Why Practicing Scales Is Important

By: Jerry A. Greene

Question: My teacher is making me practice scales as part of my practice at home. Could you tell me why it is so important? I find it to be quite boring and don't really understand why I need to do it.

Answer: Practicing your scales is an important part of the discipline of learning your instrument as well as strengthening your understanding of basic music theory. Scales are as important to music as getting your rehearsal dinner invitations out for the rehearsal is to the wedding; both require planning and practice..

Muscle Memory and Instrumental Technique

The first and main reason we study scales when learning an instrument is to teach our fingers exactly how to move in a certain key. As we learn our scales, we learn how to play in keys that would otherwise be difficult to play (having to remember the sharps and flats becomes much easier when your fingers "just know" how to play the scale of the key signature that you are in.) Since most of the music you will be playing in has a key signature that is followed 95% of of the time througout the music, this is an important way of showing your fingers how to zip through the music.

The Chromatic Scale

This scale is often over looked and one of the most important to learn, especially if you play a woodwind, or brass instrument. Learning the chromatic scale and practicing it everyday allows you to become more agile on your instrument. Make sure that you include it in your daily practice (even if you don't play brass, or woodwinds).

Music Theory

If you have studied the circle-of-fifths, you will have learned that you can figure out any major, or minor scale from it's key signature located on the circle. Practicing your scales (major and minor) allow you to strengthen your understanding of how music works. Since most of music follows common chord progressions and melodies tend to follow the scale that matches the key that you are in, this allows your brain to somewhat "know what to expect" especially when it comes to sight reading, or learning a new piece. Knowing your scales makes the learning curve, when learning a new piece, a whole lot easier!

Ear Training

Knowing what your scales are supposed to sound like (major, minor, pentatonic, modes, blues scales) gives your ears the training the need to understand music on the level of sound (not reading like in looking at sheet music).

If you play an instrument that is easily able to stray from pitch, you may want to learn your scales with an electronic tuner. This will help you develop your "knowing of what a scale is supposed to sound like" which will in turn make your music sound a lot better in tune.