Scales are the most misunderstood aspect of music. At best, novice and advanced flutist alike understand that flute scales makeup the building blocks of all music and should be learned well. At worst, and all too often, the practicing musician thinks – if I can learn to play all the notes, why spend time on scales.
Take Your Playing to the Gym with Flute Scales
Scales are to a musician what a gym is to an athlete. An athlete uses a gym to sculpt, tone and refine every aspect of their body to excel in their sport. A musician can use scales to build and refine tone and technique to take their music to the next level.
Tune Your Technique
Too few musicians understand that scales are a device for fine tuning every aspect of playing.
A musician can use scales to diagnose problems with tone, articulation, fingering and phrasing just as a physician can read an EKG to diagnose a patient’s heart. One differences between a casual and real musician is the daily use of scales to find, diagnose and fix problems. … “Oh, I’m not able to descend cleanly to C#. I can play it when I put all my fingers in place and eek it out. But, if I needed it in in a piece, it sounds sloppy.” After a little scale practice and detective work you solve the problem!
Daily work with scales allows any musician to achieve their fullest potential.
Everything that follows assumes that you have good posture and form. That you understand the basics of good sound production and fingering on the instrument.
Play flute scales very slowly and all slurred at first. That way you can listen for problems as they occur. Listen for changes from one note to another that are not smooth. Slurring all the notes at first makes fingering problems stand out. Listen for notes with weak or off-key tone. There is a list of common problems and their solutions below.
Isolate problems as soon as you hear them. Do not keep playing and plan to come back. Stop like you hit a brick wall. Usually, a problem is either one note or the transition between two notes. When you isolate the problem, you are able to fix it permanently.
Solve why the problem occurred (see below). Did your fingers fail to close or open the keys at exactly the same time? Is your embouchure tightening? Are you partially closing a wrong key with part of your finger? In all, this process usually takes only 2 or 3 seconds In rare cases, much longer. As you do this daily, you will get better at knowing what’s wrong.
Practicing to Perfection
After isolating a problem spot and solving what is wrong, fix it. Practice flute scales correctly until it works. Then, practice it until you can play it 3 times in a row correctly. Conventional wisdom says that if you can do it three times well consecutively, you have developed the muscle memory to do it right in the future. Often this is the case but sometimes you may trip over the same note again, in which case you will need to repeat the process. If you find yourself forever unable to nail a certain note or passage of notes, it may be time for more drastic action. Set aside 10 or 20 minutes for a few days to work on “that problem”. With persistence, you will tackle the problem and it will feel great!
As the scale improves, gradually increase speed and practice using all different articulations and dynamics. Continue to work on imperfections as you advance. The scale should flow smoothly from the lowest note to the highest note and back down with no rough areas or variation in tempo.
Cycle through the keys and types of scales over a number of days or weeks. As you advance, look for more challenging scale exercises and work on them meticulously to continue to improve to the next level.
Integrate Flute Scales with the Rest of Your Practice
Next, You will find it useful when working on pieces to work on scale exercises in the same key. This will not only help technically but will give insight into interpretation of the piece making it more interesting.
Subsequently, working out the kinks while practicing scales using this method will carry over into other areas – band music, solo pieces, etudes, maybe even your algebra homework. After all, practice is working on the hard stuff.
Finally, the ultimate goal of any musician is (or should be) to rise to a level where playing is not about fingering a passage or getting a high C to come out. It is about expression.