Major Scale Practice, Part 2 - Intervals
Once you have your Major scales mastered, you want to take your practice a step further. Just practicing the scales can result in very "scale-like" lines when you improvise. This is because you are still tied to the scale as a more or less linear sequence. You need to break out of this and one good way to begin to do that is by practicing the scale in intervals.
Improvised lines can be broken down into three simple components. One is scalar lines the subject of last month’s article, the second is intervals and the third is arpeggios, the subject of next month’s column. By doing interval practice you will break out of the linear scalar sequence and begin to play lines with a lot more contour, which makes you ideas even more interesting to the listener. Any listener is playing a subconscious game trying to anticipate your next idea. If they are right all the time, they will figure that you are too predictable and stop listening. If they are wrong all the time, they will feel your ideas make no sense and again, stop listening. Intervals help introduce some surprises to help you walk this line.
Start by playing the scale up and down in seconds. Use last month’s practice routine while you do this in order to really learn the scale in this new sequence. Look at the pattern of major and minor seconds as you do this to see how the scale is built. Continue in a similar manner all the way up to at least octaves. Also, as was discussed in the last installment, play from the lowest to highest note on the instrument to get away from being reliant on always starting on the root. For instruments that can play more than one note at a time do all this again, but use harmonic intervals.
Pay attention to the size of each interval. For those that need a review, you can have major or minor seconds, thirds, sixths and sevenths. Fourths and fifths can be perfect, augmented or diminished. Note the size of each interval as you play it in order to train you ear to hear the difference between say a major or a minor second. This will go a long way toward being able to recognize not only what someone else plays, but also developing the ability to play what you hear.
To emphasize these points again, practicing in this manner is the next step toward breaking away from scalar lines, which tend to be smooth, but if done for too long can become very monotonous to listen to. Intervals will give you small to large jumps to help break those lines up, giving melodic surprises to the listener as well as challenging the technique of the player.
Make it a point to listen to as many improvisers in as many styles of music as you can and see how they use intervals, especially players who play an instrument other than the one that you do. Any instrument has a certain style of thinking that develops based on the layout of the instrument, and listening to and learning what other players do can break you out of sounding like every other player on your instrument. This will go a long way toward helping you develop your own voice on your instrument.