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Dec 25, 2020
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Tips for learning scales and arpeggios

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Tips for learning scales and arpeggios

Tips for learning scales and arpeggios, most pupils, and indeed adults, find the prospect of teaching scales a chore.

There are various methods of actually learning a new scale or arpeggio. One can look at the music to understand the binding signature and work out the relative major or minor keys. This is the more academic approach, and although thorough, is unlikely to fire up any enthusiasm in the pupil.

Another method is the physical approach, where the closeness or space between the fingers is observing order to feel the tones and semitones when they occur. Pupils often find it easier to relate to, and the fingering of the scale or arpeggio can be written down with a bracket over the fingers that make a semitone. All scales should be practiced slowly without slurs, ensuring that awkward sections are split up and practice in detail.

Harmonic scales are more comfortable to tackle first.

Minor scales can be tricky, especially when both harmonic and melodic forms need to learn – one often ends up listening to a pupil concocting a hybrid of a scale, where both conditions merged! Harmonic scales are more comfortable to tackle first, as the ‘snake charmer’ sound is fun to play. The melodic is trickier, telling the pupil that when ascending, it sounds minor to start with, then changes to a powerful sound for the latter part can help. The flatten sound of the scale descending needs to be isolated and sung repeatedly to instill in the pupil. Is all very well, but then the problem is getting the pupil to go away and learn it!

It is essential to get any chore over with if this is how the pupil views it. Practicing first thing in the morning – even if it is a quick 20 minutes while breakfast is preparing before school – is an excellent discipline to get it. It provides a perfect warm-up, and then the prospect of having the practice put off until later, which looks like a black cloud on the horizon overcome. Or worse still is forgotten about altogether!

Practicing various techniques such as bowing

Once the scale learned, then the real fun can start! There are many ways to use the scale or arpeggio as a framework for practicing various techniques such as bowing, rhythm, careful intonation practice, and shifting. If you make this a fun concept in the lesson, the pupils won’t even realize the hard work going on behind the scenes!

N.B. Please ensure that where possible, the majority of practice takes place in front of a mirror if the object is to use the scales to help enhance another technique, e.g. to check the flexibility of the wrist or the arm’s position during shifting.

Bowing

Any bowing can be practice around a scale. If a bowing technique is challenging to master, such as ricochet or spiccato, then obviously they should be first practiced on an open string. Then progress to using it on a scale, until the pupil is ready to tackle a study. Simplicity is the key. 

Why struggle with difficult notes if the bowing technique itself is formidable? The note is a distraction. For a younger child, you could introduce ‘Frog Scales’ for example, where a pupil practices spiccato in a scale, or perhaps ‘Robot Scales’ for Martell, and maybe even ‘Sticky Toffee Scales’ for a smooth legato practice. Perhaps play them a scale using a bowing technique, get them to choose a description, and then see if they can copy you.

Rhythm

Scales incorporating dotted rhythms, in particular, are not only suitable for timing and rhythmic accuracy, but they are also fantastic for working on a fluid bow hold and wrist action. That is especially true of any dotted, or even double dotted rhythmic scale played at the extreme tip or heel of the bow. Can ever behold upside to make things more challenging, as this extra heaviness in the bow hold makes the fingers work harder to get a result. Generally Over embellishment is the key here to help the bowing fingers and wrist to extricate up.

With dotted scales, can repeat each note at least twice, i.e. each note is crochet consisting of the same two notes in a spotted pattern, to get enough time to practice the bowing technique. 

To get a fast and fluid scale going, the scale itself can be practiced with single notes as normal, but first dotted one way, then dotted the other to even out any discrepancies over the timing and highlight any areas the notes are not yet securely known.

Intonation

Of course, scales are an ideal method in which to concentrate on playing securely in tune. should employ no use of vibrato during scale and arpeggio practices (unless slow scales use specifically to help with vibrato practice!) It is essential to slow scales right down as much as possible to train the ear to listen out for imperfections effectively. If a note is not in tune, go back to the previous note to practice the finger’s correct positioning.

Shifting

Shifting is an integral part of many scales and arpeggios, especially when entering the realm of the three-octave range! Arpeggios especially need quick thinking and precision, and plenty of mental preparation to accurately reach the notes. Repeating the note twice while hooking the last note into the new note, i.e. linking the notes together, are an excellent way of practicing.

Games for Beginners

The bowing exercises to practice without the need of a violin! Only the bowing hand required, the left hand is useful, as a safety net for the bow, should the going get too harsh!

Creepy Crawly Spiders

Hold the bow vertically utilizing the right bow hold, and gradually and cautiously creep up the bow stick like a bug. Attempt to keep up the fundamental bow hold position to the extent that it is conceivable, ensuring that the thumb stays on the contrary side of the fingers.

Stop when you get halfway up the stick, and then crawl back down to the frog again. there more than one pupil in the class, maybe you could see which ‘spider’ completes the course up and down the ‘drainpipe’ successfully! This exercise aims to increase strength and independence for the fingers while ensuring flexible fingers, which is vital for a good bow hold. Furthermore, it makes everybody thankful that they polish off back in the bow hold position, which at this point ought to appear to be somewhat more straightforward than before they began!

Please note that it is essential to relax the hand that holds the bow in between each exercise by shaking the hand out vigorously. (That is very important not to hold the bow while doing this!)

The Seesaw

Hold the bow out before the body on a level plane, while keeping up the right bow hold. Presently start to on the other hand push down on the main finger, with the goal that the bow plunges marginally to one side, and afterward pushover the little finger that the bow dips down to the right. Agin and again several times, trying to keep the fingers bent. Again, this produces strong and flexible fingers. These two fingers are major for adjusting the bow stick.

The Upside Down Seesaw

This equivalent to the past exercise, yet flip the bowing hand over, with the goal that the bow stick is currently highlighting the right, and the needle is presently topsy turvy. Is somewhat harder than The Seesaw, as the hand is presently supporting the bow’s whole weight.

The Rabbit’s Face

You can be practice even without holding the bow to start! How to Use the bowing hand, you need to bend the right thumb, after bringing the middle and ring fingers down to meet as well, (mind this you may when holding the violin bow.) bringing the index and little fingers down, keep them raised in the air. Give them wiggle, and these are the rabbit’s ears, the other fingers make up the shape of the teeth. You can be practice substituting a pencil instead of the bow. It’s easy to do, and even pupils who can’t be bothered to open their violin case can do this while watching T.V.! try to same thing, You using the bow. That is a good idea to look in a mirror to see the rabbit’s face.

Soldiers Stand to Attention

This also another good exercise for the pupil to see the role each fingerplay in the bow hold. Hold the violin stick in front of the body so that its parallels, also one by one lift any of the four fingers off a stick in turn. (Not all simultaneously clearly!) again shows which fingers are utilized to hold the bow, which is significant for adjusting the shaft. Strength, finger independence, and flexibility are once more to the fore.

The Paint Brush

This is a warm-up to The Push Me Pull You. Using the bow, hold the bowing hand out in front of you, using the bow hold position. Imagine that a paintbrush is being held. Pull across to the right, as though an imaginary horizontal line is painting. Notice the shape the bow hold makes, with the palm leading the fingers across to the right. 

Now paint a line to the left. The fingers should be flexible, and the top of the hand should lead the fingers. The tips of the fingers should curl naturally to the right.

The Push Me Pull You

Hold the bow stick out as previously, but this time insert the index finger of the left hand between the stick and bow hair at the tip of the bow. (So the left arm is out to the left-hand side, and the right arm is over to the right) Now pull the bow towards the left, so that it meets the left hand, making sure that the left-hand remains still, let the bowing hand do the work. 

Notice the shape the bow hold makes, the fingers should be flexible, and the top of the hand should lead the fingers. The tips of the fingers should curl naturally to the right. Now draw the bow to the right as though doing a down-bow. Observe, as the bow hold’s shape should change, with the palm leading the fingers across to the right.

How to improve your bow hold without tears and boredom

Learning to hold the bow correctly can be the source of much frustration and heartache. There is much you can do without actually involving the violin itself, and often without even using the bow!

Before you begin, it is useful to practice in front of a full-length mirror if possible. Will show you right away how you are progressing. I see little point in learning a study full of difficult notes if the aim is to concentrate on bow hold. Better to use open strings and long slow bows to start. As you place the bow on the strings at the heel of the bow, check that the bow hair is completely flat against the string. You draw the bow down, make sure that the bow stays in a straight line between the bridge and fingerboard. 

As you slowly reach the tip of the bow, mentally anticipate changing direction to an up-bow so that the transition will be smooth and not bumpy or gritty sounding. Again, make sure as you change the direction that the bow remains as straight as possible. Practice these longbows on all open strings. Notice the angle of your elbow alter in relation to which string you are playing – high up on the G and close to your body on the E. Play softly and slowly, as this requires maximum control. This exercise essential and should use before each practice session.

How to make playing fun

Music – Tutor books do not suit all children all of the time. It’s best to intersperse your lessons with lighter music (ask your music dealer). Even study books and scales can make it more interesting, choose music that is bright and colorful, and feature cartoons.

The Lesson – For the very young, awarding stickers (gold stars, etc.) or sweets when the parents collect their children will encourage a sense of achievement. You can also promote a ‘concert’ atmosphere when the parents arrive at the end of the lesson. If you play the piano, the student will have a real sense of achievement at the end of the study if they play what they have learned with an accompaniment. Also, get to know your pupils and their interests and find out what is going on in their lives to help them decide how to incorporate a practice timetable outside the lesson.

How to play along with favorite pop music

Practice – Refer to my resisting practice tip for more detail, but it can be easier to get the pupil to play little and often, keeping the instrument to hand and try not to keep using the word ‘Practice’! stiffen the resolve of the pupil to have a go at improvising, composing tunes, to play along with their favorite pop music (without the use of music and the tyranny of the music stand!)

Extra-Curricular – Encourage your pupils to go to concerts, especially to see youth orchestras. Will give them something to aim for. Try to arrange for them to go along to a residential course in the school holidays. Play lots of music in the background (be careful not to force it) just let it be a natural part of life.

How can I help my child or myself to play in tune?

The violin can be one of the most challenging instruments to master, especially in the early stages where scraping and sawing noises can be a memorable and unwanted feature!

Many teachers mark the position the fingers need to be in by putting colored tapes on the fingerboard. We know that some teachers feel that this is more offensive than any scraping sound. But for sure students or very young students, colored tape markers help immensely.

It is critical to remember that a violin player has to make the notes themselves by placing the finger on the string in the exact correct position. Cannot be done by looking at the fingerboard, as the violin’s angle makes this hard to judge.

The solution is to train the ear. Can do this in several ways

1. Aural Practice – This is important as it gets the pupil to practice singing and recognizing intervals, enabling them to tell whether they are playing in tune.

2. Singing – Encourage the pupil to sing in a choir. Will get the ear used to the harmony which again is good practice for hearing intervals correctly. However, as a child, I did not especially enjoy singing in a choir, and if this is the case with a pupil, then encourage them to sing harmony to their favorite pop song.

Back to the violin, and on a practical level, getting the pupil to play for example an open string then putting down the first finger whilst playing with long slow bows and listening will train the ear. Needs to practice over and over again. i.e., O I O I O I O I, etc. this can build up to incorporate all four fingers, but always return to an open string to check the tuning.

The critical point is to remember that if a note plays out of tune, to go back to the previous note and have another go at re-hitting the note properly. You must scale practice and train both the ear and finger muscles. It is easy to play a note out of tune and slide the finger or carry on without stopping!

My child or I resist practice – what encouragement can I offer?

This is a prevalent problem and one which I can identify with myself! Very few children (or adults for that matter!) find that the will to practice comes easily. As the day progresses the idea of practicing becomes more and more of a chore. The best thing that I have found through personal experience is to get the practicing over with as early as possible. 

Not only are you physically and mentally more alert at this time, 

but also the idea of practicing has not been put off all day and seen as a battle or ordeal (and who knows if the practice session goes well, there is plenty of time to do some more later on!)

As a child learning to play, Tips for learning scales and arpeggios in violin, I hated practicing, but luckily, I had a natural ability that enabled me to improve with the amount of practice I did manage to do. I now have a very talented pupil who is like this also. The amount of training depends on the individual. Some benefit from practicing ‘little and often’, and others find that they can get stuck into a long practice session. Soon as the mind begins to wander, it is better to take a break as ‘over ‘practicing can do more harm than good. 

Parental pressure rarely works, and this creates tension. However, if an exam is looming, then it is reasonable to expect a more committed approach to practice, and the student will know that it is for a limited period only.

What are good examples of music?

The more music the violin pupil is expos to the better, and this includes pop, folk, jazz, and classical music. If a pupil can hear a violin being played in a non-stuffy way, this is more likely to fire them up to play than anything else. Some good examples of music to try are The Corrs, Nigel Kennedy, Ed Alleyne Johnson, and Vanessa Mae. You could also try taking them along to a concert that features a violin concerto, such as one by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, or Britten. These are theatrical and striking works, and when the violin student hears them live, the effect will be potent. Peer pressure is often a factor in children give up, so the need to see the violin as a ‘cool’ instrument is essential, especially for teenagers.

Unrealistic practice time tables

The violin teacher should also make an effort to be on the pupil’s wavelength and not impose unrealistic practice time tables. It is essential to show the importance of scales but also concerning improvising. It is good to encourage the pupil to play fast folk music to create a fluid, relaxed bow hold, and action. 

You can also arrange their favorite Pop music for violin, or encourage them to play along to their favorite songs by ear. If the child can relate to the teacher and enjoy the lesson, they are more likely to practice.

Another idea for parents is to leave the violin in a safe place set up and ready to play, 

sometimes the mere thought of opening up the case and setting up the violin, etc can be off-putting ( which is why most people find it easier just to sit at a piano and play ) The violin can be kept ready on top of a table, piano or in a spare bedroom, with a scarf or duster over it for protection. The bow can be left loose so that it can quickly tighten when needed. It can safely rub down and put back in its case until the next morning.

Enjoyable for your child or pupil to play

To sum up, Tips for learning scales and arpeggios in violin, make it as convenient and enjoyable for your child or pupil to play. Ten or fifteen minutes before school while breakfast is being prepared can build up to a substantial chunk of playing by the end of the week. Parents – please don’t laugh or tell your child it sounds bad (even if it does!) and avoid using the ‘P’ word (practice). The word itself strikes terror even into my own heart. Teachers, please try and see things from your pupils’ perspective as they will be more responsive if they feel that you are on their side than if you act like an ogre. we say to you good luck and please contact us with any comments or suggestions on what you would like to see on this page.

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