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Suggestions on How to Practice Scales
by Kyle Coughlin

An excellent way to develop good technique is through the practice of scales and arpeggios. However, just like anything else you work on, the better you practice, the more efficiently you will improve. Bad practice techniques lead to bad habits which can be hard to break. Good practice techniques will lead to good skills, thus making music more fun.

Here are some suggestions for practicing scales:

Use a metronome!

Playing with a metronome ensures that you stay at the same tempo for each scale or exercise without speeding up or slowing down. One goal of scale practice is to develop even technique throughout the range of your instrument. Avoid speeding up on the easy parts and slowing down on the hard parts.

Start each scale at a tempo that is slow enough to play accurately and effortlessly.
Another goal of scale practice is to maintain relaxed finger motion and hand position. Use your metronome and increase the beats per minute gradually. Everyone wants to learn how to play fast. Playing fast is fun! However, you have to learn to walk before you try to run, or jump, or fly. If your goal is to play eighth note scales with a quarter note beat equal to 120, start at a slower tempo than that, and work your way up gradually.

Concentrate on smooth, accurate finger motion.

Accurate notes and accurate rhythms are far more important than trying to play too fast, too soon. When you encounter sections that are difficult, isolate them and practice them many times so you can smooth out that range of your technique. When necessary, slow down the metronome so that you can fix the difficult passages.

Think about other aspects of your playing, too.

Remember to pay attention to good tone production and consistent dynamics. Before you start each scale, determine what dynamic level you will play, and stick with that dynamic. Keep good posture, breathe deeply and produce a good, full tone.

Practice in front of a mirror occasionally.

Doing so will help you watch your fingers and make sure that they are relaxed and in the right place. Avoid lifting your fingers high off of the keys. Keep them close to the clarinet and keep each finger over the appropriate tone hole or key.

Record yourself!

It’s always a good idea to record yourself from time to time to hear how you sound. Listening to your recordings can be very revealing because you don’t have to concentrate on playing and can hear things more clearly and more critically.

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