Mastering violin scales is highly important to your development as a violinist, because it will establish the technical foundation for all of your repertoire.
Here, we’ll dive deeper into a different approach to violin scales so you can reach your practice milestones much faster.
Click here to watch the tonebase lesson on this topic for FREE!
After we go through these tips, try to devote at least 15-20 minutes per day to technical experimentation, including scales. Careful slow practice of scales narrows our margin of error when playing repertoire.
Acclaimed violinist Stefan Jackiw was taught to begin practicing scales very slowly, with two notes per bow, and gradually moving up to 3 notes per bow, then 4, 6, 8, 12, 24, etc. There is some value in this method.
However, Jackiw finds that students often don’t perfect one speed before moving on to the next.
We have to start by building a foundation. Speed comes when working on repertoire, so scale practice should be an opportunity to work on developing a centered pitch.
Jackiw, who also instructs the associated tonebase lesson, recommends the Carl Flesch Scale System for foundational practice of scales. Many of the exercises in this lesson were adapted directly from this book.
When we work on scales, we don’t want to practice correcting errors; we want to practice eliminating errors.
How often does this happen: you’re playing a scale and come to a shift.
The pitch isn’t quite perfect, so you correct it and move on.
However, this doesn’t reinforce the muscle memory of an accurate shift. This reinforces the feeling of an inaccurate shift that is then corrected a few fractions of a second later.
The beginning of the sound is still out of tune. Adjusting pitches is undoubtedly important, but we want to eliminate errors!
Instead, focus on the problematic shift, and practice it slowly enough so that you reach the correct pitch. Kim often slides his finger along the string until he finds precisely where the sound is in tune.
Sliding the finger along the string is something that should not be heard while playing repertoire, but it teaches our hand the correct stopping point on the string. It will gradually become easier to do faster.
At the beginning, Jackiw recommends only slow scale practice.
Aim for a tempo in which you won’t miss any notes. He recommends the Carl Flesch Scale System, which provides endless combinations of exercises in every key. Play the exercises so that the shifts occur within a slur, not a bow change. We should hear the sliding sound of the shift, even if it sounds a little gross!
Approach arpeggios in the exact same way:
The Flesch method contains all major scales, arpeggios, and various patterns in all major scales on each of the four open strings.
For the purposes of this lesson, we’ll begin with the first D major exercises (on the G string). Continue playing slowly and sliding between pitches!
Avoid the desire to play it slowly once and then execute super fast! Repeat the exercise on the D string, continuing through the method book.
As with anything in life (exercise or any new habit), it’s better to start in small increments and work on it every day, rather than irregularly for a very long time.
Aim for 15 minutes per day. Perhaps you create a schedule where you work only on the G string on day one, the D string on day two, the A string on day three, and so on.
Double stops on the violin are two notes played at the same time.
Practicing them teaches our hand to play two notes in tune at once. Jackiw also likes to use the Flesch method book here.
If you’re totally new to double stops, first play the two pitches back-to-back as separate notes (top score), and once this is comfortable, use the bowing on the bottom score that allows you to slur between double stops.
Then add in two-note slurs, and beyond that, four-note slurs:
Octaves train the outer fingers (1 and 4) to hold two notes in tune.
They are somewhat easier to tune because the interval of an octave is very easy to hear. The process of moving from one bowing to the next is the same as with double stops.
When practicing thirds, it can be beneficial only to move one note at a time. This checks the tuning of the new double stop against the previous one, ensuring that you aren’t veering off course.
Try moving the top note first, creating a different interval for a moment, and then putting the bottom finger down.
Example: Brahms Violin Concerto
Sometimes, two notes at a time just aren’t enough.
In the opening to the Brahms Violin Concerto, the octave Fs are often very difficult to tune, especially since the tempo is quite fast.
The shift from D to F is usually correct, but in order to play this quickly, all four fingers must arrive in tune (F, A, D, and F).
If you can alternate between A and D, and the octaves Fs, without shifting the hand, you are in a position where all four notes are truly in tune at once.
How do we practice this?
The problem is that the hand is at an improper angle to play all the notes in tune.
First, find the position where the octave is in tune, and then tune the A and D. Memorize the feeling: what is the hand’s angle against the violin? Where is the thumb? What’s the curvature of the elbow?
We could expertly prepare ourselves for this passage by practicing D minor arpeggios.
Example: Beethoven Violin Concerto
The entire first movement of this concerto is essentially just scales, arpeggios, and broken octaves. If you’ve thoroughly practiced the studies outlined in this workbook, you’re off to a great start.
In conclusion, practice scales in a distinctly different way from how you play repertoire.
The shifts shouldn’t sound particularly appealing at this stage because we must first train the muscle memory of where on the string the notes are in tune. Practice only at a speed where you’ve eliminated errors.
By focusing on tuning double stops, thirds, and octaves, we should be in a much better place to approach violin scales in all of our repertoire.
If you’d like to watch the lesson on this topic for free, just click here.
If you’re ready to learn more about mastering violin scales and techniques, and get to the next level on the violin, start your tonebase membership with a free 14-day trial.
Inside tonebase, you’ll find 100s of in-depth lessons and structured courses, LIVE weekly workshops, and tons of digital PDF scores and workbooks to help you become the violinist you’ve always dreamed of being.
Get complete access to everything tonebase has to offer by starting your trial today!