Scale Practice Patterns
We have gone over many of the basic types of scales, and in some cases, made some suggestions as to how to practice them. Now let’s pull all that together and give some general exercises to try with all of them. Make sure that any scale that you may want to try these with is already memorized, and that you have some basic facility with it.
The first pattern we will look at can be used with any type of scale. Set your metronome to a slow tempo to start with. Now, start with quarter notes and play up and down the scale. When you get to your starting note, without stopping, repeat, but playing each note of the scale as eighth notes, or twice each, before moving to the next note. As you return to your starting note, again without stopping, go up and down the scale playing each note as a triplet. Continue in this same manner with sixteenth notes, groups of five, groups of six, groups of seven, and finally with thirty second notes. Make sure you set your metronome to a speed that allows you to finish this whole sequence without any variation in tempo.
Next, with your Major, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor scales, play up and down the scale in every interval up to octaves. When playing down the scale, be sure to reverse the interval. For example, when playing thirds, if you play from G to B on the way up, play from B to G on the way down. Also, pay attention to the quality of each interval. Is it a Major or Minor second, Perfect or Augmented fourth? This will help you to train your ear not only to hear and identify the interval, but also to distinguish the qualities of each interval.
With these same scales, play up and down them in triads. For instance, in F Major, you would play the, F, Gm, Am, Bb, C, Dm, and Edim arpeggios. Again, reverse the notes on the way down. When you can do this up and down the scale smoothly, (do not forget that metronome), then try it in seventh chord arpeggios. Again using our key of F, you would play the Fmaj7, Gm7, Am7, Bbmaj7, C7, Dm7, and Em7-5 arpeggios. These can also be practiced in various permutations, such as 1, 5, 3, 7, or any other note order you can think of. Remember to play these in the reverse order on the way down. Experiment to break out of always starting on the root.
You can also make up any pattern of scale notes you like and repeat it. For instance, 1, 2, 3, 1, then 2, 3, 4, 2, then 3, 4, 5, 3. The pattern need not be linear. Try 1, 3, 2, 1, then 2, 4, 3, 2, then 3, 5, 4, 3. Any repeated pattern like this can help break out of the linear, scalar lines that most of us tend to play, especially when making our first forays into improvising. As with the previous examples, reverse the note order of the pattern when descending. Coming up with your own variations is great practice as well as valuable ear training.
Lastly, if your instrument plays chords, play the scale first in triads and then in seventh chords. This will help you hear by ear the difference between your chord types, as well as get acquainted with what chords are in each key. Needless to say, all of these exercises should be done in all twelve keys. Keep increasing your metronome speed as you get comfortable at one tempo to keep challenging yourself. Experiment with any other ideas that you can come up with to expand your horizons even further. All that will go a long way toward training your ear to play what you hear.