The Joy of Scales

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Think of something that you do, that maybe you don’t like, but you know is good for you. This may include things such as exercising, eating vegetables, going to work, etc.

Over time, you may begin to experience the benefits of these activities and begin to like them. In fact, some people enjoy the results so much that it’s no longer a burden but a thrill. Well, I don’t know if eating vegetables can be a thrill, but they can definitely be tasty!

Enjoy the Benefits

Especially with activities such as work and exercise, we can begin to enjoy these activities more

Because we:

  1. See positive results that benefit our lives
  2. Grow in confidents in abilities and talents
  3. See improvement in the lives of those around us

One word that these three items have in common is progression. When we feel like we are progressing and moving forward, there’s a high level of satisfaction. Sure it takes work, but we understand that every time we go to do such an activity, we are becoming better and making things better around us. It’s extremely gratifying and fills us with purpose.

Scales Are Good for You!

Scales are an exercise that we may not like, or want to participate in. However, like exercising, I don’t think there’s anyone who would suggest that it’s bad for you. If you struggle with a desire to play scales, just know that you’re not alone. Additionally, they are something that you can begin to enjoy because of the results they produce.

Music Surrounds Us

Scales may not (at first) be considered as something that will benefit you or those around you in a fulfilling way. How can scales be extremely gratifying and fill you with purpose? How can scales affect those around you? Take a second to think of all the music you hear every day:

  1. Commercials
  2. Songs on the radio
  3. Movies
  4. Professional athletic event
  5. Your cell phone (full of scales and arpeggios)

These are just a few examples, but if you removed all music from your day, you may feel a little (or a lot) empty. Pay attention to all the music that happens in your day; you might be surprised.

Musicians Enhance Daily Life

Think about all the people who performed or created the music you have consumed, or helped create the music in the list above (specifically those involved with wind and string instruments). Do you think they know their scales? Yes! Their knowledge and abilities with scales:

  • Made them better musicians
  • Enhanced your daily life through their creation

This may sound like a stretch for some people, but after spending the past 17 years as a professional musician, the connection is clear: proper preparation and having a strong foundation not only changes the individual, but those around them as well. Let me share a personal story how scales changed me as a musician and teacher.

How Scales Changed Me

When I decided that I was going to make a career out of playing the saxophone, I made a commitment to gain greater control and facility in my scales. I was practicing 2-4 hours a day, spending one hour of that dedicated to scales. I lived above a family at that time and the father asked me one day if I played anything besides scale. I have to admit, there was a great deal of focus on scales and building a strong foundation.

After about a year of this practice schedule I really began to feel comfortable with many scales at a fast tempo. Then one day, there was almost a sudden transformation. While I was playing, I was surprised what was coming out of the saxophone. I couldn’t believe that the sound I was hearing was me! Other people sounded like this; I never had. I was beginning to sound like a professional musician, and my confidence dramatically increased.

I also went through and overcame many struggles with these scales, which aided in my ability to teach. This one experience not only helped me improve my playing skills, but teaching skills as well. The hard work I put into my scales, now trickles down to those I teach, enhancing musical experiences of my students.

The Joy of Scales

You too can enjoy the benefits of scales, and even look forward to them because of their benefits. If you want to play the saxophone well, this is a must. However, at some point, playing scales may feel like eating boiled vegetables, but over time they can be a “tasty nutritional food”, made by the most capable chefs. At this point you will be able to enjoy both the experience and the results.

Sometimes we need purpose and understanding to keep us motivated. Hopefully this post has done that. If not, next week I’ll share two reasons why we play scales. Understanding these benefits can motivate us in our practice sessions.

Have you ever come to enjoy something that you didn’t like at first? What did it feel like when the activity began to be enjoyable? What were some of the benefits (to you or to others)? Boy, these questions sure sound like a quiz. I guess it’s the teacher coming out in me!

If you liked this post, please feel free to share it using the social media buttons below. Have a great time playing!

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Comments 4

  1. hi Jeff,

    A very Good morning to you. Yes after playing my Alto sax for almost two years I have realised recently that playing scales is the very first lesson or assignment rather than proceeding on copying some rendition. Playing scales indeed develops confidence since we are mentally strong of the position of the occurrence of a note on the saxophone . It becomes easier rather than searching for it frantically loosing the timing. Anxiously waiting for your next post. as you have rightly said its just like eating boiled potatoes. Regards.

    1. Post

      Hi Sabnavis,

      Boiled potatoes gave me a good laugh! You’re right, playing scales makes us a better saxophone player over all. It prepares us to learn music faster, too. This is the exact topic we will cover next week. Good luck with the scales!

  2. I actually enjoy playing scales on my bari,I find it therapeutic after a tough day at work.I have a structure of which scales and patterns I am working on, no decisions to make, just to concentrate on the way I am playing.
    I hated playing scales as a kid learning piano, but when I look back now I learned so much theory from it that it helps me everyday now, many years later.

    1. Post

      Hi Steph,

      Thanks for sharing and I’m glad to hear that you enjoy playing your scales now. Having a plan really works well and makes it easier to be consistent. I’m sure you are enjoying the technical benefits of scales, too. Keep up the good work!

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