Saturday, July 21, 2007


We all need to practice our scales, but there are just so many to choose from. Like the clothes in our wardrobe, most of us tend to go back to the same scales day after day, ignoring the ones that are problematic. We also tend to begin our scales on the tonic, a practice that sends some of us into "automatic" mode: playing scales by ear. I can do this kind of scale playing in my sleep, which means that I get little out of it besides a bit of finger exercise.

Several years ago I came up with a game that I hoped would make practicing scales both fun and intellectually challenging. I just found the board part of it, and thought I'd share it here. The green spinner comes from some kind of board game, and the spinner on the right is a old-fashioned paper fastener. The round spinning wheels are either old CDs or pieces of cardboard shaped exactly like CDs.

The directions call for companion articulation cards. They can be made from index cards. Mine had rhythmic patterns with different configurations of slurs and separate notes, and were written in various meters.

There are, of course, many possible variations on this theme. You could add more spinners for dynamics, double-stop intervals, or type of articulation (detache, martele, etc. for string players). You could also have something to generate a metronome marking, or you could go beyond the physical and write a computer program that would do the same kind of thing. It could even be digital stand-alone device that could be adjusted to meet the needs of any instrument. It could even generate a nice loud tonic (or dominant) pitch to give the person playing with it a consistent frame of tonal reference.

Since I have no plans (and obviously very few skills) to make a commercial version of this game, I encourage anyone who does to give it a try. You can even use the name if you want.


Erin said...

Noooo.... I would actually have to play all the ones that I dislike. Ack. C-sharp minor is my scale nemesis.

Lisa Hirsch said...

That game is sheer genius.

Gottagopractice said...

I do something similar, but with cards in bowls instead of spinners. That has the advantage of weighting (adding more cards for the stuff you really "need" to practice, though I guess you could use pie width on the spinner) and flexibility (being able to add more options without having to make new spinners). I hadn't thought of using which note to start on as a variable, by which I assume you mean mode rather than simple starting point. Very cool - I need another bowl!