So we're saying the same thing. Cool.Originally Posted by (fiddle5 @ Dec. 18 2005, 13:28)
So we're saying the same thing. Cool.Originally Posted by (fiddle5 @ Dec. 18 2005, 13:28)
Less talk, more pick.
This thread has slept for a while, since well before I joined the site in fact and that's been a few years now. But it seems like as good a place as any to post a question or two. Like several others, I found the scale and arpeggio exercises on Chris Thile's DVD and the extra ones in the transcription booklet, and they've suited my mood for something a little bit nerdy and obsessive to work on for whatever reason. I've also gotten some violin method books recommended in other topics, which I might or might not want to work on after I've got Chris's exercises down.
It's taking me a fair amount of time to learn the fingerings and position shifts of Thile's exercises, and by "learn" I mean memorizing to the point where I don't have to look at the booklet to play them. When I've read where people mentioned working through Sevcik or Hrimaly or Flesch's books, I've wondered whether they were learning each exercise the way I think of learning a piece, or if they were playing while sight-reading them.
I read a little, well enough to work my way through something slowly even if I occasionally revert to "Every Good Boy Does Fine"; used to be better when I was younger. I'm thinking it would be a project just improving my reading to the point where I could sight-read these exercises and not mess up because I was distracted by the effort of reading. But it would also take a very long time to work through a hundred or so scale exercises if I had to memorize each one. (Just by coincidence I happened to be reading an old interview with Joni Mitchell this morning where she said, "My music teacher told me I played by ear which was a sin, you know, and that I would never be able to read these pieces because I memorized things.")
I think it's interesting that in the various discussions of practicing scales here in the Cafe forum, I haven't noticed anyone asking about them and being asked in return, "How well do you read music?" Seems like that oughta come up now and then. How big a deal is it really? Am I imagining a problem where there is none?
I think it’s sometimes handy to know about scales – if you’re doing any improvisation at all, then knowing what notes are going to be appropriate is very important.
Also, if you happen to know the tune you’re trying to learn is in A mixolydian, and you know what that is, it eliminates some of the guesswork.
I discovered that a major scale is always the same shapes, wherever you play it on the mandolin. So once you know one scale, you can play them all – it’s just a question of where you start. So I never felt the need to obsessively practice scales for their own sake.
But I think I’ve got the most mileage out of doing the thing that John McGann advises – I learnt to play tunes – I don’t have to practice D major, because playing tunes in D thousands of times means I can get from any note to any other note without much trouble.
When I didn’t know many tunes, I did spend a bit of time doing the thing that Niles Hokannen advises. – making up little exercises - doing three notes up, jumping two back going up another three till I’d got to the to, then reversing it. I just made up little symmetrical patterns like this because I thought it would be useful to train my fingers to go between any two notes within a scale in reasonable time.
With regard to reading – I can’t read and it never made any difference. Just so long as the music I wanted to play wasn’t in ‘written’ traditions. In my town there are several sessions every night of the week, and I found I was playing Irish/Scottish/American traditional tunes, pop tunes, bluegrass, country, jazz etc etc, which you can do without reading being important.
BUT – recently I’ve joined a new Mandolin Orchestra that was starting up. Not being able to read the dots is a MAJOR disadvantage in that set up, I can tell you that for nothing.
If I had to choose between the two I would go for arpeggio studies over scale studies.
Someone mentioned etudes and Bach....both usually loaded with arpeggio's.
It is very often the case that I pick up the mandolin but have no real interest in any particular tune or music - I just want to play some mandolin. Thats when scales and exercises are the best. It can be just a lot of fun to run through a regimen for the feel and sound of it.
Many of the mandolin method books I have used and played with do not assume at the beginning that you can read music. They intend to teach that as you go along. By doing the first few exercises looking at the book, you are exercising not just your fingers and pick technique, but also your memory of the notes on the scale and position and string on the neck. By following those exercises carefully, and not going ahead until confident where you are, I think one would be well on their way to being able to read music.
I learned to read music from a clarinet method book, believe it or not. Its what I had. I had a mandolin fingering chart, and I just did the exercises in the clarinet book using a mandolin fingering chart, (to this day I remember having both of them open on the dining room table, a Christmas table cloth if I am not mistaken). I would do each exercise and not move on till I had it. If I got stuck I would go back and do them all over again. Yea I was an obsessive kid.
Anyway, the point is that a good beginners method book, if followed assiduously, should teach you how to read as well as how to play.
As a practical matter, when I play from an exercise book I sight read it first, but eventually it gets remembered. I don't try to memorize it, but just through repitition and coffee it tends to stay.
i don't read notation fast enough for it to be of value unless there's something i can't seem to figure out by how it sounds.
I think of scale familiarity like a kid sleeping with a basketball: I commited to learning (internalizing)all of the first position. In hindsight, it wasn't that much. Then branched out, to anything else i needed, to play a tune that i fancied at a given time. I think anybody will eventually get over their head if that's what they seek. All i really wanted to do is play 2 & 3 chord tunes in jam. Curiosity has taken me a touch farther, but i didn't start out wanting to do the most hardest thing first, like Jazz improv in F minor diminished. Look at how much of the world one can walk around and enjoy, instead of imediately insisting to learning how to vertically ascend with ropes, paetons and caribeanors.
There is a diminishing return to practicing a scale every day, once you can play it with good technique at your desired speed. Practice scales only as much as necessary to maintain proficiency. Add new variations instead of flogging old ones.
In regard to Thile's scales that move up and down the fretboard--if it is difficult for you, break it into smaller chunks. Learn each shift separately, both ascending and descending. When you can play all of the shifts well, combine them into bigger chunks, until you can play the whole thing. Review the hard shifts more often than the easy shifts.
I think there is value to scale playing beyond good technique and desired speed. There is ear training. The goal is a whole lot more than being able to play a scale on demand.
Thats why its good to put arpeggios in with the scales. So you would do a C scale and a C maj arpeggio, D scale, D maj arpeggio, etc. This way you get not only the dexterity down, but you get feeling for the function of each note in each scale, which is just as important, if not more important, than knowing what note this string on this fret plays. (For example the C is the tonic of the C scale but that same C is the fifth (dominant) in the F scale and the fourth (sub-dominant) of the G scale.)
Playing the scales, even after you are good at them, glues those sounds and relationships into your head and fingers.
I even find it useful to recite the do-re-me for each scale, in whatever key, just to attach more neurons to the experience.
There really is something to that - attach as many neurons to the experience as you can, the note you see, the sound you hear, the finger position you play, the syllable you pronounce, maybe add some dynamics and emphasis to various steps of the scale, - it all helps glue this stuff together.
One thing I like to do is take a simple familar tune. At Christmas time its fun to use Joy to the World, because its not a whole lot more than the scale itself, and its so familiar you can pick it out by ear. So I play the scale, play an arpeggio or two and play Joy tothe World in that key, change keys play the scale play the arpeggios and Joy in that key, etc. on up and across the neck.
Its fun, its productive time behind the instrument, and it really helps, and did I say its fun?
If you think playing the same scale, yet again, is the best use of your practice time--have at it.
At a certain point you don't need to do it as much for the fingers. But for the brain. I think there is still a benefit. The scales and arpeggios fit together in so many intricate ways there is a lot there to mine, and many an ahaa moment comes running through a familiar scale yet again, but hearing it in a new way.
I didn't think much of playing scales and arpeggios myself before I tried the ones on the Thile DVD. I figured that if I had any intention of taking on "Ode to a Butterfly" or "When Mandolins Dream" then it might behoove me to spend some time on the exercises he recommended first.
I still don't have a lot of enthusiasm for running through do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do-ti-la-so-fa-mi-re-do in one position, but until lately I didn't know how much more there was to them. As Trevor Thomas says above, it didn't take me long to figure out that all the notes of a given scale are in a certain position as long as I knew where the root is. But I'd never really gotten on top of knowing instantly, for example, where Bb is on the 3rd string, or what note the 9th fret on the 2nd string was, or where the 3rd degree of the Gm scale is on the E string. (I can work those out given a second or two, but often that's too slow.) Scales that change positions force me to work on that.
It was also the first I'd seen of adding a couple of extra notes to a scale to make it 12 or 24 notes long so that it can be played fluidly as full measures in either 3/4 or 4/4 time. (I read somewhere that Galamian came up with this.) That makes it interesting to play the notes as phrases and try to make it sound musical; and hearing it as one time signature vs. another does really make a difference. The melodic minor scales (different notes on the way up and the way down) also made me pay attention and gave my ears something new to hear.
I'm not saying everyone needs to do this, just that it's working for me right now. I picked this topic to post in because the premise seemed to be "if you play scales daily..." but there seems to be a black hole-like tendency for any topic like this to get pulled toward whether playing scales is good or bad. And it's an unfortunate axiom of the Internet that every question like that must have exactly one right answer for all people in all places and times. I'd rather stay away from that trap. Besides being meaningless, it's been done to death. I asked for advice from others who have experience with them, and I'm happy to say why I'm liking them. But if you don't want to, that's cool too.
learn Thile tunes -> play Thile tunes -> impress chicks
learn scales and arpeggios -> learn Thile tunes -> play Thile tunes -> impress chicks
and now we're talking about:
learn to sight-read -> learn scales and arpeggios -> learn Thile tunes -> play Thile tunes -> impress chicks
It's starts getting easy to lose sight of the ultimate objective when it's pushed back that far.
Anyhow, a beginner's book seems like it might be kinda punitive and remedial, but I've got piles of books full of tunes to practice from. I might give that a shot. It's looking like being able to sight-read at speed would be a big help in working through those violin scale books, maybe even an out-and-out necessity.
Of course, if you want to get serious there is always Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic patterns.
"Take me back to 1953."
Gibson A Jr.
And where did you get the idea that I was serious?
Thesaurus of Intervallic Melodies
Inside Improvisation, Vol. 5 (230 pages)
"Practicing out of this book by just reading the melodies has changed and expanded my playing," says Jerry Bergonzi. He offers a number of suggested uses and applications for this intervallic system including ear training, composition, improvisation, improving technical facility, intonation, sight reading, breaking finger habits, and pitch retention.
"In his Thesaurus of Intervallic Melodies, Jerry has created a wonderful and most unusual tool which will expand any musicians musical endeavors. These challenging exercises are very enjoyable to play and can be absorbed in a relaxed and natural manner. The melodies take the player's ears and fingers into refreshingly unfamiliar territories. Very inspirational... highly recommended for students and professionals alike." Mike Brecker
Speaking of Bach I have found the top staff of the Inventions easier to hack through then the Solo Partita's. Invention #13 for example is ripe with great A minor stuff. All free on internet...here's #13
Did someone say practicing scales is bad?
If playing scales as music is considered bad form (and I think most would agree it is) then does practicing running scales only reinforce a bad habit?
I suppose that is why it's so important to practice rhythmic and melodic variations (thirds, fourths, arpeggios) on scales.
Following this logic, the only thing one should practice is the tune or performance coming up. Practice only what your going to play. Practice becomes limited to rehursal.
Gotta do both.
It is important to practice rhythmic and melodic variations, but not to prevent scales from creeping into your breaks. Its to get good at different rhythms and hear and play and know how to find various melodic elements.I suppose that is why it's so important to practice rhythmic and melodic variations (thirds, fourths, arpeggios) on scales.
Truth is you probably have to practice everything. A very useful and easy to remember subset of everything it would be good to practice, is scales and arpeggios.
So I asked what I thought was a reasonable--if maybe a bit long-winded--question whether others memorized or read these exercises, and if I might need to upgrade my reading skills before taking on one of the violin books like Sevcik or Flesch that others have posted about. And there are a couple of responses that address those questions, plus a dozen or so about why scales are good, bad, useless, or better or worse than some other kind of practice.
Ham sandwich... Maybe it's unavoidable.
Anyway, party on. Do what you like. If we don't do the same thing, that doesn't mean one of us is wrong.
Too many folks have a limited idea of what practicing scales is all about, and what it does for your thinking processes as well as your manual dexterity.
Practicing scales includes playing various "patterns", which can also include arpeggios (i.e. triads on each successive scale degree, restricted to the scale notes of the key)
Practing scales can also mean "patternizing" any one or two-bar phrase, pulled from fiddle tunes or wherever. The following use the opening licks from a couple of fiddle tunes, but you could use the last phrase, or one from the middle...etc. Ascend the scale with the pattern; but also desend with the lick transposed to each scalar pitch degree
Key of A; 1-bar phrase from "Sally Goodin" patternized:
Key of D: phrase from "Arkansas Traveller"
Key of D; phrase above, slightly embellished with a couple more notes, patternized:
I think it's a real good idea to then take those same patternized lick exercises, and then do them in parallel minor ("Sally Goodin" phrase in A natural minor and A harmonic minor, "Arkansas Traveller" phrase in D natural minor and D harmonic minor) This will allow your brain, ear and fingers to more easily start to wobble back and for between major and minor, and recycle all your major stuff into minor and vice versa.
to answer the post below:
Major > parallel minor (both have the same root note)
A Major > A natural minor (or A harmonic minor)
Major > relative minor (both use the same key signature..... number of #s or b's)
eg. A major > F# minor
or G major > E minor
Last edited by mandocrucian; Jan-12-2012 at 12:57pm. Reason: to answer a question without posting again
Catalog of instructional books/CDs, Mandocrucian's Digest issues, etc.
"Free your mind, your hands will follow." "It was a new day yesterday, but it's an old day now."
Nice stuff, Niles! Thanks for that. Not sure what you mean by "parallel minor" though. A natural minor and A harmonic minor at the same time?
A minor is the "parallel minor" to A major. This is true whether it is "A natural minor" or "A harmonic minor". Either way it is parallel to A major.
A minor is the "relative minor" to C major, conversely.
The first man who whistled
thought he had a wren in his mouth.
He went around all day
with his lips puckered,
afraid to swallow.
--"The First" by Wendell Berry