale backing tracks for fun practise

Intermediate flute scale backing tracks with HARP accompaniment

The "Scale Game" (No. 4 exercise from Taffanel and Gaubert book) sheetmusic and backing tracks on mp3

Happy trails of scales,

Jen :>D
Comments (10)
Blogger Alyce said...

I am a thirty-something year old flute player and I have been reading your blog for a while now. Thank you so much for all of the helpful information that you share! I used to be one of those students who was only taught the B flat scale in public school.

I taught myself the other scales while in high school, but always put off learning those last few tough scales (the ones with all of the flats and sharps). :) This past year I have finally been working on those neglected scales. I definitely see an improvement in my playing the more I do my scales.

My goal for this next year is to master all of those pesky minor scales I have been avoiding for ages. Again, thanks for the great posts!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 2:30:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Alyce, Thanks for your comments. Yes, indeed. I was one of those highschool band players who only learned scales because I *had* to (my teacher made me learn them for a series of exams.) Little did I know that they would be the single most useful component of musical freedom. D'oh!
What a doofus, me. :>)
Best and thanks again,

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 3:11:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember an audition I did to get into
the Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Orchestra.
I was nervous as all get out. The
conductor took me aside into a room,
and said. "Play a C major scale". I did
it. Then, "Play an F# major scale." I
did it. He said, "Okay, you're in".

Thursday, August 28, 2008 2:32:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Kent,
That's pretty funny, and yet pretty typical, sometimes. Here in Canada when the flute kids take their exams, I always tell them that there's a chance that the examiner, rushed for time, might just ask one easy scale and one "hard" scale, just to see where the student is at. And about 40% of the time, that's indeed what happens. The student practises 48,000 scales, and then only gets asked G major and Eb minor, and can't believe it, after all that work. But if the Eb minor sounds AMAZING, the examiner/auditioner can imagine that the student is up to standard on ALL the other scales. It's that simple, and that typical. Thanks for your input.

Thursday, August 28, 2008 5:24:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I took up the flute three years ago after a long hiatus from playing music. I love to play scales. I printed the T&G flute scale "game" you provided some time ago, and I adore it.

If I don't feel like practicing anything else I'll just play scales going back and forth between major and minor, take them out of order, anything to mix up my practice sessions.

I have seen a definite improvement in my fingering, finger dexterity and breath control since I started practicing scales more.

Thursday, September 04, 2008 11:56:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks Sandy,

Now you're at the "whoo-eee" part of the scale game where it feels as if they're easy and they're making your flute playing generally easier.
Yes, that's the "Whoo-eee!" factor at play! Best and thanks for your input,
Jen :>)

Thursday, September 04, 2008 5:58:00 PM

Blogger Tom Deecy said...

Andre Segovia was asked by one of his students, What's so important about scales?"
Segovia's answer; "They will solve ALL of your problems."
(emphasis mine. Thomas.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008 12:56:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks Thomas for your comment. It's so true. Trevor Wye counted up the average scale passage in all the 19th and 18th century flute music, and multiplied it by the number of catalogued works for flute in those centuries, and ended up with something like 85% of all pre-twentieth century music is scales and arpeggios. If you learn those in 12 keys, you have already learned how to produce that music. (or much to that effect.) I'll add that if you practise scales and arpeggios with the tuning CD, you will be perfctly in tune 95% of the time as well. Best, Jen

Sunday, September 21, 2008 3:22:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

why hello,
I just need to know the Flute Chromatic Scale starting at A #, going up 23 notes, i dont know much, so please just type out the letters and/or fingers, and/or notes, i tried this, but it doesn't go in order . . .

Thanks so much for your help,
Take Care.

Saturday, March 06, 2010 10:48:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Anonymous

To the person who needs to go up a chromatic scale from A#, yes my flute fingering chart DOES indeed go in order.
Start on A# (although that's a pretty strange note to start on) and follow upward from there:

You'd work better if you had a few private lessons too; makes it much easier to learn the flute from scratch rather than just working alone with a fingering chart.


Saturday, March 06, 2010 12:46:00 PM


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