What will be your first scale of the new year? Do you ever feel that practicing scales becomes a bit stale after falling into a comfortable routine? I have to confess – some days I substitute my routine in favor of other kinds of exercises in order to feel fresh and engaged during the warm-up.
Some time ago, I was studying a chamber music piece from the Classical era in which the violin part had a section filled with embellishments – chromatic turns outlining descending arpeggios, to be specific. These ornaments caused me to stumble, and more than a few times. I was frustrated that a fairly “straight-forward” movement suddenly became very challenging. Any amount of routine scale practice (Galamian, Flesch, or Heifetz) wouldn’t have prepared me for this kind of passage. Instead of looking for an appropriate etude, I decided to come up with some new scale exercises.
After all these years playing violin, I had never practiced scales with embellishments (except trills). After giving it a go, I recognized how adding ornaments to scales helps not only with dexterity, but also with ear training and improvisation (if that’s something you’re into). With enough practice, the following scale exercises can also help with tuning quasi-chromatic passages that pop up in the standard repertoire. Particularly, orchestral works of Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss come to mind, which are filled with passages involving chromatic neighbor tones.
Identifying and hearing the D major scale within the chromatic notes can take some time getting used to and helps the ear to latch on to the underlying structure. These exercises are significantly easier when accompanied by diatonic triads. Part 2 will be on playing scales with turns.