The Real Value of Scales
Use these practice tips to unleash the real value of scales
Scales really do provide a wealth of benefits for violinists and violists at any level. Violin and viola scales allow you to focus on specific technical challenges and make large improvements in a short space of time. The specific benefits of scales fall into three basic categories:
- Left hand agility and intonation
- Tone quality
- Bowing facility
And the bonus is that when you practise any one of these aspects the others will also improve. However, it is vital to practise scales in the right way or you can easily miss out on some of those benefits.
How can scales improve my left hand technique?
One of the key benefits of practising scales is that it allows the violin or viola student to produce dramatic improvements in left hand agility and intonation accuracy. But for best results you must practise scales with precision and mindfulness.
Mindfulness in this instance means absolute awareness of every action you take. Be aware of the angle of your finger and the placement of the fingertip pad as it strikes the string. Which muscles do you use to lift your fingers up? Observe the shape of your hand and wrist and notice how much muscular tension you use.
Practise double stop scales or scales on one string for working on your position changing and hand shape. But always precision and awareness are the most important factors. Are you using correct position changing techniques such as guide notes? What happens to the shape of your fingers when you finger a chromatic shift?
Listen to every single moment of every single note including the silence between the notes. To get the best out of scales remember accuracy first, speed second.
How do I use scales to improve my bowing technique?
Scales offer real opportunities to work on tone production and bowing technique especially after you have mastered the basic scale patterns. Use long sustained bow strokes on whole notes and aim for rich resonant tone. Listen for a full range of harmonic overtones.
Combine left hand finger facility with long bow strokes and practise one or two octaves in a single bow stroke. And when you’re ready for the challenge go for three octaves in a single bow stroke. Again, accuracy and tonal quality are the critical elements.
Arpeggios and double stop scales are great tools to practise such bowing challenges as string crossings, accents or spiccato bowings too. The terms precision and accuracy keep popping up. Remember, rhythmic accuracy is also part of that package so use your metronome and insist on precision bowing and fingering.
The Pro-am Strings’ High Impact Violin Accelerator Course offers some great tools for analysing and optimising the way you practise scales. Your online violin tutor is there to make sure you get the maximum benefit from your scales practice and that you see those real benefits shine through in your performance.
This post was written by Styluswriter, a former professional violinist/ violist who has taken his gift for phrasing and tone into the world of words. You can learn more about his work at https://styluswriter.com/