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Scale practice

Discussion in 'Ask Lynn Seaton' started by Jason Howard, Sep 28, 2017.


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  1. Jason Howard

    Jason Howard

    Sep 28, 2017
    I've been practicing 3 octave scales for months now and haven't really improved at all. I always practice with a drone and a metronome, but my intonation still won't improve. Does anyone have any suggestions or insight?
     
  2. Do you have a teacher?
     
  3. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    Tennessee
    Have you recorded yourself? I'd be surprised if there were not noticeable improvement in a few months. It might just be that your perception has improved.
     
    SJan3 likes this.
  4. Jason Howard

    Jason Howard

    Sep 28, 2017
    That's a good point, I do off and on, but not too often.
     
  5. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Francois asked if you have a teacher and since you didn't respond, I'm assuming that means no. I don't think it can be emphasized enough how beneficial a good teacher can be even if it's via Skype, so if you don't have a teacher, I'd encourage you to give it more consideration.

    That said, if you're practicing something and not making progress, then most likely you're not practicing that thing properly. Three octave scales may be more than you can handle now; perhaps you should concentrate on mastering a single octave first. There are many components to being able to master scales and you can decompose the activity into its different components and then practice each one separately and then begin to reassemble them. Can you hear in your mind's ear the pitch of the next note in the scale? Have you given serious consideration to the fingering you're using, when you change strings and when you travel along the string?

    David Friesen likes to explain how he learned to intonate properly and I worked his method for more than a year and it helped me a great deal. The technology has changed since David learned in the 60s and I updated that aspect but otherwise this is the method he used:
    - first, many musicians cannot play in tune if they don't have a clear expectation of the pitch they're trying to play. If you're in that camp, then the easiest way I've found to master that is to sit at a piano and play the scale slowly, listening carefully to each pitch, and after a couple of minutes, sing along. Once you can sing the scale accurately without the piano ghosting you, you know the scale. You can test yourself, sing the scale up and down and down and up and stop at a pitch and then strike the piano to check your intonation.
    - have a computer play the scale for you very slowly, 40 bpm to start. I found a piano sound easiest to intonate to but any instrument with a clear fundamental should work. Play along, using your bow, adjusting your fingering on each note until you are in "good" tune, within a few cents of the actual pitch. You'll know when you're in tune when you no longer hear a "pulsing" or "beating" between the pitch you're playing and the pitch the computer is generating. An F Major scale is a good scale to use to start and I recommend just working that scale up and down until you can increase the speed, then you can add a couple of more scales. Recording yourself is a critical aspect to ensure that you're not somehow fooling yourself or letting things slide by. That applies to singing along with the scales too.
    - once 40 bpm becomes easy for 2 or 3 scales, you can add more scales and start to increase the tempo. Try increasing the tempo on the metronome 10 bpms at a time until you start to mess up, and then drop back to the last good tempo for a bit.
    - once you've gotten most of the scales to 240 bpm or more, you can set the metronome to 60 bpms and play a scale at 60 bpm, then double time, 120 bpm, then triple time - triplets - 180 bpm, then quadruple time - 240 bpm - 16ths.
    - as you gain competence with that, you can begin exploring different fingerings, different paths up and across the fingerboard, starting at the end of the fingerboard and descending, starting in the middle, and adding other scales. All 4 Minor scales are good to practice, along with the Lydian, Mixolydian, Altered scale, and blues scale.

    Hope that helps. Let me know if you have any questions about the method.
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2017
    Michael F Clef likes this.
  6. Lynn Seaton

    Lynn Seaton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2006
    Denton, TX
    The detailed explanation from Tom Lane about Freisen's advice is something I have done myself and it really was a game changer for me. It is time consuming and tedious at times, but the rewards are worth it. Recording is also highly advised. It will capture what it really sounds like. As you practice, notice and trends that re-occur. Some things to look and listen for are: inconsistent spacing between the fingers, not shifting far enough (or too far) in specific places.
    When a student mentioned to Gary Karr that he was the most in tune bassist, supposedly Gary answered that no, he just made adjustments faster!
    Singing is one of the most important things we can do. It is the path to being able to hear what we play and play what we hear.
     

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