Thursday, December 18, 2008

What do your scales look like?

When I was in college, my roommate, a wonderful violinist who'd chosen med school, commented that she was surprised I didn't practice scales every day.

Scales are important, they train our fingers to play passages that appear over and over again in repertoire, they are great warm ups, and most important of all, they teach our arms and bodies how to move across the keyboard. So why wasn't I practicing my scales every day, even though as a music major, I was putting in anything from 4 to 10 hours a day?

Because I had already spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours devoted to this one technique in my earlier years of playing the instrument. The scales had already been ingrained in my mind, my ears, my muscles. Till today. I have forgotten most of what I've learned in geography or physics or anthropology but tell me to play a F# major scale and I won't even hesitate. These babies have drilled themselves into the nucleus of every cell.

Also, laziness. (Hey, I was in college, I was allowed to be a slacker every once in a while.)

When I started teaching, I had to decide which school of thought I subscribed to when it came to teaching scales. One school says pianists need to have as many of the standard figuration of piano playing--scales, arpeggios, chords, Alberti Bass, trills, etc--in their fingers so that when they encounter them in real repertoire, they won't need to struggle but can instead focus on the musical elements.

The second school of thought considers the hours practicing scales wasted because students should spend time on real music, instead of just the technical aspect. Students will learn scales soon enough when they start playing Mozart Sonatas.

I chose #1 although I tried as best as I could to relate particular technical exercises to real music so that the younger students, especially, could see the point of these exercises.

My question is, now that I'm a writer, what is the equivalent of practicing scales? Free writing? Journaling? Writing sentences and labeling parts: subject, verb, object?

So, my fellow writers, do you practice scales everyday? If so, what do your scales look like?


Anonymous said...

Hi Auntie Yat Yee!
I really enjoy your blog.
So, scales in writing? I'd have to say yes; I read the dictionary every day and scour books and broadsheet newspapers for yet undiscovered words, which I highlight and copy down. Those words and their definitions are then stuck to the back of the toilet door. I don't suppose that counts as a scale? Or maybe just pure geekiness. :)

Yat-Yee said...

Hi there, Chanelle. Great "scales"! And geekiness is GOOD. What are you writing these days?