Chris M. BernotasBy: Chris M. Bernotas Why do we place so much emphasis on scales as band directors?  Well, that’s a silly question – to help prepare students for the challenges that arise in their music!  Specifically, we help our students learn their scales to help prepare them for technical passages and to help them attain the muscle memory skills necessary for performing music.  Scales aren’t just for learning fast music, but that could be a whole other article topic. I could continue to list the wonderful benefits of learning scales; they are so exciting and fun! Well, they are fun once you have them mastered.  There is one thing that does bother me about scales though.  You know the scale pattern we are all familiar with?  Think about it; sing it in your head.  It goes like this:

Major Scale

If you are really fancy you can double the speed, or triple it to show off at parties.  I love this scale rhythm; it is nice, neat and fits in a box.  It is such a great rhythm for teaching the skills associated with learning scales.  What, then, is my problem?  Glad you asked.  My experience with students has been that once they learn and memorize their scales with this pattern, they have trouble deviating from it.  Ask students to play a scale from the top note down and then back up, in a dotted eighth and sixteenth pattern.  Can they do it?  How about a pattern like this for some variety:

Scale Pattern

Or what about a “non” pattern, just to keep things interesting:

Changing Scale Rhythm

One of the beautiful things about music, both in performance and in composition, is that it is limitless.  There are an infinite number of possibilities of what can be written or how a single piece can be performed.  Learning scales is simply a gateway for opening up the creative and interpretive power in music. Practicing scales in a common pattern is a fantastic idea; it provides stability for the learner and a common vocabulary for teachers. I will continue to use this well established pattern with my students as well as incorporate different and innovative patterns to challenge them. I believe it is not only important for us to encourage students to accept the wisdom that mastering scales can provide, but to also encourage them to try new things with their new scale friends.  Play them backwards, start in the middle and go up then down, swing them!  Most of all encourage students to have fun!