Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Learn those Scales!

If you are a musician of any level you have sung or played scales.

Scales are what outline the tonality or key of a piece of music.

Scales are required practice of all musicians.

Piano lessons get a bad rap for having to play scales. However, piano lessons are not the only ones that require scales. Pretty much any instrumental lesson requires scales.

Endless scales.

Vocalists don't get off easy.  Singing "doh-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-doh'" is singing a scale.


Most of the time students deal with the "normal" scales - the major scale (C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C') and corresponding (relative) minor scales: natural (a-b-c-d-e-f-g-a'), harmonic (a-b-c-d-e-f-g#-a'), and melodic (a-b-c-d-e-f#-g#-a'-g-f-e-d-c-b-a).

Some venture to the chromatic scale - a scale where every note played is a half step apart. There are 12 notes in the chromatic scale (c-c#-d-d#-e-f-f#-g-g#-a-a#-b-c).  I'm not really sure why instrumentalists are required to know how to play this scale. I was just told to play it.  This scale was integral to the twelve-tone technique of Schoenberg. His use of it is like a science experiment - very complex.


Beyond these "normal" scales the following scale can challenge the musician and intrigue and perplex the music nerd.

Today in class we talked about the seemingly obsolete "church modes" of the Medieval and Renaissance periods. These include the Ionian (1), Dorian (2), Phrygian (3), Lydian (4), Mixolydian (5), Aeolian (6), and Locrian (7) modes. The numbers indicate the starting note and then play to one octave above.  The modes are called "church modes" because they are commonly associated with the music of the Roman Catholic Church during the periods named above.

The pentatonic scale is a 5-note scale. It is most easily explained by playing the black keys on the piano - a set of 3 black keys and the set of 2 black keys above. If one starts on C the pentatonic scale would include: C-D-E-G-A.  The pentatonic scale is most commonly associated with folk music and Asian music.

The whole tone scale is made up completely of whole tones.  If one starts on C the whole tone scale would include C-D-E-F#-G#-A#-C. This 6-note scale is often heard in the music of the early twentieth century.

Another 20th Century scale is the "octatonic" scale which has 8 notes and is created using a pattern of alternating whole steps and half steps. If one starts on C the octatonic scale would include C-D-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-A-B-C.


All of these scales I've mentioned were incorporated in some way into the music of the twentieth century. The variety of scales offered great variety to the composers.

This was not meant as an exhaustive list of scales.  They are important to the musician and to the composer.

So, students, practice those scales.  One day, while playing or singing a piece of music, you WILL realize why you learned how to play or sing all the scales.

I guarantee it.

I speak from experience.

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