My Family of Scales

Scales are like family. They make you want to rip your hair out, but at the same time you just HAVE to love them. In the past couple  of years I’ve gotten to know my major scales pretty well, thanks to my band director, who I have been fortunate enough to have had for the last 5 years. I should probably also let you know that I play the flute.

It all began with All-State. For those of you who are not familiar with All-State, it is a music festival comprised of band, orchestra and choir. Being accepted is a huge deal. The most important part of an All-State audition, at least when it comes to band, is the scales. I’m sure you’ll hear more about All-State and the whole audition process in my later posts, but for now we’re going to be focusing on the scales (barf).

The first scale I ever learned was Bb (to be honest, I have no idea if there is a way to insert an actual flat sign, so for now, please excuse my pathetic use of a lowercase B). It was a simple scale that I played in one octave. Then, in the spring of my 8th grade year, my band director had us start working on all of our scales to prepare us to try out for All-State in high school. There are a total of 12 scales that one must learn to audition for All-State. At the time I didn’t realize how important these scales are. Looking back I wish I would’ve known to learn those darn things back when life wasn’t as busy in middle school. But, as a true teenager, I procrastinated and learned those scales right up until my first All-State audition. I had been lucky; I only had to play relatively easy scales, so I survived without totally embarrassing myself in front of the judge.

One Octave Scale
One Octave Scale

The next year, I came back prepared to work my butt off on scales.  The process of learning scales is actually quite extensive. First you need to know what sharps (most of you would recognize this as the hashtag) and flats (our friend the lowercase b) are in the scale. Then you need to be able to connect what you know with what your fingers play. After that you need to be able to play them at the correct speed and in as many octaves as possible. Then comes the part of perfecting them, usually done by playing the notes in various rhythms and with different articulations. Oh, and did I mention good sound quality and tone? Those are essential as well. Who knew scales could be so tedious? By the time auditions came around, I felt like a scale ninja. Now in the process of my third year of All-State auditions, I’m still drilling those tricky 3 octave scales to perfection.

Three Octave Scale
Three Octave Scale

After All-State auditions have come and gone, I naturally throw those scales to the back of my closet (metaphorically of course). However, somewhere between last year and now, I came to realize that All-State isn’t the only thing scales can and should be used for. When learning a new song, it used to take me awhile to get it down, however now I find it to be getting easier. Of course I am getting older and therefore more experienced with the flute, but another reason it’s taking me less time to learn a new song is-you guessed it-scales! Many patterns in music are often built using scales, as well as broken thirds and arpeggios. The more you practice those boring scales, the more familiar your fingers will be with those common patterns.

Broken Thirds Arpeggio

Now that you know how beneficial scales are, you just got to put in the time to practice one of the most horribly boring things in the world (this probably isn’t helping my case). Seriously though, practice those things. If you take the time to practice them, even if only for a  few minutes everyday, you’re really going to help yourself out when learning a new song. Besides, music is so much more fun once you get past the practicing, so make it easier on yourself and work on those scales!  Trust me, if you want to be a good musician,  scales are going to be your new best friend!


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