By William Muñoz
Learning scales is one of those aspects of being a musician that you cannot simply avoid. At some point, you will have to learn them and the quicker you start tackling them the better. But why do we need to practice them? The short answer is that they are a fundamental aspect of mastering music and playing a musical instrument.
There are multiple scales forms: the basic ones are major, minor, and chromatic and other more complex forms include pentatonic, whole-tones, and modal. In addition, we can use these forms of scales and practice them in different combinations and patterns such as in thirds, fourths, fifths etc. You can also practice them going up, down and with arpeggios. Incorporating some form of scales in your daily practice will help with technique, coordination, fluidity, aural skills, efficiency, and expanding your register.
Here are a few of the most basic ways that scales can help you:
1. Technique. As an instrumentalist, you should be able to play in any key with fluidity and coordination. Scales are the most basic way to achieve this, as they will improve your fingering. They will help you become efficient when playing in any key. If you play a wind instrument they will help you improve both high and low registers.
2. Aural skills. The relationships of notes in the scales are essential to the way we hear the music we play. Most scales sound familiar because, as you know, music is based on scales and they are the basis of chord building and harmony. By default, melodies are based on scales. By aurally identifying these sounds and their relationships within a given key, it will make it easier to play with good pitch and intonation.
3. Sight Reading/ learning new music. The first thing I ask my students when playing an etude, a new piece or an exercise is to look at the key signature. Usually, when students see a lot of flats or sharps they tend to scare. Now, if they are comfortable playing in any key they most likely will simply play what is in front of them. This will not happen overnight but with patience and dedication, it will happen.
4. Auditions. Once you start working on auditions you will see that scales will be part of the requirement. If you know them, you will be a step a head with this requirement. It will also show that you are proficient at your instrument.
These are just a few aspects of why scales are important. You should incorporate them into your practice sessions, as part of your fundamentals. A combination of scales and arpeggios on a daily basis is a great recipe for success.