PDA

View Full Version : Scales.



Styxx
05-31-2006, 07:45 AM
How important do you feel learning scales, at least Major and minor, are for new students regardless of how tedious?
My argument is simple; if you don't learn the scales you cannot build a solid understanding of how chords, progressions and all-important technical of music work and are formed. My argument goes further but this morning I am pressed for time.
I'm excited in hearing from as many of you as possible in debate! Let's Rock! :D

falcon1
05-31-2006, 08:11 AM
How important do you feel learning scales, at least Major and minor, are for new students regardless of how tedious?
My argument is simple; if you don't learn the scales you cannot build a solid understanding of how chords, progressions and all-important technical of music work and are formed. My argument goes further but this morning I am pressed for time.
I'm excited in hearing from as many of you as possible in debate! Let's Rock! :D
It's as important as water is for our body.

qccowboy
05-31-2006, 08:35 AM
at least 90% of all music passages are made up of scales.
If you can't play a scale then you can't play music! D'Uh!
(god did those scales come in handy when it was time to play one of the cadenzas in Ravel's piano concerto)

All musical passages are some combination of scales and arpeggios, so it's pretty fundamental, no?

I remember having to practice scales: in octaves, in 3rds, in 10ths, in octaves in each hand, in 10ths in each hand.
I wish I'd had to do 6ths... would have helped with the Barber piano concerto :D

Skysaw
05-31-2006, 10:57 AM
Styxx, you didn't mention what type of students these are. If they are instrumentalists or vocalists, scales go without saying. Well, it may go without saying for any type of musical training, but performers should be playing/singing them night and day!

Poolman
05-31-2006, 11:10 AM
And would-be composers must have knowledge of how all types of scale are constructed, in all possible keys.

Styxx
05-31-2006, 11:57 AM
I am so glad there are so many who agree upon the importance of scales! I like what Falcon1 stated, "It's as important as water is for our body."
My son is learning bass guitar. His instructor insists scales are not important to learn as much as just learning to read notes and learn bass lines. What the heck are "bass lines" any way? Some form of scale built off of a major or minor or other model scales, right?
I am so glad I learned scales and still practice them as much to remember as to exercise my fingers. The best part is being able to sing from a note, intervals and just plain figure out (even if crudely) music I haven’t experienced yet.
Don’t bother learning scales … indeed! What a fish! :D

jesshmusic
05-31-2006, 12:14 PM
As a bassist I can say, that your son's teacher is cracked. :p

Not only should he learn major and minor, but he should work on pentatonic scales, the notorious blues scale, and most of the modes. And with every scale in every key, he should also learn the arpeggios. Since I played in a blues band, I can honestly say I used my fair share.

Fabio
05-31-2006, 01:05 PM
Scales are so basic patterns that it's hard to think music without.

But pattern learning is the base of every performance technic. So yes every kind of scales, arpeggios, and formulas ( e.g. the "hanon" as the "jazz" patterns) are useful for every style.

Even early music study is heavily based on patterns (embellishments, coloriture e diminuzioni).

Poolman's point is the final sentence: theory of intreval structures is the base of every Composer's background. Scales and keys are the first.

I still play scales to warm-up, and keep a little of finger agility:)
(...I would like I had studied more when i was young...:( ...)

chmara
05-31-2006, 02:59 PM
Scales are a basic for a musician. Scales are not needed for dabblers who would play one instrument (type) in a modern rock band...which particularly specializes in covers.

I am one who has not had the patience or ability to concentrate on scales early on -- and this has limited me severely in composition and has led to a lot of tedious re-writing of things that never get finished.

Having said that -- I wonder today how you would relate scales more efficiently to the non-notated sequencer type person than the classic drill and practice.....

jesshmusic
06-01-2006, 12:45 PM
Scales are a basic for a musician. Scales are not needed for dabblers who would play one instrument (type) in a modern rock band...which particularly specializes in covers.


Actually, this would be where knowing scales is most important. When learning a cover song from listening, if one was well versed in scales and arpeggios, they would easier be able to pick up those patterns in the music and learn it quicker and better.

And also the most important thing scales help with is technique and fingering. This is especially important on optional fingering instruments such as guitar or keyboards.
:) :)

efiebke
06-04-2006, 11:47 PM
It's as important as water is for our body.

I agree! I also believe that learning the basic (most common) chord progressions is as important too.

By the way, I like this analogy (sp?). ". . . as important as water is for our body." It kind of ties music and Anatomy and Physiology together in a neat way. Very cool! LOL! :D


Ted

Styxx
06-05-2006, 07:07 AM
I agree! I also believe that learning the basic (most common) chord progressions is as important too.

By the way, I like this analogy (sp?). ". . . as important as water is for our body." It kind of ties music and Anatomy and Physiology together in a neat way. Very cool! LOL! :D


Ted And just as with water music can become tainted with impurities. ;)

Aziraphal
06-06-2006, 05:36 AM
How important do you feel learning scales, at least Major and minor, are for new students regardless of how tedious?
My argument is simple; if you don't learn the scales you cannot build a solid understanding of how chords, progressions and all-important technical of music work and are formed. My argument goes further but this morning I am pressed for time.
I'm excited in hearing from as many of you as possible in debate! Let's Rock! :D

If you mean when learning piano, I got a shocking answer for you: No! My teacher was "infamous" for not requiring her students to practice a single scale, ever, and many an accomplished pianist came from her class. My humble self included :) Although you have to ask the survivors of my piano recitals to testify to that..

So I disagree that they're important as water to our body :) As everything in the world of music, they're an important tool - but not indispensable.

My two humble euro-cents.
Cheers Matt

Styxx
06-07-2006, 09:14 AM
If you mean when learning piano, I got a shocking answer for you: No! My teacher was "infamous" for not requiring her students to practice a single scale, ever, and many an accomplished pianist came from her class. My humble self included :) Although you have to ask the survivors of my piano recitals to testify to that..

So I disagree that they're important as water to our body :) As everything in the world of music, they're an important tool - but not indispensable.

My two humble euro-cents.
Cheers Matt
I will take the risk of contradicting myself here and say that your teacher is right, in a sense. Your teacher (like mine in college who was from Europe) explained that the scales are in the music you learn and perform. Practicing a difficult passage may be exactly built on a scare with variations and articulations to alter, combine and embellish the scale(s). However, I learned scales before entering music college in order to obtain a higher status for lessons (one hour as apposed to one half hour for entry level piano). I also taught myself major and minor cord progressions of basic form. In addition to what my teacher taught, he would show alternate ways of fingering scales that increased speed and dexterity on the keyboard.
Yes, I can see your point yet there can be no denying scales are the building blocks for everything we write in music. Just like the alphabet is for the written word.

qccowboy
06-07-2006, 09:48 AM
I think that some teachers may feel that practicing scales becomes "useless" at a certain point in one's development, and I can see valid reasons for it.
in my case, I started playing piano when I was 5, I didn't start playing scales for a few years, and when I did, they were actually part of my yearly exams. I believe I played scales (in octaves, 3rds, 6ths, 10ths, double octaves) at exams until I was 16 or 17. I don't really remember doing any after that point, concentrating mostly on repertoire.
I've found scales make a nice warm-up. I still do them a bit (despite having left the "concert pianist' carreer behind)

Babe
07-01-2006, 11:20 PM
When I was a student many years ago, I was practicing scales over and over. The door bell rings and an neighbor yells: Can't you play anything else but scales. So to get back at him, I started playing the Neilson clarinet concerto, which IMO, is an awful piece of music and I didn't have the ability to play.

Bruce A. Richardson
07-03-2006, 10:09 AM
I think you'll find few teachers and fewer musicians who will deny the importance of scales. And composers really need to know how to play at least one instrument on a working, professional level. Otherwise, SO much is missed in the understanding of what performance really is.

Not just majors and minors, but all modes and various genre-specific scales should be learned and played until they "disappear" under the fingers. At that point, one doesn't have to woodshed scalar patterns in reading and performing, therefore the immediacy of getting a performance can be very close to first-read.

Buddy Rich used to be famous (infamous) for starting an intro on hi-hats, shouting a chart number from the book, and then counting off the four-count. Not only did you have to find the tune and spread it out in about a bar's time, but if you were new in the band, you had to come out screaming...your first night could easily be your last. There are few rehearsals on that level of gig. You're expected to nail everything you read. So, the last thing you want is to be hung up on low-hanging fruit like scale patterns!!! Learn 'em all, and practice them until you smoke!!!

Jibrish
07-03-2006, 12:38 PM
I'd say both.

Scales make musicians proficient and mundane at the same time.

Some people work really hard at scales and never will build up proficiency and/or speed. Others play scales readily and never will play anything off-the-page. Most of course are somewhere in between.

If it's 'giving advice' to people who are starting out I'd say... practice scales and arpeggios and then do all you can to forget them, in a way.

Too much reliance on the use of scales as building blocks leads to that endless recitation of learned patterns that has some interest for the player but usually makes anyone listening want to fall asleep.

Jibrish
07-03-2006, 07:43 PM
Good point on the difference between "knowing" the scales as theory, and having them "in your fingers". Definitely in the Baroque Era the use of scales for counter point and ornament was developed to amazingly good use, and the use of key signature and scales is, of course, the basis for all the various styles of music.

For me the more formulaic Jazz, where you lay down a chord bed and leave it wide open to endless rambling of scales is where the limitations tend to reveal themselves. Often in music, as in the visual arts, it is necessary to try and defy the technical prescriptions for a "good work" in order to find something new.

Look how music is revived by the novice who expresses themselves free of concerns about theory and such. Style is very seldom changed by the learned.

It is of course now more popular to point out the limitations of the more "naive" approach, but the caveat here, to the obvious idea that you should practice really hard on scales and such, is that while something is gained with all of our learning... something is lost as well.

Bruce A. Richardson
07-04-2006, 12:20 PM
Good point on the difference between "knowing" the scales as theory, and having them "in your fingers". Definitely in the Baroque Era the use of scales for counter point and ornament was developed to amazingly good use, and the use of key signature and scales is, of course, the basis for all the various styles of music.

For me the more formulaic Jazz, where you lay down a chord bed and leave it wide open to endless rambling of scales is where the limitations tend to reveal themselves. Often in music, as in the visual arts, it is necessary to try and defy the technical prescriptions for a "good work" in order to find something new.

Look how music is revived by the novice who expresses themselves free of concerns about theory and such. Style is very seldom changed by the learned.

It is of course now more popular to point out the limitations of the more "naive" approach, but the caveat here, to the obvious idea that you should practice really hard on scales and such, is that while something is gained with all of our learning... something is lost as well.

But you're assuming a negative consequence, which isn't necessarily causal...

First of all, anyone who just lays down scales and licks as a jazz player is a HACK!!!! This is not due to practicing and learning, but in the failure to apply the technique and knowledge in a tasteful way. Such a person would not be a better player without the technique, they would simply be a distasteful player with poor technique as opposed to a distasteful player that has enough technique to spit out endless parrotted licks and chords (a practice where I share your disdain completely, ugh...). It still comes up distasteful in the final analysis. No harm, no foul, as far as the technical is concerned.

To the second point, that style is not usually changed by the learned, I would disagree as well. Two words: Miles Davis. He continually changed styles, sometimes bringing about a primitivism that belied his considerable talent as someone who'd excelled in swing, bop, post-bop, modal/cool, and finally the rock/funk/fusion that he explored until his death.

How about Picasso? Or Paul Gauguin? Before Gauguin painted the outlined, colorful "primative" paintings that would become his legacy, he was most definitely an impressionist, and his technical/representational skills were as outstanding as any painter alive. Some of his impressionist works can stand alongside Monets in their capturing of light and atmosphere.

I just had the very interesting experience of coaching a band, hired to play a pop musical. Three of the players are young jazzers, and one of the very hardest things for me to teach them was that pop was **harder** than jazz to play. In jazz, people are there to see you, warts and all. They want to see you work your way into a musical trap and get yourself out. It's exciting.

But that's not how pop works. Fans of "The Committments" will remember the famous line, "Jazz spirals, pop has corners." The hardest thing I had to teach these kids, in very limited time, was that a two bar solo break in a pop tune is so much harder than playing two choruses of jazz--because every note in it must be the perfect note for the song, the mood, and most important, to kick back into the singer!!!

Finally, I was able to impress upon this group that playing pop was NOT a lesser job than playing jazz, and that it required every bit of the musical effort that jazz requires, only funneled into a much more restrictive and high-stakes form. The moment a player feels he is "too good" to be playing a genre, and begins to take it for granted, then the sound goes right to that excruciating sound of a lounge band playing "tunes" in some hotel bar.

UGH!!!!!!!!!!! Death.

AND...I can see how somoene might take that story and think it reinforces the point that these guys were hobbled by their education and practice. But that is not the case at all. Their ability to voice chords tastefully, learned in jazz, is what ultimately made the band sound great. The problem was not their education. The problem was their prejudice against the gig, and the fact that they were actually NOT EDUCATED ENOUGH as to the real priorities on a pop gig versus a jazz gig.

I've heard Cornell Dupree play some of the most smoking bop guitar on the planet. He can also play the perfect three notes on a solo break with Aretha. Ditto your Larry Carltons, et. al. Better is simply better. There is no fault in the learning, only in the thinking. And that's not the fault of knowledge.

On the other hand, I have had countless encounters with non-learned musicians who truly believe they've invented something--when in fact, they're just repeating history in their ignorance. The funniest example I can think of is this really wonderful drummer (and he IS a wonderful drummer), who is very educated in visual/film arts, but not music. 90% of the time, his visual training crosses over and informs his playing. However, one day he approached me, completely excited because he had "invented" a totally new groove. When he played this stunning invention for me, I had to let him down a bit and explain to him that he was essentially playing a mambo in 5/8. Not exactly the stuff that's going to get you into the Grout.

There is nothing lost by knowing more, practicing more, etc. There is only gain.

The only "loss" is when the technical knowledge is somehow perceived to be of greater value than what I'd call the innate talent. It's not even a loss, it's simply the failure of a person's innate talent to match the technical expertise he is obtaining.

And I am with you 100% there. No amount of practicing will ever improve a person's inherent level of talent. It can only open up the possibilities for that talent to be expressed.

Yet, even a lesser talent will profit from more knowledge and more practice. That "lesser talent" might be locked behind a lack of technique, and be revealed to be a GREAT talent when certain technical barriers are erased, or conceptual ideas are embraced.

I don't want to come off like a fuddy-duddy here. I am the last person (and anyone who knows me will attest to it) that is hung up in the chalky patina of academia. Far from it.

Jibrish
07-05-2006, 10:03 AM
A well-reasoned response... and where I differ is really only by a slight difference in spirit… and even there, only by a degree.

If one could magically learn and yet remain unaffected it would not matter what we were taught (or teach ourselves). It would all just be resource for an otherwise free-agent musician. My experiences, and the stories of others, however, seem to say otherwise. At least to an extent I think, “we are what we eat” musically.

It is no doubt 'academic' to speak of such a nuance-d subject in this general way, but the essence of it is a practical matter as far as how much homage is paid to training, and how much is left to a more open exploration of sound.

In at least two of the cases you have noted (Miles and Picasso) they quite famously went through great effort to “unlearn” and defy the schools they came from (especially in the case of Picasso) and even more importantly to the subject, neither pursued their art by way of a formal education.

They were for the most part self-educated by choice. It would, in fact, not be entirely in error to say both learned by way of the “folk” approach of imitating forerunners and contemporaries. Miles did go to Julliard for a short time but he chose not to conform to it and instead worked-out Charley Parker riffs on his own.

Then with Picasso, as I remember the story, he won an art show very early on but quit the school and rejected the classical approach entirely before he really even got started.

I’m a big believer in education too, but I’m pretty sure everything… including the use of scales… has an element of advance and its share of drawbacks as well… for any talent level.

There was a charmed time of only half practiced and learned Jazz coming out of Africa in the 70’s and 80’s (and there have been countless other examples) where the kind of shaman-musician meets the modern world, that I just don’t think can be improved on with any amount of learning. In fact quite to the contrary.

I’m not saying that one should forgo learning the fundamentals. I’m just saying the learned approach isn’t the cure all. Nor is the unlearned approach all bad, and there is a generic cookie cutter downside to the use of scales, formulas, templates and, now of course, automation.

BB King never was the guy to me (I was more Hooker or Waters and such when it comes to the blues) but his line was: “I don’t know nothin’ bout no chords… I just play the guitar”. And that kind of gets at it a bit.

Even a more obvious example (probably over used) would be the Beatles. When they were totally outside of “the school” and playing almost entirely “Faux-Naïf”, their creativity was such that many still draw from them as a model, not only for pop but more serious works as well, and their earlier things are still listened to and admired by the likes of Isaac Pearlman and Edgar Meyer (a good example for your point of people being able to be in both camps… but an exception to the rule in many different respects).

Of course the well known retort to this example would be that they had George Martin’s more learned contribution… but hey… he also worked with “America” and well… and other than that… have you heard the stuff he produced before the Beatles? The point is: You can’t be the Beatles with a music education. Even the Beatles wouldn’t have been the Beatles if they’d had a music education. A music education will educate the Beatle-ish-ness right out of ya’.

Another, well sighted, example would be how there were all of those very well studied Orators putting people to sleep when Lincoln came out with the Gettysburg Address. It was simple, direct (scoffed at by the professionals) and yet it cut right through, and many would argue it changed the whole spirit of public speaking, as well as having a profound effect on the likes of Walt Whitman (another not-formally-educated artist of note).

Another example from pop culture (in a question): Would Bob Dylan have written better lyrics if he’d had a “Language Arts” degree? Or might he have been squelched in his imagination with all of the rules of diction and proper usage?

Then on another track, one misconception that has come out of the classical approach in general is the idea that you can learn your way to originality and creative moments. The truth is that classical music has always relied very heavily on folk music and other themes from outside of the school for inspiration.

Classical music was born out of folk music… and not the other way around.

It could be called the formalization of spontaneous events.

There is often something kind of magical about the right amount of learning… not too little, not too much.

I still tend to think that artists in general (and maybe especially musicians) are part Oracle/Shaman, Soothsayer, Muse… and too much thinking and learning tends to bring you out of the trance.

We cannot learn and think our way into great art anymore than we can think ourselves into falling in love.

You don’t actually make the baby… you have sex… and then magically… the baby is born.

Still... it's just a caveat... In the main I'd say, you're better off practicing scales.

Peace.

Bruce A. Richardson
07-05-2006, 10:21 AM
I agree with every bit of that. Except the idea you can't be the Beatles with an education. It's a fine point, but still, you could easily be a "different" Beatles. The point isn't the education as much as the ability to take what you know (whether a little or a lot) and find some new means of expression no one has tried. Ultimately, it's how alert you are at a time when your particular smarts are the final piece of a puzzle. In this business, we're all just pulling the handle until we hit, or our pile of quarters is gone.

Jibrish
07-05-2006, 10:34 AM
Hahaha... very nicely put... and a fun little exercise for me.

Cheers.

Fabio
07-07-2006, 02:51 PM
Everything you say is intersting, people. But the myth of uneducated artist must be re-dimensioned, avoiding overextimation.

May you expect a deep and sophisticated Poem, by two babies missing alone on a desert island before learning how to talk (if they survive of course :D )?

They will never create a complete language, no more than a basic vocal-gesture communication. They will be perhaps sensible and expressive, but no litterature will be developed by unexperienced and uneducated men.

Centuries of cultural layering are not useless in art. We all are the result of that, and the study will make your soul rich and complex. A rich and complex soul is not enough to make art. But if you will be an artist, your rich and complex soul will produce rich and complex masterpieces (pop music frequently is'nt...):o

A spontaneous sweet nice ballad, or an energetic Rock make me feel good and are a simple and rewarding listening experience.

But I'm happy that a Symphony or a Fugue exist, with the deep intellectual and emotional stimulation. No self-made spontaneous popstar can do it without long study. (neither Beatles or Dylan...;) )

It's a matter of personal taste, and it's my one.

The nice thing is that nobody is forced to agree, and music go on alone, in the kaleidoscopic variety of styles, one for eachone!

Jibrish
07-07-2006, 03:53 PM
Hi Fabio,

As always, your point is well taken.

Actually I’m 90+ percent in agreement with both you and Bruce. In fact, the lack of at least a rudimentary understanding of Reasoning that I have recently seen in students with far too targeted of an education (in other regards than music) only makes me more convinced that education is not only necessary, but at least some form of a classical education (with at least some understanding of the ancient Greeks) is greatly needed. If not formally, then as self improvement.

The argument that I proffer here is well intended, and at the very least stirs inquiry, but it also creates a bit of a false choice.

1. The obvious flaw in the question and the logic is… first, and most basic (albeit common) is to set a question in an “all or nothing” frame. As if there were no numbers between 1 and 1000. As if there was a real life existence of all good or all bad. So then, we are left to decide between two nonexistent ideals.

It is of course a construct of logic that simplifies the question in order to make it less unwieldy, but it automatically sets up a false choice. There simply is no real ‘ideal’ state at either end. So the truth will always be a far less dramatic shade in the middle.

The end result is that both possible positions are mistaken… or at the least, less true than a combination of the two.

There is no such thing as “no” education. It is a matter of which method is used at which time… and to what end?

And in music, there is no such thing as the absence of patterns, instead, the question is: What patterns should we learn… when? And then to make it more global and philosophical: To what extent should music be an intellectual/learned pursuit, as apposed to a less cognitive, experiential/intuitive pursuit. What is a more preferable balance? What method produces the most agreeable, sustainable and valuable music?

Granted, as well, it is not up to one person to determine this for others, but we all share our leanings and formulate our own approach according to shared ideas.

The goal of course is to be the best possible composer/musician.

2. We only have the examples we have, to tell us what has been successful and not successful. What music do we like… and how did they go about composing it?

I suppose I might suffice my idea of music by simply saying: My idealized vision of music is not entirely a continuation of the classical approach, nor is it to leave all that behind. Instead the ideal for me would be to find the best possible combination of both worlds somewhere in the middle. That leads to something new.

Given unlimited time and resources perhaps we could just do it all. But one it seems comes at the expense of the other and I find it is necessary to be selective as far as: How much effort toward what when?

Having said that I too have a deep appreciation of early and baroque music and I greatly admire your education in it.

Peace.

Fabio
07-08-2006, 03:05 AM
What you say Jibrish is right, IMO, not only about music, but about life indeed.

And I may add, that probably, disregarding our academic or our pedestrian discussions, it happens.

No black and no white, just a wonderfull set of grey tunes, all in the middle, with a free mixture of "how much black and how much white".

(...no better methaphoric sample: in the Jazz or Latin music it is also true from an etnic-cultural point of view!:eek: :D )

P.S. when somebody ask me what's my favorite music, my answer is not "ancient or baroque", even if I frequently select ancient or baroque music buying a record or listening radio. (but I like playing pop on my piano...)

My answer is always: "the nice one!".

Then they ask me again "what's the nice one?"

And my answer is " ...what I like, of course!":D