Scale Fragments, for Fluid Scales and Melodic Mastery
Why do we practice scales? To get better, of course. But what does this mean? What does “better” look like?
Scales are a tool with which we practicing connecting notes smoothly. We train our hands to play at a consistent volume. We work on our sound and tone quality. We practice swells and fades. We limber our fingers and improve accuracy and precision.
And if scales are the tool, scale fragments can sharpen that tool.
Fluid Scales Start with One Note
On classical guitar, scales usually use the index and middle fingers on the right hand. These alternate to play the strings. (This is aptly called “I/M alternation“)
And in the left hand, we play two or three notes per string (most often).
The challenge is to synchronize the hands. When done well, there is little or no gap between the notes. Just as when we sing many notes with a steady breath, the scale is fluid and connected.
If we look at the smallest building block of this entire exercise, we find one note. First, we have to play just one note well.
To play a note well means we use an intentional hand position, form, and movement. We play at a chosen volume and with a chosen tone quality.
Then, when we can, we play two notes, and the game begins…
Scale Building Blocks: Two-Note Pairs on One String
Question: What’s the recipe for beautiful flowing melodies?
Answer: Our ability to connect one note to another on the same string.
And how can we train this ability? Well, we can work on just this core element. Instead of a full scale pattern, we can practice just two notes.
We can focus all our attention on just two notes on one string. This isolates a core element of all melodies and scales.
Add One More, Then Another
Once we can play two notes well, we can add one more. This may include a string crossing. If so, we have a new challenge. And another building block.
Mastering this, we add another note. And another. We may use speed bursts. Or we may keep it slow.
Mind the Fundamentals
Throughout this process the main goal is to mind the fundamentals.
Everything we want to ultimately embody in our music, we practice here. This is the time and place to “sharpen the saw” and set the standard. As we improve here, our overall level rises.
- I/M alternation in the right hand.
- A nice “C” shape in the left hand.
- Upright sitting position.
We can put every aspect of our playing under the microscope and make it intentional.
We can listen for consistent and beautiful tone quality. We can feel our fingers moving through the strings. We can notice how small shifts in position or speed affect the sound of each note.
We can play with exacting rhythm. We can train ourselves to listen at higher and higher levels. We can raise the standard and ingrain rhythmic clarity and precision.
Daily Practice Yields Compounded Interest
In any one day, we may or may not notice any difference. But as we focus on quality and consistency, we do improve over time.
Described here is work at the micro-level, at the level of one note and one movement. Working this way, the macro takes care of itself. We raise the quality here, and we raise it everywhere.
The main ingredients are attention and time. A few minutes mixing these with scale fragments, and we sound better and better.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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