How to work your scales efficiently

Last month, a student of mine told me that he was working quickly on his scales and long tones, "the boring stuff you see", before transcribing solos, much more interesting thing to him. I totally understand, being gone through the same way, but I started thinking about it. I too was bored practicing my scales, not seeing any interest in it and also not seeing any progress in my playing. But nowadays, if I don't do scales for two day I feel like I'm missing something... What happened?

The way we think about practicing scales influences the way we practice. So make up your mind, fell in love with the scales!

I had the chance to study with an amazing teacher who helped me revolutionnizing my way of thinking the practice and the music in general. His teachings were so simple, every time I had a difficulty he was helping me finding a way to solve it, so I just decided to stick to what he was telling me, without questionning. He told me "practicing scales and technique is awesome, just do it and don't question yourself if is it good or bad, just practice. If it is bad, it will become better, if it is good you will sound even better. And love the practice". Basically. This is what he told me.

I totally changed my way of thinking the scales, going from "it is boring it is useless so I do it fast and bad and I take a lot of bad habits" to "I'm going to do it real serisouly, digging into it because it is essential if I want to play better. And I'm going to love doing it!!". Because when we practice scales and technique, we don't only practice for the fingers, but we practice also for tone, embouchure, focus and general dexterity.

Progress does not happen in one night: metronome, patience, regularity

I realized I was not doing any progress because I did not spend enough time on an exercise before starting another one. I was impatient of playing better, but in order to play better you have to spend time, does not happen in the night. Now, after warming up with long tones, overtones and 5ths/8ves, I practice between 45 minutes and one hour for each key, repeating the same thing for several months. So of course you cannot practice all keys in one practice session (I mean, maybe you have 12 hours practice sessions, which is amazing, congrats!) but you can organize yourself in order to practice all of them in rotation.

So I stay a few months practicing the same exercise in a key, until I can aplly it on the tunes I'm currently working on. Or some old ones I know well.

This deep work requires patience and oblivion of the outside world, the same thing than with long tones. Working up to one hour on the same key with a 40 bpm beat is a real challenge in our nowadays world where everything should be fast and quick.


There are eight ways we can work on scales. Cf the papers below.

This is also a very good way to work on high register and altissimos . You start from the bottom of the horn and go up until your limit, watch your embouchure and your tuning, go very slow and don't mess with your fingerings. The brain will remember mistakes very well, too well. If you do a mistake, slow down, focus and do the exercise right 3 times in order to erase the memory of the mistake. That way you will increase your register day after day, semi-tone after semi-tone. Be patient and careful.


NB: I wrote only the two first bars of each direction. For exemple, put the metronome at 40 bpm, play a scale in 8th notes, go up with 1a until you cannot anymore, go down with 1b to the bottom of the horn, then go up again until the root. Do the same with 2a and 2b, 3a and 3b, 4a and 4b. Then do the same with intervals, the 3rds as a start, the 4ths if you're hot, save the 5ths, 6ths and 7ths for winter and start with the triads, all directions, and arpeggios to finish. As a bonus, you can also practice inversions.


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