3 Biggest Pitfalls to Playing Scales Fast and Accurately

Every student played the speed scale routine in their lesson this week. The dichotomy between those who emerged successful and those who rode the struggle bus was clearly delineated by a few key techniques.

  1. When shifting upward, don’t shift too fast. A student who constantly misses upward shifts can improve their accuracy tremendously by slowing down the speed of the upward motion. If the shifts look really jerky, probably too fast.
  2. When shifting downward, keep the first finger anchored. Downward shifts are the most prone to what I like to call the “Cowabunga Shift”. This means you launch your hand downward and basically throw caution to the wind. There’s literally no fingers on the fingerboard for a split second as the student moves their hand down to the new position. Proper downward shifting is probably one of the hardest things to develop in a student. It’s so much easier to leave an existing finger down and then add another finger when you are ascending. When the notes are moving downward, you have to prepare the upcoming finger before lifting the previous one. Much harder to do!
  3. When you play ANYTHING (this includes scales!), you should use “Relay Race” fingers. In a relay race, the baton is passed from one runner to the next, but there is a moment when both runners are touching the baton or it would be dropped. In scale playing (and everything else, by the way), if possible, there should be two fingers touching the fingerboard for a smooth transition, even for a split second. Intonation is all about relationships, knowing how far apart something feels from the previous finger.

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