Tech Project #4: Building Longer Scales Part 1
14 Wednesday Mar 2012
These tech projects are additive and progressive, so I will assume that you are a whiz in zipping through your Power Scales in all keys using the Cycle (if any of that is “Huh?”, go back and read and work through Project #1 again). Some power scales may be a bit stronger, more fluent than others (F# is probably never going to flow like C), but they all should be fluent and accurate at moderate tempo.
What we’re going to do next is very simple: we’re going to stack two power scales to make a scale to the 9th, i.e. an octave plus one note (the 9th makes a handy turnaround note). Our principle here is as previously stated, like language: acquire fluency in shorter units and then build longer, more complex units from them later.
Here’s what we’re after, the (completed) major scale to the 9th (here in C):
Every scale like this in every key is made up of two power scales (overlapping), i.e. the selected key power scale plus a PS beginning on the 5th scale degree, which also happens to be the dominant note.
Although you may very well be able to zip through the C major scale to the 9th already, humor me and go through the process of breaking it down and building it up. It will serve you (and your students) well when you get to the less familiar major scales and certainly when we start building other kinds of even less familiar scales later.
Don’t start with the long unit. Let’s break it down into chunks first: Play each PS separately, first ascending, then descending. Don’t (ever) look at any printed music – all of this in all keys should be memorized and beyond. Feel free to repeat any that are not yet rock solid (scales are relatively easy in C, but less easy later. Do it anyway now).
Next, do each PS up and down. Go for fluency: no tension in the hand, but very sure and rapid movement of the fingers (check for bouncing tips – they should stay in contact with the valve levers, making the least motion possible).
Repeat all variations with different articulations: all slurred, all tongued, mixed.
Then: Stack ’em. Now: both PS’s are connected, ascending (ascending scale to the 9th), followed by the same descending. It should feel smooth, relaxed, effortless. If not, check for tension (i.e. the lack of it) and repeat 800 more times.
And finally: glue it all together: The major scale to the 9th (= C PS + G PS):
Repeat in all keys. Later, repeat in different registers. Start with the most comfortable register for each key. There is no hurry. Take your time and get really good at each one rather than take on a whole bunch of keys at once. Add one new key every (day? 3 days? week? 2 weeks?); review the conquered keys first briefly, then spend most of your time on the new key.
Remember that what we are aiming here in this and all of the projects is deep knowledge, deep physical/kinesthetic knowledge of these areas. Our final goal is to be able to play any of the material at any speed, any length, any articulation and have it be fluent, i.e. automatic, effortless, and accurate. That takes time, but the learning will be deep in you instead of on the page. The more you commit basic technical units to deep learning like this, the quicker and easier you will later be able to master (including sight-reading) new material.
To make it all a bit more fun, record your time for running through all scales to the 9th through the complete cycle. If you miss anything on the way, you have to repeat the flawed scale until you can lay it down no mistakes. Record timings for each different kind of articulation. For even higher levels, don’t record a time unless you have played through all twelve error free. Still higher? Don’t record a time unless there are no misses and there is no tension in your hand or anywhere else.
Your times from week to week should gradually improve. You will make 80% of your progress in 20% of the time. The last 20% of high-level improvement will take you 80% of the time. But who’s counting? This is technique for life. Take your time, do it well, do it right. Enjoy the process.